I am still breathing (somehow) and typing, but mostly different things than blog posts. I accumulated a lot of material over the 3 months absence, and I am starting with the most urgent one:
only 11 days left until EXPO Milan 2015 ends.
If you plan to attend, first of all, let me warn you that the content below the cut might be a spoiler for you as it shows a lot of photos from the pavilions. On the other hand, those who cannot visit EXPO – feel free to skip all of the last-minute advice and go straight for the list and photos.
Without further ado, this is my personal ranking of the top 8 Pavilions:
1 – 2) Japan & Korea
- Showcase both national cuisine and global food issues and how they (can) contribute to alleviate them
- Good balance between amount of information conveyed and multimedia use
- Include a short WOW show
3 – 4) Kazakhstan & UAE
-- Showcase both national asects and global food issues and how they (can) contribute to alleviate them
- Both have really cool movies
- In summer, Kazakhstan had very good queue management with continuous dance and singing performances and cooling fans
5) Fab Food
- (located along Cardo, on the left side if you walk from the central cross with the Tree of Life behind your back)
- Learn about the food industry while playing retro arcade games
- Based on what I saw very much under the radar and might not have horrible queues
6) European Union
- EU is very proactive in terms of food and agriculture regulation and sustainability promotion, but it is normally really bad at conveying it to the citizens. The exhibition is actually the most citizen-friendly way to learn about what are all the laws really good for.
- Features a super cool animation that is nominated for film festival award
- Very engaging real-life show + movie interaction showcasing Israel’s contribution to agricultural development in areas with lack of water.
8) Pavilion Zero
- It is the UN pavilion
- It shows a very strong, visual message about topics such as food prices and food waste
+ Buy your lunch at the
COOP Supermarket of the Future
+ Go watch the Tree of Life at night
This list is definitely subjective – but I have visited every single pavilion at the EXPO and I dare say I have a good knowledge of the EXPO theme. First, the list only includes pavilions that are relevant to the topic of EXPO – food security, sustainability, food-related issues, contribution of the countries to improving the world food system etc. Pavilions acting as tourism ads or simply showcasing national food, even if they were beautiful and popular, couldn’t make it here, because in my opinion the EXPO should have been an opportunity to bring to the attention of global public the giant issues food & agriculture have today, but also show best practices from all over the world to help solve them.
Second, I did not include very content-heavy pavilions either (e.g. Germany, Holland, France) even though they fit the theme perfectly. I think those are amazing for people who are really interested in the topic, maybe even have some background knowledge and have a lot of time. But if you go to EXPO as a regular person, spending most likely just one day there, I don’t think they are the best choice. The pavilions I listed above have one more thing in common (on top of being relevant) – they are all very engaging, have strong visuals, clear message, WOW factors that will rejuvenate you after 3 h in a queue and they will let you leave with an inspirational feeling. And I think ultimately, experiencing a strong message will make you more inspired to get involved than being flooded with facts.
As of last Friday, my parents who went as regular visitors claim that they only managed to visit 4 pavilions despite having a thorough briefing by me about everything. Queues were everywhere, too. As EXPO nears its end, it will most likely become even worse. Supposedly work days are even worse than weekends, but either way, bring a fully charged smartphone, headphones, extra battery or charger, water bottles and snacks (hopefully these will pass through security) to survive hours-long queuing. In summer, the longest queues were for Palazzo Italia (extremely overrated and disappointing based on my experience and my Italian colleagues) and Japan – often 4 hours long.
Buy tickets in advance, arrive one hour before opening time to queue up at the entrance nearest to your must-visit pavilion and then run the moment security opens. Still, you will not be the first in queue – because obviously the employees at EXPO working afternoon shifts will come earlier than you can enter to avoid queues. Before you get mad, most of them (us) are volunteers and thus enjoy this small privilege in exchange for tirelessly assisting visitors for free. So you should merely be prepared for having to wait even if you are the first visitor to enter the area. As for food, I personally think the restaurants at EXPO are overpriced and have long queues too, so I would just get a couple cheap sandwiches/chocolate bars/fruits at COOP. Future supermarket experience at suburb prices. You can eat as you wait in queues. As there is good wifi connection, it is useful to have fully charged phone/tab to kill time. I also suggest not wasting day time by going to see the Tree of Life show – the tree will be there after pavilions already close and I think it is way prettier at night, too. If you need to cross from one end of EXPO to the other, consider taking the EXPO mini bus.
What to bring
For entrance, be prepared for airport-level security. So no knives, liquids might depend on your luck. I suggest bringing an empty water bottle that you ca refill from the free water fountains. Dry food should hopefully be fine. Most queues are outside, so raincoat or umbrella is handy. Comfortable shoes are a must because you will walk and stand a lot. A lot of pavilions tried to make their content selfie-friendly, so a camera phone or a proper camera might be something you would regret not bringing. There are ATMs but I would bring some cash just in case – though the pavilion souvenir shops are really overpriced and especially in Asian pavilions, they are either selling stuff you can buy for 50% less in your neighborhood Asian supermarket, or weird stuff I have never seen on shelves in actual stores there (esp. Korea).
Having spent 7 months in South Korea in a culinary science lab and meeting great chefs, going to innovative restaurants and attending a lecture held by soybean paste fermentation experts, I couldn’t wait to visit the pavilion to see what will be showcased to people from all over the world.
If you find the shape of the pavilion peculiar, it is no surprise – the architecture is inspired by the Moon Jar, beautiful white porcelain from Joseon period. Compared to many other extravagant and colorful pavilions, it stands out thanks to the monochromatic white mass.
The interior is beautiful as well, and very artistic. As you enter, the wall features 3D names of Korean traditional food and its characteristics and above the inner entrance hangs a giant spoon and chopsticks – the cutlery traditionally used in Korea.
The first theme shows the nowadays very famous evolution of man from muscular hunter to obese burger-eater – a warning that straying from traditional cuisine based on wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, lean meat, tofu and beans, and cooking from fresh ingredients, has its consequences. Later on, you can see the contrast between the overfed man from the developed par to the world and starving undernourished child. Sounds cliché? Then think about how long have we been hearing that while some are obese, others are starving – for quite long, right? But it hasn’t been solved yet… I believe this is also hinting at South Korea’s rapid transformation from humanitarian-aid recipient to donor.
The exhibition transitions into showcase of the healthy aspects of Korean cooking, with a beautiful movie shown on robotic screens (should we bet which Korean company sponsored the pavilion? Haha). The art of fermentation is the central theme in this part, since that is certainly one of very unique parts of Korean healthy dishes – fermented products are considered to be extremely healthy versions of preserved fresh vegetables and beans.
Upon leaving the pavilion, you can check out the overpriced souvenir shop and fairly affordable bistro (by EXPO standards at least).
Japanese pavilion is not just my personal favorite due to my connection with the country – everybody at EXPO thought it was phenomenal. The intro rooms are beautiful, but hard to capture on a camera – they showcase paintings, calligraphy, holograms, and interactive projections. Unfortunately, my phone refused to work well with some aspects of the pavilion app, but most people could enjoy all of the interactive features.
The next section showed several recipes to create a complete Japanese menu (I was taking photos like crazy because of course these recipes must have been perfected before being featured at a world EXPO) and also all of the basic Japanese ingredients and dishes.
The next section then focuses on global food and agriculture-related challenges.
Finally, the last part – the most famous one – is a future restaurant where visitors are immersed in a unique experience of interacting with virtual food on a table screen with touchpad pen-like chopsticks, accompanied by a giant screen movie and real human hosts. I was mostly busy taking photos of all the showcased dishes as culinary inspiration for later, but the point of the experience was the art of seasonal, healthy, fresh food and sharing it with the loved ones – similar philosophy to the Korean pavilion.
Then I was really lucky to visit on day when several prefectures had a presentation in the restaurant area, so I left the pavilion with samples of green tea ice cream, green tea latte, and an assortment pack of different green teas!
The whole visit took 50 minutes, but if I have one complaint about the pavilion, it is that despite 50 min being a lot for one pavilion, I felt rushed most of the time as he whole group had to move at the same time.
As I mentioned in the intro, Kazakhstan was the only pavilion that tried to make the waiting less tiring for the (at that time) hour-long queue of tired visitors. The dancers and singers were alternating on the stage almost non-stop.
Kazakhstan focused on showcasing their major achievements in agriculture and proudly stated that “Kazakhstan will become the bread basket of the world… we have the resources to feed the world, let us show you”. Since I guess that Kazakhstan reminds most people of Borat (>_______<) if anything, let’s look at some of the facts they enumerated in their pavilion:
- Only 10% of Kazakhstan land is arable and the climate is harsh, yet they are a major wheat exporter – all thanks to a Kazakh scientist who discovered an efficient method of tending to the fields.
- Kazakhstan has a large livestock industry and great apples.
- They work on various initiatives to protect the Aral Sea.
- Aral Sea is probably not the best place to look for fish, but in the other Kazakh lakes, aquaculture is booming. To improve sustainability, sturgeon fishing was put on moratorium as a reaction to overfishing.
- For caviar lovers, caviar from Kazakhstan is removed from the fish by a novel method which causes only minimal damage to the fish.
- To reduce insecticides, satellites monitor locust outbreak hotspots, allowing targeted spraying rather than large-scale treatment.
At the end, you will watch a 3D movie showcasing nature and agricultural areas of Kazakhstan. Also, the 3D glasses are totally selfie-worth.
Before entering the pavilion, I was extremely annoyed. I waited for more than one hour in the rain (without an umbrella) and when I could finally enter, all I could see was an alley of ambiguous hologram screens showing stuff along the way of “there is not a lot of water and still we thrive”. I thought that was it and regretted wasting my time in the queue.
However, suddenly another door opened and we were all hauled inside a cinema. As the next world EXPO host, UAE spent A LOT of money on their movie, which was a real movie with a plot, not a tourism ad. The movie showed that while today, rich people in UAE might not think much of wasting fresh water, it is a luxury that used to be hard to come by in the dessert and it took a lot of effort to get where UAE is today – and they (and we) still need to respect the resources that might appear abundant now. Also, the final song is really catchy – I think if there is a pavilion with the biggest potential to actually inspire people to become more sustainable, this is it. You can watch the movie on youtube since a lot of people filmed it and posted it.
Fab Food did an amazing job at making the food industry more approachable and loveable. While it does not appear to be a well-known pavilion, people inside were having a lot of fun at the interactive QR code machines and retro arcade games – with a food twist. The main point of the exhibition is to show people that the food industry and science and research have done a lot of good for the people (such as preventing people from catching tuberculosis from infected, untreated milk) and also to show what process is behind foods like meat or a can of tuna. It also deals with the main issues of global food security and proposes some approaches to tackling them.
OMG, these old-school game Italian dishes! <3
#TFF - Thought for Food Challenge
No wonder food safety was the test I scored in the highest in Dublin, haha!
While of course you can argue that it is obvious the food industry representatives will try to make themselves look holier than thou, I think that very often people, especially in developed countries, suspect every company except for the neighborhood farmer is trying to kill them with their food, and while “back to the roots” is not a bad movement per se, not many people would actually like to live without refrigerated storage, bacterial contamination control, canning etc.
I promise I am not suggesting the EU pavilion only because I worked there. Even though the exterior is extremely ugly and boring, the content is really cool, particularly for an institution that mainly issues things called EC (No) 2073/2005.
The whole point of the pavilion is to bring the EU closer to its citizens and to show the principle of tradition and innovation/research bringing the best results when combined. The metaphore for this philosophy is the story of Alex and Sylvia. Alex is a farmer who is clueless and hopeless with girls, but he’s a really nice guy and he has talent in farming and baking. Sylvia is a smart as hell environmental scientist with a PhD with honors, but no boyfriend, because she is always holed up in her EU research lab. Guess who represents tradition and who is innovation. Their union is represented by bread, which is also a common staple food in all of EU.
So to understand, in a very funny and approachable way, all of the things EU does, you will get to see the 5D story of Alex and Sylvia. The movie is silent and animated, so it is perfect for any age group and it is really funny with awesome special effects (smell of freshly baked bread included – my stomach was growling non-stop when I worked in the movie room). Because the movie was submitted for an award, it cannot be streamed publically, hence you cannot find it on youtube (yet), but I hope it will be eventually released.
Unfortunately I think that most people won’t think that the story was carefully crafted to show EU policies and missions in every small detail – though I certainly will not understand how anybody thought it make sense to show careful handwashing (food manufacturing hygiene rules, yo)… and then there’s a hairy salivating dog in the kitchen! Try having that approved as a baker, seriously! Bu other than that, it is the cutest representation of EU you will ever see.
After the movie, you can play with interactive screens (still no ECs and Directives mentioned!) or take a photo with a sandwich animation based on ingredients from the “protected origin” list. And we also had free posters for the visitors to take home with Alex, Sylvia and he capital cities of EU.
I will skip because I have no photos of the movie and it can be summed up in what I said above.
Plus there is a competition for plane tickets to Israel and you can plant a tree virtually.
This one is really hard to convey to you in written words as it is based on larger-than-life representations of agriculture, food and their issues such as food waste and losses.
Yours truly (back again)