Jump to content, Jump to navigation.

Amber Paulen

Eataly in Rome on a Sunday

Leaving Eataly

by Simon Griffee

Yesterday I woke (late) with an urge to finally see what that Eataly thing is all about. I’ve seen the canvas shopper bags dangling off young shoulders and I’ve heard about Eataly: a big supermarket with restaurants is how it’s most often described. I’ve discussed the concept: Isn’t it ridiculous to try to market Italian food to Italians? Why does Rome need an all-Italy supermarket when every bread maker, cheese and meat slicer, butcher, fish vendor, and fruit and veggie man and woman is already selling full-blooded Italian products to Italians? You got me.

Something I must iterate before getting into the Eataly experience is that large supermarkets are relatively new in Italy. As more and more Italians live in suburbs and drive cars, the supermarket’s popularity has increased. But there is still a big portion of the population who will walk from one store to another (yes, walk, even the eighty-year-old grandmas) to pick up each product from its appropriate vendor. For me, this is one of the major pleasures of eating in Italy. Then of course, there’s the food that is always top-notch because of its freshness and simplicity. I’ve had the pig butcher tell me the sausage I was buying had been made from a pig that was running around that very morning, bread is always out of the oven, and fruit ripens on trees.

Eataly dominates a previously abandoned building—where the new Italo train line has also wedged in an office—on the Garbatella side of Ostiense Station. Mussolini had the station built for Hitler’s arrival into town, and the building still retains much of that Fascist charm even down to the graffiti tags and never functioning escalators. If you’re headed to Eataly from inside the Aurelian walls, a walk through Ostiense Station is your port of entry. And then you’re there, standing outside the glittering new-old building; then you’re swept inside on a crowd.

Immediately it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who thought Sunday was a good time to go to Eataly. The place was packed, so that at first all I saw were heads and heard was children. And then the inner-skeleton of the place began to take form: shimmering (working) escalators drew shoppers and their carts upwards by the dozens, rows and shelves of shiny upscale sauces, mixed in with a café, and look there, a pasticeria! And over there, a beer garden! A friggitoria! Sliced meats and cheeses! Rows and rows of fancy pasta! A bookstore! What is this place?

But Simon and I were too hungry to walk around amongst that many people, so we quickly found a seat in the nearest thing to a restaurant. I ordered a pasta di mare and Simon had the lunch special. While we ate we began to talk. “It reminds me of an Ikea.” “At least it employs an age group in desperate need of jobs.” “The bread is tasty.” “My pasta is good.” “I can see why it’s popular in the States.” “It’s so new and shiny and commercial—”

That’s what bothers me about Eataly: the consumer frenzy that I’ve deplored as an American in the States has always felt worse to me in its manifestations outside that country. Eataly, Eataly, Eataly is posted everywhere, on t-shirts and bags and the walls. It’s not food or even Italian food back to Italians that Eataly wants to sell, but itself over and over again. Selling itself as the best new, big box-shop-that’s-more-than-a-shop because it’s a whole experience. After grabbing a free sample of something sweet, Simon and I headed for the exit.

Later in the evening I started to think about Eataly again and was reminded of a market we haven’t visited since last spring. On a side street off a corner of Circo Massimo is the Campania Amica market that sets up every weekend. Farmers bring in their fruit and veggies; there’s a porchetta guy, cheese and meat people, and someone selling potted flowers and herbs. Every weekend one farm organizes and cooks up a slim lunch menu that you get tavola calda style and eat on long wooden benches, communal style. There is a quiet humility about the place even when it’s packed and loud and the farmers are irritable. Here are people making a living by selling what they know how to do. They’re not selling themselves as anything besides farmers, and their clemintini are nothing more than that, clemintini fresh off the tree.

But I’ll try to finish on a bright note: if 8:00 pm to midnight ever comes around and finds me in desperate need of ingredients for dinner, instead of making due with the Bangladeshi stand down the street, I can head over to Eataly and pick up some vegetables, cheese, or meat. But wait . . . I weigh the two options: Supporting the Bangladeshi who supports his family out of his small stand or finding my way through Ostiense station to support a big box-shop? Maybe not. Maybe Barilla and tomato for dinner is just fine.


·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·