EATALY The biggest enogastronomic center in the world

My visit to Torino last month would not have been complete without a stop at Eataly, the grand and glorious emporium dedicated to the finest foods and gastronomic traditions of Italy. A short taxi ride from the center of the city brought me to the more working-class area of town where Eataly sits, framed by views of the Alps and across the street from the original Fiat factory complex.

Let me start by saying that I am not crazy about the name. When I first read the news of Eataly Torino’s grand opening in 2006, my first reaction was that it sounded like a cool place with a lame name. I still can’t say I’m entirely comfy with it, but once I got inside, they could have called it Foodaly and I wouldn’t have cared.

Eataly has been described as a combination of Milano’s Peck market and Whole Foods, which almost prepared me for what I would see but doesn’t quite do enough justice to Eataly’s Slow Food–inspired mission. Eataly’s best accomplishment is providing a shopping experience that is comfortable, educational, exciting, and awe-inspiring all at once. It is the kind of place that you walk in to and immediately decide that you need a plan to get through it all. But then again, Eataly is also the kind of place that can be so dazzling, even the best-laid plan gets thrown out the window in favor of an aimless meander.

It wasn’t so much the design that dazzled me into near-oblivion, although Eataly it is perfectly pleasant and even beautiful in some ways. Clean, modern, sometimes laboratory-like displays are softened by glimpses of red brick and rich wood. Like Whole Foods, signage is strategic and straightforward, telling you what you are buying, where it is from, and why it is special. At 11 a.m., the store was nearly empty just before the lunch crowds that arrive daily. The air was filled with the aromas from the store’s ten different eating areas, each serving the foods offered in their specific shopping section.

And, oh, what foods. The seafood department contains fish and shellfish brought from Italy’s vast coasts, the meat section highlights intensely red Piemontese beef, and the produce is arranged like a 17th-century still life. My favorite part was the grocery and bakery section, where I became lost among the dozens and dozens of olive oils from every corner of Italy; colorful jars of pristine vegetables; a multitude of honeys, vinegars, and condiments; sacks of organic flours, grains, and Italian heirloom beans; and bags of pasta made only with Italian wheat.

That’s where we decided to have our lunch, although within the hour, our chosen zone had filled to capacity. We jockeyed for a position at the winding counter and decided on pasta instead of pizza. Each dining area features three or four daily offerings, and because each menu is so specific and therefore limited, the food arrives lickety-split. I indulged in Angolotti del Plin stuffed with proscuitto and veal and finished with butter and fresh sage; my friend had curly, snail-shaped pasta with tomato, herbs, and the sweetest mussels I have ever tasted.

After polishing off the pasta we checked out the beverage universe, which included an entire section dedicated to artisanal Italian sodas and specialty waters, a warm and inviting coffee bar, and a vast cellar that houses hundreds of bottles of Italy’s best wines, an impressive collection of Italian microbrews, and shelves stocked with unique spirits and digestives. We finished off our visit with a sample of some of the tiny pastries offered by master pastry chef Luca Montersino, and a small cup of stupendous gelato by L’Agrigelateria Sanpè.

Eataly just opened a new location in Milano and is coming to New York City this year, as reported in the New York Times. I have two bits of advice to anyone visiting any location: Come hungry, and bring money. Lots and lots of money.

About the author: Gina DePalma is the pastry chef at Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant in New York City and the author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. She is currently in Rome doing research for her next book and further exploring her passions for Italian food.