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Napaman Finds the World's Greatest Food Hall! (November 13, 2009)

Reproduced with permission and pleasure from

Imagine a supermarket where there are no freezer cases; where you find eight in-store restaurants serving expertly prepared entrees, one even serves thinly shaved, fresh truffles; where everything and everyone is environmentally conscious; where they make cakes on premise that rival the best of Vienna, where they make chocolates on premise that rival the best of Switzerland, where they display fresh fruits and vegetables as though they were jewels in the window at Tiffany.

I was in such a food hall today. It is called Eataly, a 27,000-square-foot complex on the outskirts of Turin, Italy, housing many different food areas, or halls.

Eataly offers fresh produce, groceries, house wares, a pizzeria, a smart European café, a bar area for beer, and seven restaurants, including one serving fresh shaved white truffles on your choice of seven different entrees (risotto, fried eggs, etc.).

Doesn't sound like your neighborhood Safeway does it?

And yet, despite the premium-quality of goods, the careful selection and helpful, courteous, conscientious staff, nothing here is priced beyond what working class and middle-income earners can afford.

Eataly is the brainchild of an Italian entrepreneur who sold his chain of 100+ electronic stores and decided to do something good, and socially conscious, with part of the proceeds. The aim of Eataly is to dispel the notion that high quality farm products are the birthright of a privileged few.

Eataly attempts to popularize the availability of clean, tasty, additive-free foods, leaning largely on the motifs of "local" and "seasonal." The concept of "organic," is not part of the mantra.

Today there are Eataly food halls in Turin, Bologna, and Milan, Italy; there are two in Tokyo and one will open in New York City in late spring of 2010. Lucky are those who live in one of these neighborhoods.

Recipe for Eataly:

Eataly, as a concept, is what you might get if, in a Cuisinart food processor bowl, you added together a Whole Foods store, one of Movenpick's Marche concept stores, three or four pavilions from Disney World's EPCOT Center, spiced the mixture with a dash of Conran and a sprinkle of IKEA, then pulse the mixture on high for 30 seconds. 

I peppered my five-hour visit to the food market today with many edible pauses; I stopped in the market café and fought my way to the packed bar, to order an espresso. It was the single best espresso that I have had on my travels in Italy this trip.

The truffle chef picks through the day's treasures, which will be sliced and served with seven, or eight, different featured entrees, including a risotto made with fresh chicken stock.

I stopped for lunch at the seasonal in-store restaurant serving fresh, shaved white truffles. I ordered two perfectly cooked farm-fresh eggs sunny-side-up and reveled in the taste (there is something about white truffles that is like catnip to humans; the scent wafts up your nose and makes you giddy).

For this luxury lunch, I paid $30, a pittance when you consider that a pound of fresh white truffles commands $2,700 a pound in the marketplace.

I chose a glass of local Barbera, a tasty red wine, to complement my truffled eggs and it was superb, yet only cost 3 Euros ($4.50). None of that $15-a-glass nonsense here. And the price quoted on a menu at a restaurant in Italy is the final price you pay; there is no tax added to your booze, or your restaurant bill and guests are not expected to leave a tip.

As the M.O. of Eataly is pure – to increase the awareness and availability of high-quality produce and products and to feature those which are minimally (if at all) processed – the acclaimed, non-profit, Slow Food Movement has signed on to consult to Eataly, offering educational classes on site and helping to identify regional producers of "clean" products, which may be offered for sale at Eataly.

The big themes here are local, seasonal, high-quality, environmentally conscious products, preferably brought to market with sustainable growing practices.

One of the original, big ideas at Eataly is to create a direct contact between the producer and the consumer, cutting out as many intermediary stages and handlers as possible, which helps to keep prices down and quality up.

They appear to be having quite a success on both fronts at the Turin location. They are making the best breads on site that I have found in Italy over my last three years' of visits to this country. The rustic loaves rival the sorts of breads to which we have become accustomed in the Bay-area, rustic loaves from the ovens of Acme Bakery, Bouchon Bakery or Model Bakery.

The pastries here are tasty, tender, and the cakes are decorated as though by master patissiers.

The hand-made chocolates look as though they came out of le magasin of a fine Swiss, or Belgian, chocolatier.

The home-made ice cream, made with milk that is free of antibiotics, and all that jazz, is sensually rich and creamy.

Weird items, too. I liked the pinched, unusual shape of these small bottles of carbonated water.

Eataly was built on the site of the former Carpano Vermouth factory. A. B. Carpano invented Vermouth in Turin in 1786 and built a huge factory on the outskirts of the town in which to manufacture it.

A display in the upstairs Carpano Museum – the history of vermouth, how it's made, and what are the secret ingredients.

To honor the former tenant, the Carpano Vermouth Museum has been created on the upper floor of Eataly, easily worth a 20-minute visit. If you're really cleaver and take notes, you just might crack the firm's secret formula for making vermouth and start your own vermouth venture.

Who pulls days-old containers of milk from a supermarket shelf any longer? In Italy, at Eataly, you fill your own bottles from a bulk vessel of just-delivered-to-the-store fresh whole milk.

Eataly boasts 10,000 different foods and beverages; you can buy or bring empty glass bottles and fill them with wine kept in large vessels; you can buy or bring empty bottles and fill them with fresh whole milk, straight from the farm.

The Beer Bar – multiple types of beer available on tap and a huge selection of bottled beer to take home.

Tired of shopping? Settle into a chair in the small library corner of the store where there are numerous cookbooks and food-related books to keep you busy.

As well, there are six Apple desktop computers here on which you can surf the Internet for free for an hour. Quite possibly this is the only such place in all of Turin. (I certainly have been unable to find any free public WIFI hotspots in the city, making Turin the only city as poorly WIFI'd that I have been in this year as Vancouver, BC. Even Dublin, Ireland, I found to be better equipped for public WIFI than Turin or Vancouver, and that's saying something!)

But WIFI, SHMIFI – the goal is to visit Eataly and learn how the other half lives, not computes. And you sure don't need a fancy computer to tally up what they've got and what we're missing in North America. But that disparity only lasts until spring next year, when Eataly opens in New York.

Eataly is on the southern outskirts of Turin, called Lingotto. Via Nizza, 230 / 14. Visit the web site at

You can reach Eataly on the Turin city bus #1 from the main train station (Porto Nuovo).

Eataly Torino is open daily 10 am to 10.30 pm. The seven on-site restaurants, pizzeria and bars are open from noon to 3 pm daily and again from 7 pm to 10:15pm.




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