Disneyland for foodies: Italy to open gastronomic theme park

Fishmongers present Mediterranean fresh sea catch at a stand during a press tour at FICO Eataly World agri-food park in Bologna on November 9. FICO Eataly World, said to be the world’s biggest agri-food park, will open to the public on November 15. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Disneyland for foodies: Italy to open gastronomic theme park

BOLOGNA, Italy: A gastronomic theme park designed as a celebration of Italy’s field-to-fork food culture opens next week with backers aiming to pull in six million visitors a year.
Dubbed a ‘Disneyland for foodies’ and billed as the biggest venture of its kind in the world, FICO Eataly World is located on the outskirts of Bologna.
It is the brainchild of Oscar Farinetti, the entrepreneur behind Eataly, a global network of upmarket Italian food halls that has taken New York and a string of other major cities around the world by storm in recent years.
Spread over ten hectares (25 acres), the park, which will operate as a conference venue as well as a tourist attraction, will be run by a partnership of Eataly and Italian retail group Coop.
The venue has been financed by a consortium of private investors and the local authorities in a city famed for its rich cuisine but off Italy’s main tourist track.
The FICO of the park’s name comes from the acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina (Italian Farming Factory). Fico is also the Italian word for a fig, and a popular slang term for ‘cool’.
The multiple meaning is in keeping with Farinetti’s multi-faceted vision of a venue that will allow visitors to take part in activity workshops ranging from food photography to gelato-making via the basics of truffle hunting.
A fifth of the park, assembled in what was the city’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market, is outdoors with some 200 animals and 2,000 species of plant life due to be on show.
“Education is fundamental to the whole thing. But it is also about having fun, eating, shopping,” Farinetti said in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s opening.
The park is also about celebrating the culinary and farming crafts that lie behind many of Italy’s most famous gastronomic products, and the bio-diversity of a country that stretches from Mediterranean islands within sight of Africa to snow-capped Alpine peaks.

Visitors can explore that diversity via more than 40 eateries and a similar number of learn-how-its-done displays by specialist producers of everything from rare-breed beef to liquorice sweets.
As the opening date nears, Farinetti says he is caught between rampant enthusiasm at seeing a dream realized, and “total panic.”
“This for me is quite normal. I’m terrified that people won’t come in the numbers we expect. You can’t help but feel panicked when you start something like this.”
Park CEO Tiziana Primori said the target was to be drawing six million visitors a year by 2020, with the business plan envisaging a third coming from the local area, a third from the rest of Italy and a final tranche of around two million from abroad.
Asked if that target is realistic, Farinetti responds with a broad smile. “No, it’s utopian, but every project I have been involved with has been utopian. The whole world is realistic, I prefer utopia. I don’t know if we will make it but we’ll give it our all.”
Underpinning that ebullience is the success enjoyed by almost all of the Eataly stores that have been opened from Copenhagen to Sao Paolo.
“At the moment there is an absolutely crazy interest in Italian food from the citizens of the world, for pasta, for pizza, for our simple cuisine,” said Farinetti.
That, he says, is down to the ease in which dishes tasted in Italy or in restaurants can be reproduced in domestic kitchens.
“You can buy half a kilo of pasta, some extra virgin olive oil and San Marzano tomatoes and go home and make what you had. And it is very digestible and light.”
Among those backing Farinetti’s vision is Antonio Capaldo, owner of the Feudi San Gregorio wine company and one of dozens of entrepreneurs involved in the project.
Capaldo has teamed up with a seafood wholesaler to create a fish-based fast-food eatery at the park, which will showcase his expanding company’s white and sparkling wines.
“We know all the complications but there is a great thirst for Italian culture around the world, and that, combined with Oscar’s track record, is why we are betting on this being a success,” he said.


Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

Original local cafes are working hard to maintain their reputation for serving authentic coffee. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 09 December 2018
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Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

  • The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage

JEDDAH: Coffee has always been a major part of Arab culture, a traditional companion at gatherings, weddings and a wide variety of social events.
In Arab households, there is never an occasion where the “dallah” — the Arabic traditional coffee pot — is unavailable. Coffee is served over and over again in small Arabic cups.
Recently, however, there has been a rise in another branch of coffee culture, “specialty coffee.”
Western coffee culture has spread rapidly in Saudi Arabia, with local cafes popping up on the streets and in shopping malls. Their growing popularity is well deserved.
Original local cafes such as Brew 92, meddcoffee, Cup and Couch and others have worked hard to grow their reputation for serving authentic coffee, rather than using sugar and other elements to change the taste of the beverage.
The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage.
Atheer Al-Dhari, a barista at Ekleel cafe, said: “I love coffee. After four years’ experience in coffee, it is not just a career or a job but my biggest passion. My husband encouraged me to be more than a home barista.
“A couple of years ago, modern coffee was not popular,” the 26-year-old barista said. “But, then, as people observed the complexity of coffee they became curious. It was our responsibility to show them how coffee worked and that it was more than just a beverage. It takes years to even grow the coffee tree, so it is a lot of work and effort. There are farmers, roasteries, training, lots of money and so much more involved in serving a cup of coffee.”
Abbas Anwar Khan, a marketing specialist at Qatarat cafe, said: “We work on introducing a variety of coffee to the public, to familiarize them with the many flavors and textures.”
Rawan Jambi, a partner in the Rico Coast Lounge, said: “We are looking to introduce ourselves in many different areas, such as Riyadh and Dammam. Recently people have been following the trend of drinking coffee, and they try to include it in their routine from day to night.
“Back in the day, there was just Arabic coffee, but gradually Americanos, cappuccino and other types of hot coffee were introduced. Also due to the hot weather, cold coffees were introduced, which is a big change,” she said.
Recent events have been held to highlight the history and development of coffee in Jeddah. In November, two major events promoted different cafes and offered people a chance to taste their offerings.
“It is very significant for us. The coffee business is growing quickly and competition is strong. It is like a wildfire,” said 19-year-old barista Abdullah Babouk from Beyond Coffee.
“What I like about being a barista is that people who drink coffee have a routine where they come to us every day. Rather than it being a customer-provider relationship, we are a community. Every cafe should open with a vision to stand out and not just make money. Coffee should be treated like gold and that is our mission.”
Although coffee consumption has few health risks and considerable benefits, “anything and everything is harmful when we abuse it,” said dietician Dr. Ruwaida Idrees.
“Coffee bears some risks, and high consumption of unfiltered coffee has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels,” she said.
“More than two cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific and fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.”
Caffeine addiction can be a serious problem for some people, including students and office employees who sacrifice sleep and drink coffee to stay alert.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem with coffee, then start to work on solving the problem,” Idrees said. “Drinking half-caffeinated or decaffeinated versions can help, as can walking around the office or getting other physical activity when you feel sleepy.”
As long as it is not consumed in large quantities, coffee is something to be cherished and each cup enjoyed.