Milan expo to showcase Lebanese cuisine
April 16, 2014 12:14 AM By Beckie Strum, Dana Halawi

Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Morabito, right, and Minister Alain Hakim attend a conference at the Serail in Beirut, T
uesday, April 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanese government officials and the Italian Embassy called Tuesday for food industry experts to participate in the 2015 World Expo in Milan, where Lebanon will highlight its local food.

“We have the pleasure to officially launch a common Lebanese-Italian economic event that will provide Lebanon with a historical opportunity to bolster its entry to new European markets,” Economy and Trade Minister Alain Hakim announced Tuesday during a news conference at the Grand Serail.

Hakim said a group of experts from the Economy Ministry were working to assure a positive outcome for Lebanese food and drink products represented at the huge expo.

“The Economy Ministry will dedicate each week of the exhibition to a specific Lebanese food industry including wine and olive oil and its derivatives,” he said.

“Accordingly, we call upon the Syndicate of Food Industries to join its efforts and coordinate with the ministry in order to specify the nature of its participation in the expo and the activities that will be used to showcase its products,” Hakim added.

He said a committee comprising public and private institutions would be formed in order to secure Lebanon’s successful participation in the event and ensure the companies’ full use of the available opportunities and resources.

He also added that Lebanon’s involvement in the expo would include artistic performances aimed at attracting visitors to the Lebanese booth and increasing the visibility of its products.

The minister has praised the Italian government for providing Lebanon with logistics and customs incentives to facilitate its participation in the event.

Expo Milano opens May 1, 2015, and will continue for six months under a theme of sustainable food production. The focus on food is fitting for Italy, a country revered for its pasta, pizza, gelato and Nutella.

Lebanon’s contribution will likewise center on food, and will be presented under the slogan “Cuisine, the Lebanese Art and Soul.”

“Taste is knowledge,” Simon Jabbour, Lebanon’s commissioner-general in the Economy and Trade Ministry told The Daily Star, explaining that cuisine may well be the best window into Lebanon’s culture, a country whose social and culinary heritage are closely connected.

Lebanon will have a 125-square-meter exhibition space in the Bio-Med Cluster, a pavilion at Expo Milano devoted to countries from around the Mediterranean. Nearby stands will host Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, as well as Croatia, Serbia, Albania and Montenegro.

Participation at the expo is free, Jabbour said, adding: “Those who are interested will be invited to cooperate on creating a concept of presence that will serve them as well as the Lebanese image. This is a call to all the syndicates and chambers to take part.”

The space dedicated to Lebanese cuisine will offer an interactive experience, where visitors can learn about and taste typical handmade food and beverages.
Lebanon’s participation in the expo comes at a desperate time, as the country’s food and hospitality industries struggle to draw tourists in the face of concerns over security.

Expo Milano is expected to draw millions of visitors to the northern Italian city over six months, and it is hoped that Lebanon’s presence will offer an essential platform for promoting local culture and tourism.

“The cuisine of this antique land is rich and is part of the history; it is easy to find Oriental and Western influences. Even if Lebanon is not a big country, it succeeded in contributing very much to modern Middle Eastern cuisine,” Jabbour said in a statement.

“We will explain how, in terms of art, literature, history and sociology, the cuisine could be a way to present our traditions and our culture and how they are related to our style of living.”

Lebanese and Italian food traditions both emphasize local, in-season ingredients like olives and olive oil, citrus, tomatoes, eggplant and other fresh produce.

The placement of food and family at the center of social life in both countries makes them natural partners, Giuseppe Morabito, Italy’s ambassador to Lebanon, told The Daily Star.

Marabito had hinted about the culinary and cultural links between Italy and Lebanon during the HORECA food and beverage trade show, which took place in Beirut earlier this month.

“Food is, how can I say, something in common,” he said. “Food is part of the family. It’s a dialogue.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2014, on page 5.