The definition of  ‘authentic travel’ is becoming increasingly subjective, partly due to the tendency of globalisation to replace ‘authenticity’ with ‘sameness’. However, some travel activities (like food tours) are able to capture the uniqueness of a destination to a degree. In this article, we share five reasons why you should try food tours and explain why they provide authentic travel experiences.

 

Why we enjoy food tours

Chicago, ‘the city of broad shoulders’ is famous for many things including its architecture, music, festivals, sports, and food. Although our visit was too early to catch the famous annual ‘Taste of Chicago’ food festival, a food tour was easily the next best experience.

Five Reasons Why You Should Try a Food Tour | Chicago Food Planet

We met our guide from Chicago Food Planet outside local pizzeria, Lou Malnati’s to begin their ‘Best in Chow’ experience.

Likened to listening to a ‘greatest hits’ record, this engaging walking tour took us through a repertoire of dishes prepared in the unique ‘Chicago-style’ including deep-dish pizza, churros, and hot dogs. The experience left us feeling like we had tasted an authentic piece of this iconic city.

Food tour excursions almost always make it to the top of our travel ‘to do’ list. There are a number of reasons why we enjoy going on them.

Firstly, we love food (obviously, we blog about it) and always embrace any opportunity to extend our knowledge of world cuisines.

Secondly, we believe that food is one of the best ways to authentically experience a local culture. We have attended both private and group food tours and have yet to come away from an experience without feeling enriched with some fresh insight into our host city or country.

Food Tour | Chicago Food Planet

Finally, as storytellers, we believe that our creativity is only as fresh as our last inspiration. We find that almost every good meal comes with a story. In addition, the textures, aromas, colours, flavours and ingredients all combine to provide a sensory experience of food and inspire fresh ideas for our own digital and culinary creativity.

Our creativity is only as fresh as our last inspirationClick To Tweet

Drawing from our personal experiences across many destinations, we share five reasons why food tours are a great travel activity and why we think you should try them.

 

#1 – Find your feet with the help of locals

Food Tour | Devour Tours, Madrid Spain

Visiting a city for the first time can be a simultaneously thrilling and jarring experience. Navigating basic things like the local language and currency is one challenge. Other more subtle challenges include understanding local cultural norms, gaining security awareness and getting to grips with the local transportation network.

Our visit to Madrid, Spain began with a walking food tour hosted by local operator, Devour Tours. Bright and early in the day, we joined our guide, an American expat turned local, in Plaza Mayor, one of the most notable landmarks in Madrid and a popular meeting point for locals and tourists. Its nine arches seemed to beckon us to choose our own adventure.

The tour revolved around the central part of the city, visiting markets, bars, cafes, family-run restaurants and old monasteries where we enjoyed traditional and contemporary Spanish delicacies.

Although the food was our primary focus, along the way we made mental notes of attractions we planned to visit later on. We learned how to navigate our way around the city without spending too much money on public transport. We also added to our Spanish vocabulary and picked up useful nuggets like ‘the best time of day and place to buy fresh fish’ and ‘bars and restaurants to avoid’.

An early experience of the city under the guidance of a knowledgeable local saved us time reading stale guidebooks and helped us quickly find our travel feet in Madrid.

 

#2 – Increase your local knowledge

Food Tour | Bite San Diego

Following a family visit to the USA, we decided to fly back home via San Diego, California and budgeted for a one-day stopover. Having visited before, a food tour seemed like a great way to get a more authentic feel of the city.

We joined a small group for a walking food tour of downtown San Diego and Little Italy (whenever you hear ‘Italy’ and ‘food’ in the same sentence, you sense it’s going to be good!).

Starting from the historic Gaslamp Quarter, our hosts, Bite San Diego, led us through a thoughtfully curated selection of food experiences presented against a rich backdrop of history.

Each food encounter provided insight into the various ethnicities and cuisines which make San Diego one of America’s best cities for a foodie holiday. 

Most people know that San Diego County has some of the USA’s most iconic beaches as well as an abundance of fresh seafood. However, not many people may know that the county (despite California’s water shortages which make farming an expensive endeavour) is the number-one producer of avocados in the USA.

Food tours are a great way to learn about the host cities and countries we visit. If nothing else, our new found knowledge about avocados might just be the ice-breaker we need to crack our next social event!

 

#3 – Maximise limited travel time

Sometimes, we barely have enough time to experience a city before we have to say goodbye to it and move on. On such occasions, it makes sense to try to get the most value out of the limited time available.

Cruise travel falls into this category. With only hours to spend at a port destination, packaged shore excursions can often feel rushed and lacking in depth, personality and context. This is one reason many people have cited for being uninterested in cruise travel.

Food Tour | Valencia Urban Adventures

Lenny Chen of Valencia Urban Adventures is addressing this challenge by offering dynamic and engaging food tours of her city, Valencia. Her tours are great for visitors passing through the city on a Mediterranean cruise who seek an alternative onshore experience.

We took Lenny’s food tour on a trip to Spain’s east coast and by visiting mainly ‘mom and pop’ (family-run) establishments, we experienced an authentic taste of Valencia’s unique gastronomy against the backdrop of its urban character and street art. For three hours, we sampled some original paella, acorn-fed ham and original horchata among other treats.

Our advice? If you have only a few hours to spend in a city, find a locals-led food tour and maximise your limited time by immersing yourself in its food culture.

 

#4 – Support small businesses

Essaouira | #FoodiesKnow | Why You Should Try a Food Tour

Khadija and Hussein and their family live in a small flat in one of the neighbourhoods in Morocco’s coastal city of Essaouira. Like many small food businesses do, they started by cooking for family and friends.

Eventually, they began opening up their home a few times a year to visitors. Word quickly spread about Khadija’s cooking and soon, she began hosting small tour groups.

Our group visited during our #DIPINTO17 retreat for creative entrepreneurs and small businesses which we hosted in Essaouira. We arrived to meet a very kind and warm family who served us classic Moroccan cuisine featuring flavourful dishes of lamb and fish tajine prepared with local spices and accompanied by a variety of salads and dips. We learned that Khadija now runs cooking classes for local women and plans to open her own restaurant in future.

Essaouira | #FoodiesKnow | Why You Should Try a Food Tour

Food tours sometimes take us into neighbourhoods that we may otherwise never have known about. This is how we have come across such family-run businesses working hard to establish a legacy for themselves and their communities.

Apart from serving some of the most authentic local dishes, these establishments are also great places to meet locals and directly support the local economy.

 

#5 – Step out of your comfort zone

Food Tour | Valencia Urban Adventures

We deliberately saved the best and most obvious point for last! Food tours should primarily be all about the food!

From freshly baked bolo do caco (stone-baked sweet potato bread) in Madeira to Mekerens’ crust-perfect goats cheese pies in Malta to earth-grilled sheep’s head in Marrakech, we have always found something new and engaging to try on a food tour. Each time we have been willing to step outside our comfort zone, we have been rewarded with lasting memories.

This final point may be lost on those who are limited in what they can eat due to dietary restrictions (e.g., ethics, health, religion). However, for non-fussy eaters, food tours can be the key to unlocking new experiences.

HDYTI Tip: We’ve found that if you contact them in advance, many food tour operators are increasingly open to the idea of modifying their tours to accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies.

Amanda Mouttaki who co-manages the popular Marrakech Food Tours says, “One thing that I’ve learned about Moroccan cooking is that stepping outside of my normal comfort zone is a must.” That particular tour helped us challenge some food boundaries and provided some unique experiences in the process.

Essaouira | #FoodiesKnow | Why You Should Try a Food Tour

In a recent Twitter poll, our followers indicated a strong preference for street food. In our experience, we find that what street food may lack in presentation, it typically makes up for in taste. We may draw the line at eating roasted cockroaches but we won’t hesitate to try a reindeer burger.

The world is full of great food experiences waiting to be enjoyed by those willing to step outside their comfort zones. So next time you’re looking for an authentic travel experience, why don’t you try a food tour?

 

Foodies know about the best food tours

Do you have any questions or concerns about food tours? We would love to hear from you. Drop a note in the comments below or join our #FoodiesKnow Twitter Chat on Monday, 7 August, 2017.

Are you a food tour operator? Book your place at the 2017 Global Food Tourism Conference in Montreal, Canada.

 

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Global Food Tourism Conference. However, all words and opinions remain our own.

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Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).

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