What to Eat at Expo Milano
Milan is playing host to the first-ever food-themed World’s Fair, known as Expo Milano 2015, a six-month event that brings together 130 countries to each share their unique vision for the future of food and engage in a dialogue about global sustainability. Running until the end of October, Expo 2015 is like the world’s biggest food court. With so many countries there to represent their local cuisine, it was impossible not to be tempted by the overwhelming number of options. Here are ten of the best things I ate at Expo Milano 2015.
Dutch Weed Burger at Holland Pavilion
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Despite Holland’s best attempts to suggest their weed burger is made with a certain smokable herb, the “weed” in this case refers to seaweed, and it’s apparently very good for longevity. Served on a bright green bun (the color comes from the seaweed), the burger was piled high with the requisite toppers of lettuce, tomato and pickle. Although I didn’t detect any seaweed flavor from the burger or the bun, it was delicious, with a meaty texture and smoky essence—everything you could want from a veggie burger. If seaweed burgers aren’t your thing, you can always grab a Heineken and a Dutch crepe, hop on the mini Ferris wheel behind the food trucks, and nibble and swig while riding round and round. Not joking—I did that too.
Upon entering the expo, one of the first pavilions you’ll see is that of Belgium, and even though you just got there, you will see the signs for Belgian beer and fries, and trust me—you will want some. You might think to yourself, I just got here, I should really hold off, but embrace your FOMO and just do it. Why? Because Belgian fries and beers. The fries are perfectly crispy, and the best part is the plethora of mayonnaise choices for dipping, dunking and smothering.
Russian Caviar and Blinis
At the Russian Pavilion is a small café modeled to look like the inside of an old-fashioned train car. Each spacious booth is equipped with a “window,” which is a screen playing images of what you might see were you actually traveling on a train through the Russian countryside. Once you sit, a server brings a complimentary thimble of vodka, guaranteed to make any journey that much more enjoyable. Pair your shot with salmon roe caviar or black sturgeon and fluffy blinis. There are few combinations in life more pleasurable than briny caviar that bursts in your mouth washed down with bracingly cold vodka. When in Russia, er, Milan...
Japanese Wagyu Don
Minokichi, the restaurant at the Japanese Pavilion, can seem a bit chaotic at first glance. The consistently long queue moves quickly because of ingenuous automated ordering. Despite the no-frills, cafeteria-style dining room, the restaurant delivers some pretty impressive food, including Japan’s prized Wagyu beef, known for its exceptional marbling and high content of omega-3. At Minokichi, the tender and flavorful Wagyu is served sliced and grilled, or braised and chopped with rice and pickled vegetables.
Moroccan Pumpkin Pudding
When something sweet is in order, there is no shortage of gelato or chocolate at the expo. For something a little more exotic, the pumpkin pudding at the Moroccan Pavilion will hit the spot. Topped with sesame seeds, the not-too-sweet pudding has a luxurious, velvety texture laced with cardamom that evokes the flavors of the market in Marrakesh.
Apertivo at Terraza Martini
After many hours on your feet, you’re going to need a cocktail. Look for the unmistakable red-circled Martini & Rosso logo. Up a flight of stairs, you find a sleek bar offering a quiet respite from the bustle of the expo. There you can choose from a number of cocktails made with Martini Rosso, ranging from a classic negroni to an easy-drinking tonic. The best part is, order a drink and you’ll be rewarded with a complimentary plate of bite-size snacks, known as the Italian custom apertivo.
My Americano (Campari and Martini sweet vermouth with soda water) was accompanied by a few pieces of Parmesan, olives, a skewered cherry tomato and mozzarella ball, a mini quiche, and a few sweet and savory biscuits.
Wine and Prosciutto at “Vino — a Taste of Italy”
At the Italian Pavilion, 10 euros lets you try three tasters from a selection of over 1,400 different bottles, all categorized by the regions of Italy. The only problem? How to choose. For my money, I was thrilled with my tastes of a 2009 Barolo, a 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella and Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G, which were complemented with slices of prosciutto di Parma.
Sausage at the Slovenian Pavilion
Along the main walkway, you will find a food cart at the Slovenian Pavilion that offers Carniolan sausage, a culinary specialty from Slovenia that's similar to kielbasa. The Carniolan sausage is so revered by Slovenians, it was entered into the registry of protected geographical indications in January 2015. Surprisingly mild with just a hint of spice, the juicy pork wiener comes with a seeded roll, a dollop of mustard and shredded piquant horseradish to finish it off.
Bibimbap at the Korean Pavilion
The Korean Pavilion takes you through a hypnotic journey on the art of cabbage fermentation. Have no doubt about it: By the end, you will be craving kimchi. Luckily, the Bibigo restaurant awaits with bibimbap, the traditional Korean bowl of rice topped with spiced vegetables and your protein source of choice, like crispy tofu served with spicy gochujang (chili pepper paste) for a welcomed kick of flavor.
Gong at the James Beard American Restaurant
Technically, I did not eat this at the pavilion, but it still counts because the James Beard Foundation has established an affiliated restaurant in Milan for the duration of Expo 2015 called the James Beard American Restaurant. Visitors to the expo can opt for an upscale dinner that features a rotating cast of well-known American chefs (Laurent Gras, Andrew Carmellini and Edward Lee, to name a few) who will be cooking American cuisine that extends beyond the hamburgers, hot dogs and lobster rolls sold at the USA Pavilion. The night I ate at JBAR, however, Swiss-born Pietro Leemann was helming the kitchen. Chef Leemann is the chef and owner of Milan’s Joia, the only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant in Italy. A decadent meatless five-course meal concluded with a dessert he simply called “Gong,” which, when presenting it, Leeman rings an actual gong, signifying the energy of the dish. Served in a jar, the creamy dessert is packed with brownies, berries, whipped cream and colorful swirls topped with a light-as-air milk foam.