Planet on a plate

Planet on a plate

Aylin Öney Tan -
Planet on a plate

Queen Letizia of Spain poses during a visit at the Spanish Pavilion Teresa Lizaranzu at the Universal Exhibition 2015 (Expo Milano 2015 or World Exposition 2015) in Milan on July 23, 2015. AFP photo

A spot just northwest of Milan has to be the epicenter of the most exciting plates on earth these days. Since its opening on May 1, the Milan Expo 2015 has been hosting the most notable chefs, as well as humble cooks from all over the world to display their culinary creations or traditional dishes of national or regional pride. It is no coincidence as the theme of this year’s expo is about food. Titled “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” the Milan Expo is the showground of all countries displaying whatever they have related to food and agriculture. It is not likely that a visitor can ever leave the fair hungry. 

Early in the morning yesterday, despite the lousy weather with miserable dripping rain, visitors did not refrain from standing long hours in lines to get into the most popular pavilions. As far as I could see the countries with the longest cues were Korea, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and of course the hosting country, Italy. One team member from the Italian Expo organizers whispered to me that his favorite country was Kazakhstan. Apparently the Turkic countries took the fair seriously, and did their best to attract visitors.

Azerbaijan also received good reviews in architectural terms. Being originally an architect, I found Russia, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Austria, and France architecturally interesting but unfortunately not Turkey, which had to build a hastily executed design at the last moment. Though it had an permeable design, advantageous in attracting visitors, it remained very elementary, not elaborated enough, without a strong concept. 

I’m writing these notes from the breakfast table of Nutella, trying to set a Guinness record for the longest international breakfast table on earth. The guests are from all over the world uniting fifty-six nations around a single joyous breakfast with copious amounts of Nutella spread. The table is situated along the Italian pavilion towards “Albero della Vita” (The Tree of Life) created by Marco Balich, the art director of the Italian Expo pavilion. The tree is the symbol of the Milan Expo and acts as the heart of the fair. 

At the same time in Rome a similar breakfast table is set, not international, but even longer, breaking the record at a formidable 1 kilometer and serving 100,000 sets of breakfasts in the course of eight hours, ideally and justly situated along Lungotevere and Isola Tiberina, along the Tiber River. The event was previously announced by another breakfast, a vertical one, set on a wall vertically by acrobats just across Piazza di Spagna. The idea was pitched by event organizer Tomaso Cavanna, a Milan-based Venetian event organizer and the founder of Punk for Business. As these breakfast tables demonstrate, the Milan fair is a showcase which extends beyond its borders. 

Actually one interesting event, maybe the most notable one, is taking place off-site. Just outside the Milan Expo site, there is another notable spot to check, a wonderful initiation created by famed award-winning Italian chef Massimo Bottura: The Soup Kitchen, a charity kitchen distributing food for free made from recycled leftover food. There are so many leftovers from all the food stalls in the Expo, and that just did not seem to fit with the ethics of the fair, which suggests ideas to lessen food waste and to promote sustainability following the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Many celebrity chefs are taking their turns and Sept. 17 will be the turn of chef Cem Erol from MSA Istanbul. If you happen to be around, just pop in and give a helping hand!

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week: Chef Erol and his sous chef Zeynep Tunç plan to make an improvisation of the ubiquitous İskender kebab, making use of stale bread and leftover uncooked meat. Follow their idea to make your own mock kebab. Thinly slice meat pieces across the grain. It could be strips or like shaved slices, doesn’t matter. Marinate the meat pieces in onion juice made by grating onion finely, and a little tomato paste. Salt and pepper to taste. Cut pieces of stale bread of any kind in chunks. Shallow-fry the bread chunks in butter. Grill or pan-fry the meat pieces on high heat. Arrange the bread pieces on a serving plate. Put the meat slices over the bread pieces, also pouring over the pan juices. Spoon generous amounts of garlic yoghurt on one side; sprinkle with thyme, pepper flakes and sumac and pour a drizzling of melted sizzling butter over it. Food for thought and for a good cause!

Fork of the Week: If you happen to be in Milan in September, don’t skip the Turkish pavilion. There will be a series of talks organized by MSA, the Culinary Arts Academy, Turkey’s leading cooking school, on behalf of the Turkish Flour Yeast and Ingredients Promotion Group, from Sept. 15-30. Talks will be given by Aylin Öney Tan (yes, it’s me!) and food and beverage consultant Osman Serim. Each talk will be accompanied by a demo and a tasting of little surprises prepared by a group of MSA crouhefs led by Cem Erol, Zeynep Tunç, Efe Çakıroğlu and Günçe Güneş. The titles are as follows: Source of Life: Anatolian Breads; Wheat: The Grain that Started the Civilization; The World’s First Instant Soup: Tarhana; From Asia to Anatolia, the Saga of “Mantı”; and 1001 Layers of Sweetness: Baklava. Come and join us if you can to taste the tasty morsels or, you can just listen to the shows live-steamed on the Expo’s website. 

Cork of the Week: Writing from Milan the wine suggestions of the week could break another Guinness record. Instead I’ll suggest the Gold Medal winners of last week’s First Thrace Wine Competition. Here are the delicious bottles that got 91-plus points from international judges: Doluca Sarafin Merlot 2013; Barel Gunn Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah 2012; Doluca DLC Grenache 2013; Gülor Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2012; and Kayra Vintage Shiraz 2013. Grab these bottles wherever you find them, you’ll be rewarded.