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Discover a culture through Food Tours and Cooking Classes

by Nicholas Kontis

Take your food passion to the next level with experiential travel that includes cooking classes and food tours. If you want to truly delve into a culture, you can get a deeper perspective of the landscape and people through its cuisine. Long gone are the days when people would travel with the aim of simply sightseeing, and then returning to a hotel at night.

Food is life. One can learn so much about a culture through the dishes it prepares. Interest in food tourism keeps increasing every year, making it an ever-important topic for the travel industry. When one hits the road, it is to meet new people, and truly experience new and different cultures. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” To truly experience a new city or country; one needs to experience its passion. This is true throughout the world. You can eat your way around the world while exploring the likes of Mount Fuji in Japan; walking the streets of Taipei, New York, or Rome; or walking off the beaches of Barcelona into Catalonian cuisine. This is an occupation that all modern day travellers lust for. Experiencing new cuisine should be an integral part of any journey, and is a must way to learn about a local society. For understanding what makes people unique, their passion and their struggles, cooking and the food that they prepare is an essential learning experience that takes you into homes and cultures across the world. What’s more, it is an educational way to learn about the history and customs of the places you visit.

Consider the vast nation of India. The food is spicy, an accumulation of varying flavors, a burst of fire. Having had many different eras of rule, by armies from all across Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world, its cuisine today continues to be formed by this fusion. The nation was invaded from the north, east, south, and west, and each region has its own food and culture, influenced by the invaders. Today its people still use spices brought from the world over and now grown domestically such as coriander, ginger, cloves, pepper, and many more. The north formed a love for meat brought in with the invasion of the Moghuls and Afghanis whereas the south has based most of their menu on the use of coconuts and sweet curries. Indian food is not simply, ‘Indian.’ It is a menu of histories, preferences, cultures, and wars.

Perhaps the largest melting pot of all humanity lies in the United States. Each group of settlers in America has influenced American society with deep history, from Native Americans and pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving. There are influences coming from the English, French, Spanish, Dutch as well as from the nearby Caribbean and as far away as Africa and Asia. Consider the influence on culture and food in America had by those Jewish, Greek, Italian, and Irish immigrants first settling in the greater New York area. Or the Mexicans, Koreans, Armenians, and Iranians finding their homes in Los Angeles. The Chinese and other Asian immigrants had their influence in San Francisco as did Scandinavians in Minnesota and a thriving Polish community in Chicago. Then there’s the African American influence on perhaps that most American cuisine, the Southern Barbecue; French inspired fusion with Creole cooking in New Orleans; and one cannot forget Cuba’s Latin America’s influence on Miami.

And what about a nation like Japan? Many who visit Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama and elsewhere on this island nation will have chance to try a Japanese curry. Most often served as a savory and spicy mix of chicken, ginger, carrots and more, many often wonder how it came to be that Japan— who for many centuries had little link between itself and the region of Southeast Asia where curry originated— had its own version of this famous dish. The story is an interesting one. Many know of the British Empire’s history across the wider world, and within this its time spent in India. While it is well known— especially to those who’ve ever visited London and had the chance to eat a delicious curry in the British capital— that curry was brought home to the United Kingdom, few know the British took it with them to Japan. So it was, during the Meiji era, that British ships brought with them the spices and recipes that would see the Land of the Rising Sun begin its own cultural tradition surrounding curry, as well as bring the world a new and tasty dish. Cuisine is an integral part of travel, and to really experience a place is to experience its local flavor. You can’t miss sushi in Japan, pizza in Italy, lobster in Maine, ceviche in Peru, or countless other regional favorites.

And don’t forget drinks! Sip ouzo in Greece, espresso in Rome or Seattle, or locally brewed beer in London, or for that matter anywhere on the planet. When you’re travelling, the only thing better than finding a non-touristy restaurant that serves amazing local delicacies is having a local chef teach you how to prepare those dishes yourself. Join a foodie tour or, better yet, take cooking classes. Upon your return home you can always whip up the meal you learned amongst strangers whom you now call friends and taste, once again, a little enchanting memory of your travels.

Please see below for just a handful of the best options.

Green Bamboo Cooking School and Café, Hanoi, Vietnam

Over the past 10-20 years, Vietnamese food has become increasingly popular all across the world. Green Bamboo cooking school and café in Hanoi is a restaurant that also hosts cooking classes for small groups of people. Here, one can learn a variety of Vietnamese homemade dishes such as spring rolls, steaming bowls of Pho, caramelized pork belly, noodle soups, dim sums and others. They feature exclusive small classes of two to twelve students. Included are visits to local markets to purchase the freshest ingredients that you will use to prepare local delicacies. They will also pick you up and return you to your hotel.

Gourmet Walks of San Francisco

Is there a better “foodie” town than the “City by the Bay?” Arguably not, at least in America. Visit neighborhoods and food haunts in San Francisco that you probably would miss otherwise, through the eyes of a resident foodie. Visit historic Russian Hill with its sweeping views of the city, Alcatraz, and San Francisco Bay. Walk past cable cars on Hyde Street and experience the local flavor of one of “Fog City’s” most charming food scenes. For the hottest food trends in the city, stroll by classic Victorians in Hayes Valley and Nopa districts where you will experience eclectic San Francisco at its finest. There are up and coming neighborhoods with their own sense of style. Visit the painted ladies of Alamo Square, or venture off to the town of Napa, and experience the many food options of the Valley. Visit America’s oldest Japan town leading to the Fillmore, with a beebop Jazz Heritage and upscale boutiques. No trip encompassing San Francisco food would be complete without experiencing Ghiradelli Chocolates. As San Francisco is a leading epicenter for artisan chocolates, immerse into the city by sampling its fine chocolate selection including truffles infused with a variety of ingredients. San Francisco is one of the world’s great walking cities and, along with boosting your serotonin levels, will surely keep you exploring America’s culture capital.

Beer and Food Tour of Munich

Munich is considered to be the beer capital of the world and, to better understand Bavarian life, this tour guides you to beer-halls, beer-gardens, beer cellars, and the legendary Oktoberfest. Munich has been brewing “liquid bread” here for 3000 years and they do it better than anyone else. Your guide will take you into the heart of Munich’s beer culture, show you where the locals go to drink the really good stuff, and let you in on their secrets. This is not a pub crawl, but a look into how locals live daily life in the south of Germany. Your guide will provide an exclusive tour through the beautiful new Beer and Oktoberfest Museum in one of the city’s most historic buildings, show you a traditional beer garden, let you experience traditional Bavarian cuisine at your own table in one of the city’s finest old beer halls, and finish at the world-famous Hofbrauhaus. You’ll learn about the different types of beer available and sample them for yourself. The guide will introduce you to the best traditional Bavarian food in all its variety— Weisswurst, dumplings, roast pork, and more. Don’t eat before the tour!

Lima Gourmet Company

What better way to learn Peruvian culture than through its food? In Lima, learn Peruvian history through its cuisine with Lima Gourmet Company. This culinary exploration of Lima will no doubt be a highlight of your time here. Most travelers choose food tours during the day, but one can also view Lima through the five-hour nighttime tour, with stops and nibbles in some of the toughest-to-get-a-reservation restaurants in the city. Lucas Montes de Oca, who owns the company with his American wife, Samantha Lewis, loves people, food, and of course, Lima’s vibrant social scene and the growing prominence of Lima in the culinary world. The new “foodie” scene has laid its imprint on the local landscape. The gastronomic boom has transformed once forlorn neighborhoods. Clusters of restaurants and bars have emerged in areas of the Barranco district overlooking the Pacific Ocean where crime previously deterred visitors. Enter the Lima landscape by learning about ceviche and pisco sours. Pisco is the potent Peruvian brandy made from varietal fermented grapes. Learn the ins and outs of Peru’s national drink by tasting different types of pisco, then get a demonstration from a bartender, leading to you preparing your very own pisco sour.

Extracted from:
Kontis, Nicholas. Going Local: Experiences and Encounters on the Road (Kindle Locations 1378-1381). Nicholas Kontis. Kindle Edition.

Nicholas’s book is free to download on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.