Foodie tours – the best way to truly experience a new culture

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” – old English proverb

If you really want to understand the soul of the place you’re visiting, then you need to immerse yourself in its cuisine. Food brings together elements of history, culture, environment and health, and for a hungry traveller it can mean adventure, exploration, discovery.

The ways that people in different parts of the world source, prepare and eat their food is endlessly fascinating. Seafood fresh off the boat that is served at roadside stands or barbecued on the beach; local farmers’ markets that display the produce of dozens of organic farms in the area; whole sections of ancient cities devoted to chocolate, pastries, tea or coffee, and innovative restaurants that showcase alternative and unique ways to serve meals, even inviting the customers to get involved.

There is no typical foodie tour. You might be driving through the coastal villages in Crete to sample olives and olive oil, wine and fresh feta cheese; wandering the  microbrewing scene of Amsterdam  to taste the best of locally-produced beers while doing some sightseeing at the same time; following the path of the latest, hippest food vans to spring up in New York or San Francisco,  wine-tasting in Chile , New Zealand, Australia or the vineyards of France, or meeting the vendors of street stalls in Hong Kong, hearing their stories, and bartering for produce which you’ll then take back to your guide’s home for an enticing lesson in Chinese cookery and a shared meal.

The best idea is usually to join an organised, guided tour that will lead you at a relaxed pace through a district, stopping off to sample foods or pair them with different drinks, and illuminating you on the stories behind what you’re eating. When you take a foodie tour, it’s always recommended that as well as an empty stomach, you bring cash, and a large shopping bag to carry plenty of purchases home.

An increasingly-popular way to explore a destination, you can find a foodie tour in pretty much every city, because every city has its own distinctive cuisine, which might have been brought over by immigrants hundreds of years ago (that’s why New York has so many good tours), and passed down from generation to generation. If you’re dining at a family-run restaurant in Beijing, the meal you’re eating right now could be identical to one served 400 years ago.

Although every food tour is different, most tend to share a few characteristics:

● They will be led by charismatic guides with a passion for food and a genuine love of the place they live in.

● They will often avoid the most touristy areas of a city, instead taking guests to little-known but equally-interesting parts which gives a more authentic experience.

● They will be more intimate than most group tours, usually with a limited number of participants, so that everyone can crowd into the same shop, cafe or bar and have a good view.

● They will be on foot, allowing guests to take in the sights and aromas all around them at their leisure.

● Though food (or drink) is the main focus, they will draw in other aspects such as architecture, the health properties of what you’re tasting, or the history of the people.

● You will leave with a full belly – tastings are regular, and ample. And if you want to try just a little bit more, no proprietor is going to refuse a potential new customer.

One of the best trends to appear in recent years is a holistic foodie tour – you meet your guide, often a chef, who will take you to the local market to explain the different ingredients, and then invite you back to their home to show you how to prepare a set menu. In some instances this could be a three-course meal, or it could be combined with cocktails. Typically, you and your fellow guests will then share the meal, and be provided with a recipe so you can try to recreate your dish when you get home. It’s a really fun way to spend a day, meeting new people, perhaps getting an insight into a cuisine you’ve always loved but never tried to cook before, and enjoying a delicious meal at the same time.

Foodie tours give you an authentic taste of a new destination. They allow you to step out of the guidebook and to learn how the locals live. They let you meet charismatic characters, entrepreneurs and well-known chefs and restaurateurs, try new flavours and discover secrets about cuisines and cultures that you may never have known.

If you really want a holiday to remember, be sure and include at least one day devoted purely to satisfying your appetite!