All photos courtesy of the World Food Travel Association
Have you ever been on a culinary adventure on vacation and wondered, “I wonder if this is legit …? Don’t ask me anymore.
Sitting on the deck of the 500Rai farm, dinner is served. No menu is present and the food is prepared from all the ingredients the cook could source, the family style meal is a Thai delight and as authentic as it gets. But not all food tourism experiences are as simple as being in the right place at the right time. In fact, not all epicurean experiences are even authentic to the culture of where you are.
So, as food tourism continues to increase, how can travelers ensure that the experience they are paying for will bring them the flavor of a city, town or country? How can you get home knowing you’ve eaten a sausage which is a delicacy from Cologne, Germany? or make pasta like the Italians do at home? Experts say delving deeper into food tourism is the answer.
What is gastronomic tourism?
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According to Erik Wolf, executive director of the World Food Travel Association, food tourism is defined as a trip to taste the place in order to get a feel for the place. “It is this idea of traveling for unique flavors that helps us discover the terroir of a destination,” he says.
Food tourism, he notes, encompasses everything from anything grown, obtained or made in an area, including cooking methods, table customs, recipes, presentation of dishes and foods. and drinks served during the holidays throughout the year.
Pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain
Food tourism is growing globally
Around the world, there is a growing desire to be culturally immersive in the realm of food and drink; in fact, it has become almost in demand by visitors. At the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese in Rome, Italy, the hotel has put together an immersive foodie package that begins with a market tour and ends with a delicious family meal.
“We believe that, more than ever, travelers want more dining experiences included in their trips, as food embraces traditions, customs and even history. These experiences make it possible to understand a culture and a civilization ”, explains Edoardo Giuntoli, General Manager of Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese.
Giuntoli notes that by offering a culinary workshop, customers get a truly authentic experience of the Eternal City. “Learning to cook traditional cuisine known to the region and learning about its history helps customers feel more connected with Rome. This is what Italians do,” he says.
In Mexico, Rodolfo González Munguía, Managing Director of Grand Velas Riviera Maya, says connecting customers with culture is one of his priorities. And it’s not just about tacos and tequila, but flavors and culinary traditions that are woven into the fabric of the country.
“To experience Mexican cuisine is to truly experience Mexico as a culture. It’s so important, ”he says.
For this, Grand Velas makes it a point of honor to immerse its customers in the food and drinks of the country. The resort offers experiences such as cooking classes with local ingredients or workshops where guests can learn how to prepare local dishes from the region or Mexico while learning about the history of the food. But, he says, the resort has also developed unique experiences that help blend culinary culture with that of a little fun; Grand Velas serves cocktails inspired by Mayan astrology and offers a gourmet cenote experience that includes tasting ancestral food and drink 60 feet underground in one of the destination’s relatively undiscovered cenotes.
“Providing culinary experiences to guests helps them connect with history, traditions and, in the case of excursions, with the locals, rather than just visiting the destination,” says González Munguía.
Lately, food tours have also exploded. Food tourists around the world turn to food tours to help them understand a culture, a cuisine and how the two are linked. Culinary Backstreets co-founder Ansel Mullins has seen this growth firsthand and explains that food tourism offers more than delicious bites and sips from a place, it offers a glimpse into the human life behind them.
French cheese; italian wine
“[There is] a thirst for travel experiences with a strong human bond. Our tours are certainly about local cuisine, but more about the people and places that carry on culinary traditions. We’re celebrating the people in the kitchen wearing aprons, the man behind the bar, the fishmongers, and I think we’re all excited to be back where we can connect with these people, through food, ” Mullans said.
How do you know if an experience is genuine?
Authenticity in the kitchen is not as clear-cut as it seems in other sectors. You might know something is a tourist trap by the way it’s marketed or by reading reviews, but food-focused experiences aren’t always so transparent. And, the food and drink specialties can vary so much, even within the span of a few miles, that you really need to have some basic knowledge of the kitchen you find yourself in. For example, says Wolf, “In Italy, pasta shapes vary from village to village, as do sauces, recipes and other characteristics of quintessential Italian dishes. If you are in Bologna and only travel a half hour northwest to Modena, you might find similar dishes, but you will notice small changes inherent in this city.
This is important for a culture because it helps the present to connect with the traditions of the past. However, it will be more difficult to feel like you have mastered the making of Italian pasta because, quite simply, there is no one-size-fits-all method. But, says Wolf, with a little strategy and your own goals in mind, you’ll be fine.
“Authenticity is subjective, so trying to confirm whether a dining experience is authentic can be tricky. You just have to find the places that meet your criteria of authenticity, ”he explains.
Mullins explains that delving into an experience or an itinerary is the best way to find out what you’ll learn, see, eat, and immerse yourself in.
“Our goal is to give our customers an experience beyond the most famous restaurants and to enter truly local places, far from the most touristy areas. Its importance is twofold: our customers have access to local life and locally prepared food, and by visiting neighborhoods and restaurants generally overlooked by the tourism industry, we hope to work in a more sustainable way for the city ” , Mullins said. said.
It’s important to ask questions and do your research beforehand to make sure you’ll be satisfied, as you’ll feel more satisfied knowing that all of your boxes have been checked before you leave a place.
Look for a deeper meaning in your culinary experiences
In Tupelo, MS, Lauren McElwain, a food blogger, runs a series of cooking classes called “Cooking as a Mother Tongue”. But these courses don’t just focus on catfish (a Mississippi specialty), but rather dive into multiple cultures. Yes, it might sound counterintuitive to what an authentic dining experience might sound like for the state, but it’s actually a deeper dive into the culture of the region.
“We have a large Japanese community in Tupelo because of the Toyota manufacturing plant which is located nearby,” McElwain said. “They asked me if I could give them a cooking class to show recipes that are popular here in the Deep South. It started from there. We started having cooking classes from many different cultures that are represented in Tupelo, each taught by a community member from a particular country or culture. “
These classes are designed to represent all the cultures present in Tupelo. So while you might not get the recipe for Neon Pig’s famous smash burger, there’s a level of authenticity here that you wouldn’t get from other dining experiences. By digging deeper, you might find a culinary surprise and delight.
Tips for living your best life as a food tourist
While it may be harder to label something “authentic” than you originally thought, there are some great ways to make sure you’ve created an epic Eat and Drink route for you. yourself. One of them, Wolf says, is to use social media instead of traditional review sites.
“We tend to take inspiration from images on Instagram, tips from our favorite food or travel bloggers, and videos on YouTube,” he says.
Other tips include:
- Do your research ahead of time and learn about authentic foods and drinks from the area you will be visiting.
- Talk to friends or colleagues who have been to the area you are visiting and get the opinions of people you trust, especially if they like to eat and drink as much as you do.
- Use YouTube as a resource: Watch videos of people cooking a staple and see how the ingredients and tactics differ and how they don’t.
- Observe once there. “One of the tips I use is to walk past a restaurant a few times and see what people are eating. I can get a feel for what I’m seeing on the tables and look at people’s expressions to see if this is the type of place I might want to eat, ”says Wolf.
Wolf concludes, “All of this information comes together to paint a composite picture of food and beverage opportunities in a new destination. ”