Milano Italianissimo

A capital with a small town air, Milan drinks espresso, Campari and Aperol and dresses in Armani and Versace, but this cosmopolitan sophisticate has another side as simple as homemade pasta.

Texto: mariano tacchi @playeroycasual    fotos: rodrigo díaz wichmann
       

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Milan in the morning: it’s time to order an espresso and chat, surrounded by the potent aroma of coffee. Just tell the waiter “un caffe,” and drink it standing at the bar. At Caffe Milano on Via Dante, the 1960s Italian classic “L’uomo che non sapeva amare” is playing in the background. At the bar, two gray-haired gentlemen sip their coffee. One of them gets distracted from the conversation and loses himself in Nico Fidenco’s contagious song of love and forgiveness, humming with enthusiasm.

People have a lot to say about Milan or perhaps not enough. The home of the Italian Stock Market is one of the country’s economic and business hubs, and the city’s beauty is beyond dispute, with millions of people visiting year to see sights like “The Last Supper,” Leonardo Da Vinci’s 15th-century work at the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent or perhaps to admire architectural landmarks like the Duomo. Other visitors come to soak up the city’s fashion and style, especially on the streets that make up Il Quadrilatero della Moda, which sets trends around the world. But beyond the cosmopolitan quality that comes with being in northern Italy and connected to the rest of Europe, the city is as Italian as can be, with moving scenes like the one at Caffe Milano played out time and again.

 

Half Town, Half City

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We begin at Centro Storico, the city’s old quarter and an essential stop for visitors. In less than an hour, you’ll have seen nearly everything you’ve been told about Italy: fresh pasta in restaurant windows, contemporary art galleries, Vespas zipping down the street and men passionately discussing the soccer strategies of their beloved AC Milan. In the heart of the Centro Storico, the Duomo attracts scores of tourists who come to photograph every inch of the cathedral’s Gothic façade.

But let’s go beyond the tourist hubbub. A few streets over, at the entrance of a small eatery with no tables or chairs, a lineup of people spills out of the doorway, all entranced by the hypnotic aroma of panzerotti, a pastry filled with cheese and tomato. This scene repeats itself every day at this restaurant, which began as a bakery after the Second World War. Luini may specialize in the cuisine of another region – Puglia – but it’s still a Milan classic. Be sure you order two panzerottis, one to devour as you walk and one to save for later.

With each step you take, new details emerge, revealing the city’s character as a cross between a world-class metropolis and a small town lost in time. You’ll see it in the narrow streets, the low buildings packed with people, the shops selling antique furniture from the early 20th century, plus upholstery stores, markets, bakeries and ice cream shops. And above all, you’ll taste it in the city’s restaurants.

 

  • Como buena capital de la moda, las vitrinas en Milán son tan importantes como el producto que muestran. / As expected of a fashion capital, Milan’s window displays are as important as the products they showcase.

 

Whether they belong to a pasta place or a shoe store, the shop windows of Milan serve as an incentive to keep walking and taking in the local scenery. It certainly doesn’t hurt that around noon the smell of food spills out of the restaurants and into the streets. Here, you’re presented with an unsolvable dilemma: pasta with ragù di ossobuco or saffron risotto Milanese, two local classics. Risotto has always played second fiddle to pasta, but not in Milan, where this dish is the star, smooth and creamy with just the right amount of broth and saffron. It’s a silky treat that melts in your mouth. But no matter what you order, you should always pay special attention to the wine you pair it with.

 

Style First

North of the Duomo is Il Quadrilatero della Moda, where you can appreciate why the city is called the fashion capital of the world. You might find more stylish people in New York or more innovative looks in Paris, but Milan has it all packed into the area bordered by the streets Via Montenapoleone, Via Manzoni, Via Della Spiga and Corso Venezia. Here, you’ll find the best-dressed people in the world walking with the grace of a swan and the purpose of a tiger. Fashion made this city an economic empire: Milan is home to brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Armani and Versace. And of course, you’ll find all their shops on these streets, ready to dazzle customers.

 

Milan’s style is not just about what the people wear, it’s also the streets, the architecture and the food.

 

A bit farther from the Centro Storico, Corso Buenos Aires offers a wider range of shops selling clothing, accessories and leather goods. Just over a half a mile long, this avenue offers more affordable prices than Il Quadrilatero della Moda.

Far from the tourists, the cameras and the souvenir shops, the Navigli District is something of a local secret. Near the Porta Génova metro stop, this area is home to the Naviglio Grande, one of Milan’s main canals. The unfairly overlooked Milan canal system was designed by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. By day, the markets on the surrounding streets offer a vision of a warm and provincial Italy. By night, the restaurants and bars are filled with the Bohemian air that pervades the canals, displaying postcard-worthy images of revelry after dark. An Aperol Spritz or a Negroni will complete the scene. It’s a side of a city that, beyond the façade of pure style, retains the vestiges of small town life that make Milan so quintessentially Italian. in

 

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