A cool ice cream on a hot day savored as you stroll through Rome’s Piazza Navona. Skewers of smoked lamb in Marrakech’s bustling Jemaa el-Fna square, or a piping hot bowl of pho eaten on a Hanoi sidewalk. Food has always been part of the travel experience – but these days travelers are looking beyond what’s on the plate to find out more about the people who cooked it.
“There’s this little nonna in the mountains of Sardinia, nonna Giovanna, who makes beautiful nougats. She toasts her own nuts, whips the egg whites by hand, and the warmth and joy she has at creating something so traditional for our guests is so wonderful,” says Maeve O’Meara, who founded food travel company Gourmet Safaris more than two decades ago.
At the time, food tourism was a niche market; these days it’s common. More than ever, food is an integral part of our travels.
“Food is the perfect link,” says chef Christine Manfield, who left restaurants to focus on food tours and events. “It’s an immersive experience that lets you connect with people and places wherever you are.”
As in any industry, food tourism has its trends. A few years ago, many foodie travelers built their itineraries around the restaurants they wanted to eat at – a phenomenon fueled in large part by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards launched in 2002.
The awards have helped showcase thriving culinary scenes in a range of countries from Denmark, where chefs such as Noma’s Rene Redzepi have won acclaim for their new Nordic cuisine, to Peru.
These days, however, travelers are also looking for other ways to get started in a destination. Erica Kritikides of Intrepid Travel says their food tours focus on “‘real food’ – street food, home cooking, local food markets and authentic food culture”.
The 26 tours span across Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, with the most popular food tours including South Korea, Morocco and Mexico.
More and more travelers also want to get their hands dirty with cooking classes. Viking Cruises, long known for including culinary experiences in its range of shore excursions, recently launched Paris: A Culinary Experience, a new four-day post-cruise extension that includes workshops focusing on baking croissants and baking. etiquette at the table as well as a visit to the city’s first pastry shop.
You don’t have to leave the country to have a culinary adventure, with a growing interest in local experiences. “People are starting to care about indigenous ingredients and where they come from,” says Manfield, who is now focusing on Australia after years of touring countries like India and Cambodia.
Regional Australia in particular is in the spotlight. Emerging wine regions such as Queensland’s Granite Belt and Victoria’s Gippsland are building their profiles, and many of our most acclaimed restaurants are now far from the big smoke, whether in Byron Bay, the Barossa Valley or, in the case of Gourmet travelerrestaurant of the year, Tedesca Osteria, Red Hill in Victoria.
Australians are also interested in getting back to basics and learning more about where and how their food is grown. “People want a hands-on experience, whether it’s visiting a farmers’ market, visiting local food producers, or having a farm stay,” says Anthea Loucas, general manager of Food and Wine. Victoria.
Agritourism is much more than chook hunting. Book a stay at a property such as Margaret River’s Burnside Organic Farm (burnsideorganicfarm.com.au) or Orto One in Victoria (villagedreaming.com.au) and you might learn everything from harvesting honey to pruning vines. through the basics of permaculture.
Another trend that is expected to continue in the future is the boom in plant-based meals. Major hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton are incorporating plant-based meals into their menus, while Ovolo Hotels (ovolohotels.com) has not only introduced 100% vegetarian cuisine in its restaurants, including Lona Misa in Melbourne , Alibi Bar & Kitchen in Sydney and Za Za Ta in Brisbane – but has also created a handbook to help other businesses switch to a vegetarian offering.
“Across Australia and around the world, we’ve had an incredible response from diners, and we can’t wait to keep that momentum going,” said Ian Curley of Ovolo.
“Sustainability in food is something we value a lot more,” agrees O’Meara, who says her guests and the producers she visits are much more focused on it. “It’s not about preaching, it’s just a nuance that’s there.”
One thing everyone seems to agree on: our thirst for experiences that give us an authentic taste of our destination will only grow. According to Manfield, “If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past two years, it’s to travel better. What’s the point of staying in beige hotels and eating beige food, when traveling is to open your eyes.”