Mercato Metropolitano, a name with radical simplicity, tells you all you need to know about an initiative that launched under the umbrella of the Expo and has already made its way into the hearts and habits of the citizens of Milan. Think of a country fair and dress it up in city clothes. The Mercato Metropolitano is rustic and trendy at the same time. There is a huge range of typical and genuine food items on sale, including your choice of street foods from all over Italy in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere along with the option to dine al fresco. You find cooking classes, small concerts, kids’ activities, and a large open air cinema. And all of this is located in one of the most quintessential areas of Milan, between the Naviglio Grande canal and Via Tortona.
The Mercato Metropoitano is like a theme park for the palate, but there is nothing gaudy about it. In fact, it’s far from it. The market is like a fresh, tasteful recipe with a host of quality ingredients. Start with the railway workshops near Porta Genova station, a one-time industrial complex restructured and restored to the city. Add a couple of visionaries, like Ambrogio De Ponti, chairman of the market gardening organization Unaproa, and Andrea Rasca, an international entrepreneur in food diplomacy, whose brainchild it was to bring craft food artisans to Milan. And finally, add 100 or so small- and medium-sized producers ready to bring their specialties to the city, to cook them and to tell their story. With all of that you get a hearty and delicious meal of shopping, eating, and fun.
The entrance to the Mercato Metropolitano is in Via Valenza, where the towpath meets the road bridge over the canal. In an area which once played host to the Senigallia market, a wonderland of tasty, wholesome food awaits you. The market covers an area of around 15,000 square meters and is divided into a covered and uncovered area. Housed within the typical architecture of the railway warehouses, with their steep roofs and wooden beams, you find stalls and small shops selling fresh food. Choose from over 2,000 products, from the simplest (like bread and pasta) to the most refined and exclusive (oysters and vintage wines). And on top of the fresh produce, you can often also see how the items are made. There is a spirit of sharing the knowledge, which is also on display in the cooking classes that run three times a day. It’s not just about selling food here. It’s also about spreading the culture. At the end of a long line of shops and stalls, you find an outlet for products you might find in the already well established Eataly model.
Outside, on the other hand, there is a multi-colored mix of market and country fare. Alongside the stalls selling fruit, vegetables, and herbs, you spot street food sold out of kiosks and off the backs of Piaggio 3-wheelers. And there are chairs and tables dotted around, so you can make yourself comfortable. You’re able to enjoy the best cuisine in the simplest way possible, picking and choosing from the delights on sale. Say you want to wash down a hamburger made with Piedmontese Fassona beef with your favorite craft beer. You won’t have to walk far. And at the end of the meal, you have plenty of choices to make. Would you rather try a Sicilian Cannolo or a fruit ice cream from the Amalfi coast?
In the open area you see the events that bring the Mercato Metropolitano to life by day and night. There are seminars and symposiums, shows, concerts, kids’ activities, and an open-air cinema that runs all summer long.
The Mercato Metropolitano was meant to coincide with the Expo, but it’s already been extended through December. It seems like there’s interest in making this a permanent fixture. In the meantime, the creators are working on exporting the model abroad so the whole world can discover what Italian food has to offer. The market heads to Tokyo in October, followed by New York, London, and Dubai.