Has the world changed? Is everyone a food connoisseur now? Culinary tourism, also known as food tourism, gastronomic tourism, culinary travel or any other food-related moniker you want to throw at it – has emerged as a huge travel trend over the past few years, and why not?
We all have to eat when we travel. We might as well eat well. But what exactly is culinary tourism?
Essentially culinary tourism means combining a love for food with a love for travel. If you’re a travel-passionate foodie, you have an endless amount of options such as:
Does the idea of visiting the Champagne region of France touring famous champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and Moët & Chandon get your travel motor purring? (It does mine. Learning more about champagne is SO on my list.)
Or are you more interested in local food tours? Whatever your taste (or taste buds), culinary tourism has something for you. Almost every city and region has companies that specialize in food tours. Not into organized travel? Design your own food and travel itinerary. It can be anything you want, from seeking out white truffles in Alba, Italy, to plotting out the perfect Paris croissant walk.
Many travellers dream about a week in Tuscany learning how to make savoury risottos and rich tuscan soups. Personally, I’d rather eat pasta than learn how to cook it but that’s because I’m lazy. Though I did enjoy that cooking class my husband and I took in Mexico last year.
Thailand (the Oriental Hotel has a famous food school) and Italy seem to be top destinations for this type of culinary tourism but you can seek out cooking classes wherever you go.
Now that’s a mouthful
Is your idea of culinary tourism more about meandering through local markets sampling grasshoppers in Mexico or buying fuchsia-coloured dragon fruit (a personal favourite) in Thailand?
Food markets and food stalls are a great way to experience local culture, but do keep hygiene in mind, especially when dealing with sidewalk food stands.
One popular place for food-themed travel is Singapore, where hawker food stalls are a way of life, and where good sanitary standards are required.
Fine dining is probably the most popular way to enjoy culinary travel. It’s certainly mine. Many travellers now make a point of researching restaurants in the destinations they plan to visit, from 3 Michelin star establishments to hole-in-the-wall standouts.
Just make sure you reserve early. The more popular a place, the more people who want in (try dropping in for high tea at the Plaza in New York unannounced one Sunday if you don’t believe me.)
Now this is sightseeing
Here’s a new direction culinary tourism is heading in – eating with the locals in their home. FYI: No, you can’t just pick a doorway and waltz on in – that could get you arrested. There are companies that specialize in just this type of food tour such as Eat With.
I just tried EatWith in Tel Aviv and it’s definitely worth checking out – a unique way of getting beyond the tourist sites, sampling some local flavours and getting to know some (hopefully) interesting people.
Yes, adventure food travel is a thing. My most adventurous food moment was probably eating chicken anus at a Japanese restaurant in Korea. (Twice. It’s chewy.)
I’ve eaten brain for breakfast in Mexico City; haggis (a traditional Scottish dish made from calf or sheep offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag) in Edinburgh; and enjoyed the stinkiest fruit in the world, Durian, which is so smelly it’s not allowed on some airlines.
But that’s nothing, they are as many adventure food experiences as there is sushi in the sea, and you’re only limited by your own gag reflex.
Shellfish love is not selfish love
Here’s another great way to combine food and travel – with the humble food festival where travellers, locals, restaurant owners and chefs all mingle. If you love oysters, the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival will let you sample some of the best oysters in the world. (Is there anything better than a malpeque oyster? Seriously. I don’t think there is.)
There’s a Lemon Festival in Menton, South of France; a Garlic Festival in Chilliwack, British Columbia; an Icewine Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario … and I could go on and on, just as you can go on and on attending food festivals around the world.
Another niche in the culinary tourism realm is Agrotourism. On farm stays, food-minded travellers can get back to basics, learning more about where food comes from, how it’s harvested and prepared. If you’ve ever wanted to milk a cow, this is your chance.
This is a new word for an old way of travelling. Think of your grandpa flying up to a fishing lodge (or heading down to the local stream) to catch, cook and eat. This type of experiential food travel gives you a whole new appreciation of what goes into your mouth.
When I went out to harvest my own oysters in Prince Edward Island, I realized that 1) oysters really are a live food and 2) I prefer them chilled with lemon than out of a lukewarm sea, while my urban food foraging experience in Cape Town, South Africa, showed me how much food lies, literally, at our feet.
Montparnasse, cafes with a past
Combining history, food and travel has given me an excuse to drink in every historical hotel bar in Paris, not to mention relive the decadent 20s in the historic cafes in Montparnasse and dine in some of the most elegant restaurants-with-a-past in Budapest. Not only is it fun, It’s also not as tiring as regular sightseeing because you are getting your history lesson while sitting down.
So there you have it. Even if you don’t consider yourself a food fanatic, injecting a little bit of culinary tourism in your plans can enhance your trip and make it something to drool over. That said, it’s time to pack your bags, make your reservations and let the lip-smacking travel begin.