In general, eating out in Italy wasn’t problematic. Regardless of the restaurant or cafe I went to, whether it was in Florence, Milan or Turin, I was able to find something to eat given the broadness of the Mediterranean diet. While I prefer sticking to greens and pulses I’m not a staunch vegetarian and have meat or seafood about once a week, but only order/buy it if it’s organically sourced (ideally it should be ethically slaughtered as well; however, this is much harder to check for). Since Europe, generally speaking, has far better farming practices and regulations on the treatment, packaging, labelling and sale of organic meat, I feel more-or-less ok about getting my proteins and omega-3s from a different food source every so often. And let me tell you, if you are looking for good meat and a host of other organic vegetables, fruits, pastas, breads, sweets and gluten + dairy free items…Eataly is the place for you.
I partially lost my breath and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I stepped into the Eataly in Turin. Living in Cairo I’m not used to expansive Whole Foods type establishments with an array of beautiful looking, nutritious and (predominantly) organic food. While it’s easy to be spoiled by in-season produce and fruit in Egypt – some of which is biological…yay mangoes! – other anomalies like organic meat, soy, buckwheat, rice/oat/almond milk, quinoa, chia seed, amaranth and hemp (one day I’ll share the story of the natural health food importer who was incarcerated trying to bring hemp seed into the country with a shipment of other natural foods) are extremely hard to come by and cost a fortune even if you can get your hands on them. Needless to say, I find myself the master of salads and soups in Egypt and tend to only “splurge” when I’m north of the 40th parallel.
That being said, Eataly was a great place to let loose since not only is it a grocery/supermarket, but – like at Whole Foods – you’re able to rock up to one of the several in-store bars (seafood, beef + pork, vegetarian, pasta + pizza, cheese, dessert, beer + wine) and order a dish from a small menu of 5-6 items that change according to the season. I was so enraptured by this experience that I went for lunch one day and dinner another. Both times I indulged at the seafood bar, the first with a warm octopus salad and the second, a salmon fillet with salad and grilled vegetables. Both times every bite of food was thoroughly enjoyed.
The food at all of the mini-bars looked quite delicious and it was clearly a popular place given the high turnover throughout the establishment (there was also an outdoor patio, which catered to the pizza/pasta eaters). The only thing that was a slight annoyance was the flippant attitude of the occasional server/bar-staff in taking customer’s orders (this happened to two servers with poor English, who weren’t paying attention to customers due to their butchered Italian and couldn’t be bothered to get someone to mediate) and the long wait to receive food because there are so many diners jockeying for position.
Between you and me though, the real thrill of each visit to Eataly was wandering the aisles for the better part of an hour checking out products, reading labels and filling a shopping basket with items to haul back to Cairo and savour over the course of several months. All those things: red quinoa, chia, balsamic, organic mustard, goji berries, 100% dark chocolate, etc., that are that more difficult to find and expensive to buy, but are worth their weight in oversize luggage charges.
Seriously. Worth. Every. Penny.