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

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.

Dhaka relishes traditional ‘Dhakaia iftar’ in Ramadan

Chawak Bazar Iftar market vendors on a busy Wednesday afternoon. (AN photo)
Updated 24 May 2018

Dhaka relishes traditional ‘Dhakaia iftar’ in Ramadan

  • While much has changed in Dhaka, its tasty Ramadan dishes have stayed the same in the 400-year old city established by the Mughal dynasty.
  • The exquisite variety of kebabs attracts food lovers from far and wide, reminding them of the existence of Mughals through different food menus — offering tikka, shutli, jaali, shami, irani and other kinds of kebabs.

DHAKA: “To me it’s like a festival. During Ramadan, all of us friends regularly gather at my house and have the ‘Dhakaia Iftar’ together,” said Abdullah Alamin, 48, a city dweller of old Dhaka.

While much has changed in Dhaka, these tasty dishes have stayed the same in the 400-year old city established by the Mughal dynasty.

“Chawak Bazar Iftar market of old Dhaka has a history of more than 100 years. Many things of the area have changed with the passage of time but the Chawak Bazar Iftar remains unchanged,” said renowned historian Muntasir Mamun, a professor at Dhaka University.

Chawak Bazar became the city center of Dhaka during the Mughal regime in the early-16th century. The iftar bazar is a continuity of the retail market set up since then, Muntasir said.

During Ramadan, people from all over Dhaka get something more to add to their regular iftar menu.

In Chawak Bazar, vendors in makeshift shops offer a variety of iftar items. These include “boro baper polai khai” (only the son of an influential father eats this), shahi jilapi, shahi paratha, beef, chicken, mutton, pigeon, quail roast, keema roll, keema paratha, doi bora, borhani.

The exquisite variety of kebabs attracts food lovers from far and wide, reminding them of the existence of Mughals through different food menus — offering tikka, shutli, jaali, shami, irani and other kinds of kebabs.

Boro baper polai khai is the most popular iftar item among the locals. People from old Dhaka can simply not complete their iftar without having a piece of it. This is an exclusive food of the city made of chicken, minced meat, potatoes, brain, chira, egg, spices and ghee.

“This is a traditional food of old Dhaka. I saw my grandfather enjoying eating boro baper polai khai,” said Hajji Joinal Molla, 79, who has been living in the Lalbag area of old Dhaka for many years.

“We love to treat our special guests with this dish,” Joinal said.

Most of the 200 vendors at the market are second- or third-generation businesses. 

“My 11-year-old son is very fond of shami kebab at Chawak Bazar. Today he has invited some of his friends to our house, which brought me here to this iftar market,” said Shamsuddin Ahmed, 55, a resident of Uttara, new Dhaka.

“These traditional Iftar items have become an integral part of our iftar culture,” Shamsuddin said.