«I visited Disneyland and Disneyworld and wasn’t snobbish about it, unlike most fellow Italians». This declaration from FICO’s (and Eataly’s) founder Oscar Farinetti, at the press preview of its new brainchild on a gloomy november morning, tells a lot about the style and spirit of this massive theme park on the outskirts of Bologna. Just like Bologna in the eyes of its touristic marketing campaign, FICO Eatalyworld is all about food. Food shopping, food studying, the food chain, #foodporn, social food and literally anything that comes to mind. Including this five reasons for you to visit it and have your verdict on wether this is actually fico* or not.
1) The size: massive and ambitious
Kind of a crossover of some of the larger Eataly stores and the late Expo of Milan, FICO has a remarkable size of 9.000 square meters occupied by food stalls, food shops and restaurants, from fish gourmet to street food to the inevitable pizza. What is particularly ambitious though is the “agricultural” part: supposedly, the place also hosts “20.000 SM of biodiversity”, aka two hectares of fields and open air barns. I say “supposedly” because us journalists were only showed, apparently, a small part of it: I’ve seen cows, sheep, hens, pigs in small quantity (but enough to take me to point 4). I supposed everything will be unveiled at the actual opening.
2) The food: mainstream but good
Yes, the food. Of course. That’s the main reason we’re here, isn’t that? So basically what kind of foodie is this huge covered park dedicated to? Definitely the curious and the lover of abundance, not the niche or the snob. But niche belongs to city centers, niche is for downtown, little secret places and hidden locations. FICO is in the outskirts of Bologna and next to a big mall: of course it’s mainstream but so is food culture now. Everyone wants to be a foodie and everyone watches Masterchef (and Joe Bastianich was in fact present today at the launch). So at FICO you’ll find a little of everything: from the big commercial names (Melita, Rossopomodoro, Amadori) to some renewed local excellences (Fabbri, Birrificio Poretti, Consorzio San Daniele, Consorzio Mortadella Bologna IGP etc) to producer stalls, literally producing most food on site (the bread of Forno Calzolari, the sicilian cakes form Palazzolo).
3) The carousels: nerdy pleasures
Whenever I hear the word Carousel I think of that great scene from Mad Men when Don Draper talks about nostalgia… but that’s my problem. Inside FICO, you’ll find 6 carousels – again that Disneyland reference – that combine interactive games, primary school culture (the first to be forgotten sometimes) and a little array of nerdy pleasures. Each carousel has its main topic: fire, earth, sea, animals, drinks and future. Farinetti was clearly super proud of them and encouraged everyone to visit. I actually had a lot of fun in the animal’s carousel, where I scored a miserable 6 out of 10 in the wild animals’ quiz but, in turn, discovered “how many animals I’m tall”: apparently, it’s four ducks, a turkey and two rabbits. I would have preferred a baby giraffe and a half but hey, that’s life.
4) The food chain: choice is yours
I don’t think this was Farinetti’s intention but placing live animals just outside the door of the location where you’ll find that same animals packaged and served as “meat” is a strong reminder of how your food is made and whose death it can be the result of. No matter how you think about this matter, this straight-in-your-face depiction of the food chain has an impact. As a former vegetarian that was taking a break from vegetarianism, being in front of a lovely white cow with her name tag on her ear and two vivacious little piggies immediately made me forget about tasting any of the many samples of prosciutto or porchetta that were given away on my back. Again: personal choice. But clarity is a nice thing.
5) Pilastro’s renaissance: a dream
Big trendy cities always have that new up-and-coming neighborhood. But Bologna isn’t trendy or big and there’s not much choice outside the city center. And the humble Pilastro area hosting FICO has had for quite long time a rather bad reputation. I’m genuinely happy if this massive investment of a them park brigs new lymph, new life and, yes, some money to this out of radar area. And, yes, I have a dream: I dream of a horse escaping FICO and galloping free between the big shops of the adjacent mall Meraville. But, again, thats’ me.
*Fico literally mean “figue”, but is also vintage Italian slang for “cool”