When you think back on trips you have taken what stands out to you? Was it the visit to the famous landmark where you went or the food you had at that little place that one of the locals told you about and you were the only tourist there? I am betting it’s the later. And that is why this week I want to talk about culinary tourism. Taking a tour that focuses on the cuisine of the place you are visiting, featuring the food as well as the drinks that represent a culture is most people's favorite thing. Be it wines, beers, cocktails or other beverages unique to a place it's so fun to taste what people love as well as see all the beautiful places. These tours are often led by a local resident and sometime by a transplant who now lives in a new place and loves what it has to offer. Every tour I have taken or sent clients on is a guide who speaks English well and really wants their guests to understand the soul of a place through it’s food. This is what I believe makes food related experiences are the best part of travel. We have taken a number of these tours and had many experiences through the years. I want to share some of the most memorable with you. Our very first local food experience was many years ago when we traveled to France. We had French friends who were getting married at a venue out in the countryside of the Loire Valley. We wanted to stay close by and ended up in the French equivalent of a Bed &Breakfast – and these places often offer you not only breakfast but for an extra fee they will make their guests dinner as well. This is a tradition born out of a necessity because many of these places are in remote areas with out many restaurants. So your countryside castle stay can provide you with dinner as a way to end your day and as an extra income source for the property. Everyone wins!
This particular stay, way back in the early nineties, was in the countryside outside of Dijon in an a former manor house. Dinner was served not in a restaurant but in the dinning room of the house with all the guests ringed round the table as if it was a family holiday. The proprietress was our cook and she made what was the best blanquet de veau I have ever had. This was all the more impressive because she did not zoom back into the house until less than an hour before our dinner and yet she pumped out a three course meal in that time single handed, and we helped by setting the table. And then she joined us for dinner. The other guests were a British couple and a French couple and the conversation was almost as good as the food.
I remember wondering how we could get more of those type of experiences. And at the time I could not find much. But food tours and experiences have boomed in the last decade. And since then we have done many tours. Some of these hop from place to place to take in the local foods and drinks. Some focus on just one food or type of food and some are tours of several local wineries (with a driver so no one has to worry about how much wine they drink). One memorable tour in the funky and artsy Baranco district of Lima Peru started at 7:30 AM with breakfast, continued on to a ceviche demonstration and tasting, then on to lunch, stopped at a bakery, stopped at a market, we got ice cream, stopped for cocktails (Pisco Sours) then onto second lunch and finally we had dessert at about 5 PM! We were so full after this experience we did not eat again until dinner the next day. While that is a little extreme for a food tour most will take you to several different places for a small plate and a beverage and will include stops a bakery, cheese shop, butcher shop or other places known for the local specialty. Anyone who takes a culinary tour should definitely show up with a healthy appetite!
We have had culinary tours in many places that take many different forms. In Paris we did a food tour that had us visit all kinds of small food shops and outdoor food markets to prepare a picnic. We ate that picnic standing up in a wine shop while tasting wines. Shopping like a local would was a lot of fun. We had fresh breads, cheeses, quinces, pate, fruits and of course wine. Since it was raining by the time we got to the wine shop we lingered for quite a while, tasted Cognacs and Armagnac as well as wine and left with a good haul of bottle to take home. This is always a great thing to do as you often can not buy some of these brands back home. And like many culinary experiences we learned a lot of interesting things about the city while noshing our way around. I truly love a food tour or culinary experience and of the many we have done it's hard for me to choose just a few to tell you about. But one of the most memorable and perhaps notorious for me personally was a tapas tour we took in Madrid.We were traveling with friends (as we often do) and our tapas tour ran from late afternoon to late into the night. A larger group than many tours we have done there were ten people plus our guide. Tapas in Spain are bar snacks that are given free when you order a drink by law. In some places you will just be given a small bowl of potato chips. But in others you will have all kinds of delicacies along with your drink. Finding those places is however can be tricky so we often schedule a tour with in the first day or two of coming to a new place. And then these tours also act as an orientation to where ever we may be. So it's a win all around.