Culinary Vacations

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Travelling for my tummy: The bottomless pit for which I travel afar...

Food is something so common to all peoples and yet it can signify very different things from table to table. Culinary holidays are travels in which the opportunity for a unique culinary experience, contributes significantly to the reason for travel to the destination or to itinerary planning while at the destination. Since food is the bridge between land and the culture of an area, it opens up interesting windows to experience the place one is visiting. For the truly committed food-lover, learning to replicate a destination's regional specialties can be a more fulfilling travel experience than hitting the renowned museums and top tourist sites.

Culinary Tourism is not just experiences of the highest caliber - that would be gourmet tourism. This is perhaps best illustrated by the notion that Culinary Tourism is about what is "unique and memorable, not what is necessarily pretentious and exclusive". Similarly, wine tourism, beer tourism and spa tourism are also regarded as subsets of culinary tourism.


The World's Best Culinary Travel Destinations

Combine tourism with food and what do you have? A growing trend, according to the experts – where places like Margaret River (WA), McLaren Vale (SA) and St Helen’s (Tasmania) have got on the map for the quality of their food and wine as much as for the scenic delights

The most popular tours for years have been to --

  • France in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Provence and Dijon * Italy in Tuscany, Umbria, Veneto, Chianti, Sicily, Amalfi Coast and Naples
  • In California, the Napa Valley Culinary Tours for the wines are extremely popular.
  • In Australia, Barossa Culinary Tours
  • In India, Kerala and Hyderabad
  • Bali Culinary Tours
  • Korea Culinary Tours
  • South Africa Culinary Tours
Enjoying rural food in Romania

Here are some of the liveliest culinary holidays worldwide.

  • Otavalo, Ecuador.

Aside from the Galápagos, market day in Otavelo is the only absolute must on any traveler’s Ecuadorian itinerary. Every Saturday, the entire town transforms itself into a huge open-air extravaganza. Not only can you find produce and livestock--still squealing, clucking, and mooing--but handicrafts, textiles, and just about anything else brought in from the far corners of the nation by its colorfully dressed rural populace.

  • Itsarnuphap Bazaar, Bangkok, Thailand.

There’s certainly no shortage of the exotic at Chinatown’s Itsarnuphap Bazaar. One item, which appears to be Styrofoam packing material, is Bangkok’s most popular cracker, made from dried, cured, and refined fish stomachs. Ten bags (11 pounds a piece) can be purchased at the "street price" of 800 baht (US$20) per. Other delicacies include salted pork snouts or the saliva from young swallows distilled into soup. Then there’s the ever-controversial durian, a fruit whose devotees praise its intoxicating flavor and whose detractors point at its pungent aroma (akin to running shoes right after a marathon).

  • Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco.

Within this huge souk beats the heart of Marrakech. By day it’s filled with sights and sounds to delight and nearly overwhelm: Curio peddlers compete with jugglers; tapestry weavers with snake charmers. By night the scene changes to gas-lit food stalls that fill the air with exotic scents to whet your appetite and unique tastes to fill your mouth--all for mere pennies. Just about any time of year is good for this night market, but try catching it during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims abstain from eating from dawn until dusk. Once night falls, the joint really rocks.

  • Olvera Street, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

You know you’re still in L.A. because you can see three different freeways with cars standing still. But the piping-hot taquito in your hand, the carne asada on the grill, and the Mariachi band at the corner all scream Mexico, with the x pronounced like an h. This block-long market is perhaps the best place in world, including south of the border, to get the complete palette of Mexican flavors onto your palate. Don’t believe us? Just ask the guy with the steam coming out of his ears.

  • Food and Antique Market, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France.

Charming is the only way to describe it. Complete with working waterwheels, the tranquil green waters of the Sorgue divide into five branches to create the islands of this compact medieval town. Market day (Sunday) is a colorful and famous affair. Once you have had your fill of olives, wine, nutty breads, and remarkably fresh fish, stop by the antiquaries to see if you can discover that aged treasure of your dreams. Then finish the day in the shade of one of the plane trees that line the village’s many canals.

  • Mercat La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain.

The finest open-air market in a nation of great ones, food has been sold at this spot continuously since the Middle Ages. Area chefs come here to choose from more than 50 varieties of fresh fish pulled daily from the Mediterranean. Phenomenal seafood aside, this is also the place to buy all your vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry, wine, bread, spices, and anything else your stomach may desire. The best part? That night at Restaurante Muy Costoso, the self same tomato you squeezed may well have found its way into your gazpacho.

  • Kensington Market, Toronto, Canada.

The best produce and meats to be had in this bustling metropolis can be found within this labyrinth of cramped little back streets. But for Toronto, Kensington is much more than a place for to buy fruit and veggies. It’s a multicultural center with more than 30 ethnicities represented, including Portuguese, East Indian, Ethiopian, and Afro-Caribbean. With such a broad array of cuisines at your disposal, we encourage you to, um, travel the world, even if it means loosening your belt a notch or two.

  • Mbare Musika Market, Harare, Zimbabwe.

This is a classic among African markets. Open most days, its proximity to the main bus station makes it incredibly convenient to stop in, stock up, and then head out to explore the wilds of Zim. True to its decidedly African setting, you’ll find just about everything sold by just about everyone. Herbs (for both medicinal and culinary use), produce, and meats are displayed cheek-by-jowl--sometimes literally--with bike tires, pots, and shoes.

  • Mercado Ver-o-Peso, Belem, Brazil.

Sitting at the mouth of the Amazon, Ver-o-Peso (which translates "check the weight") is the market for all things Amazon. Fishing boats and dugout canoes bring tropical fruits and vegetables as well as every shape and size of fish. But aside from these necessities, you’ll also find charms and herbs used in African-Brazilian umbanda rituals.

  • Spice Market, Istanbul, Turkey.

Back when spices from India and Southeast Asia arrived in the Middle East via Egypt and were the sole product available at this market, it was known as the Egyptian Bazaar. Now you can get everything from electric can-openers to over-priced jewelry, though there are still a few dozen stalls devoted exclusively to marvelously fragrant spices of every imaginable (and some unimaginable) variety. Wander through using your nose as your guide, but be sure to ask before you buy: What might look like harmless parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme could turn out to be a pretty potent aphrodisiac.

  • Tuscany, Italy

A world renowned travel destination, mainly due to its fine restaurants and wineries, Tuscany is an ideal destination for a culinary vacation. There are quite a few top rated cooking schools, such as the Coselli School of Tuscan Cuisine where you can learn to prepare local Tuscan dishes. You can’t sit around and eat all day, so for some sight seeing and hiking worth visiting is Chocolate Valley (between Pisa and Montecatini) or enjoy olive oil tastings in Badia di Passignano.

Fez, Morocco – Although it Morocco may seem like a unlike choice, when thinking of a culinary trek, I’d advise to think twice. What makes this such a great place is the Moroccon people and specific traditional food, that’s amongst the most unique and delicious kinds of food in the world. There are many opportunities to stay at guesthouses with wonderful chefs who will show you how to prepare regional specialties like couscous, tagines and chicken pie (b’stila). You’ll also learn about regional spices like turmeric, cardamom and cubeb pepper.

Kirkland, Washington – Closer to home, you have a wonderful opportunity to visit the Heathman Hotel for an amazing farm to table experience. Chef Scheesher is also a farmer who gets the food for his menus from the three-acre garden. Wines are also featured from wineries in California, Washington and Oregon.

Catalonia Spain – You can’t really spell culinary tourism, without mentioning Spain, where the whole thing is huge back there. There are many interesting locales such as the elegant bed and breakfast, Catacurian located in the Priorat wine area. Here, Chef Alicia will dazzle you with her wonderful cooking demonstrations where you can learn everything you wanted to about Catalan cuisine.? Also included in her packages is a chance to visit local wineries for private tastings and to learn about the area’s superior olive oils.

Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico – If you’ve always wanted to learn more about Mexican cooking, consider Chef Ana Garcia’s program.? This talented chef has learned the art of Mexican cuisine from traditional family methods passed down through the generations. This package is bound to become very popular as Chef Ana is starring in a national television series starting in 2008.

Tasty dishes, fine wine, excellent cooking classes, beautiful scenery – who wouldn’t want to go on a food tour to Europe? Three tour companies that offer these trips are Epiculinary, My Croatia, and Active Gourmet Holidays.


“Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast are two of the most famed and desired destinations to Italy ,” president and owner of Epiculinary Catherine Merrill says via email. “They have been for hundreds of years, [and] Epiculinary just added a wonderful cooking school in Ireland called Belle Isle. It’s our hottest new property.”

My Croatia - Events in Croatia include Gourmet Istria and Dubrovnik’s Wine and Oysters. Gourmet Istria is offered from March through June and September through November, and the Wine and Oysters begin from March through November. Both events are one week long, and usually focus on other ethnic cuisines, vacation programs, and wine.

Kinds of Culinary Vacations

  • Regional
  • Eating
  • Ingredient wise travel
  • Bread Tours
  • Cheese Tours

A three-night cookery course at L'Aufragere costs £409 per person, including accommodation, meals, drinks, excursions and cheese and wine tastings. A variety of courses are available throughout the year, from Sunday to Wednesday or Thursday to Sunday.

  • Cooking
  • Gathering
  • Producing- go to a vineyard, harvest, for short maturation wines like Beaujolais village. Like go to a strawberry farm, pick, cook and take some jam away.
  • Seeking the classic - Italy, France and South East Asia.
  • Chocolate lover's tour
  • Go Truffle Hunting
  • Olive Oil tours
  • Cooking tours- have spatula will travel
  • Drink yourself silly on Wine, Whisky
  • Food and wine Festivals
  • Hot on the trail of the edible fungii
  • Nearly extinct food
  • Cooking with Celebrity chefs
  • Farm to table- organic cooking holidays
  • Raw food cycle tours

How to Pick the perfect Culinary Tour for yourself

If cooking, food, and wine are important parts of your life, then these are the basics you would need to consider while making your choice of either eating your way through your holiday, or sharpening your culinary skills on the road.

  • Organized Food Tours

A food tour rather than an on-site cooking school is another approach for those either cleaver-shy or interested in more than one locale. Food tours, usually within a small region, are often led by food professionals, either writers or chefs.

  • Self-Guided Tours

Great, if you dislike being organized and can be very rewarding. The obvious advantages of the self-guided tour include setting your own agenda, determining your own level of spending, and having the flexibility to change the schedule should you wish.

The downside is that you have to do the research, arrange reservations, and take care of the day-to-day travel logistics that are done for you on an organized tour.

  • Schools

Most culinary courses last a week, rarely longer, which means classes can be integrated into a longer holiday if you wish. Before booking your trip, consider some basics:

  • Determine Your Skill Level- are you the dummy, amateur or the professional
  • Decide on a Cuisine- is it chilly and tequila, or truffles and french cuisine
  • Do a Test Run- Local Cooking Classes- Either check out a local class, check out a Tv show.
  • Cooking and Wine Schools- Most cooking schools, offer a package that includes lodging, visits to food markets or producers of local specialties such as cheese, olive oil, or wine. Try to get the names of former students so you can ask about their experience. If the tour leader is a writer, get one of his or her books. You can tell a great deal about a person from a cookbook. If the leader is a chef, find out how the restaurant is regarded.
  • Time

A week to 10 days is plenty to sample a country’s (by and large) various cuisines. It’s fine if you want to immerse yourself in the intricacies of a specific region’s cooking. But if your goal is to do both, budget a full two weeks. It may put a dent in your vacation days, but the payoff will be worth it: a more refined palette and a rested soul.

  • Cruise Liners

Cruise lines often include some food classes as part of a package tour.

The Global Eating Guide

This is your one stop shop to avoid the gastronomic goofs when you’re halfway around the world. Read when in Rome..., injest, go forth and chomp.

  • China

Slurping your soup in China is an expression of approval for the tastiness of the bowl’s contents. I'm not too sure about the burping and farting (is it to be silent and strong or loud and fragrant).

  • Mongolia

Don’t look for fish on menus in Mongolia, infact don't go if you're a vegan or a vegetable. Most Mongolians believe that eating fish brings illness and bad luck. The menu is more likely to read lamb, lamb, and lamb—with perhaps mutton thrown in for variety; all washed down with koumiss. (Since you asked, fermented mare’s or camel’s milk.) The Vodka is great.

  • Japan

Okay, this is one country most people are likely to develop foot -in-mouth disease. But a beginners guide will tell not to go sticking your chopsticks vertically into your rice bowl. It’s a symbol of death used only in funeral ceremonies. eeeks.

  • Nepal and India

You may be inclined to share bites of your meal with friends, but don’t offer food or drink to a Nepalese or most Indians for that matter after tasting it yourself. That would be an act of jutho or jootha, a concept of impurity that is highly offensive to Eastern sensibilities. In India, you are going to have a tough time hunting down some beef and you aint getting it in your burger (that's ground lamb actually goat)

  • South Korea

Here's where you get to decide whether you're going to play host or guest ahead of time. There isnt a concept of going Dutch. By the way, one of the specialties is dog meat. Infact it's the most common meat.

  • Middle East

In Oman, be sure to accept any refreshments offered by a host. But if you’ve had more than you can bear, gently sway your cup from left to right to indicate that you don’t want more. And you aint getting no pork.

  • Syria

Though you’ll probably be tempted, resist the urge to accept food the first time it’s offered at a party or other social gathering in Syria. It’s polite to decline at least once before finally digging in.

  • Iran

Showing the soles of your shoes in public is one of the worst insults around these parts.

  • Tajikistan

The Tajiks are good for a chat not so great for a drink. Local moonshine has been linked to quite a few cases of alcohol poisoning. Lemonade, please?

  • Spain

When entering a tapas bar in Spain, don’t be alarmed to see folks throwing olive pits, toothpicks, used napkins, and other sundry items onto the floor. Wading through trash en route to the bar is perfectly normal; it all gets swept up at the end of the night.

  • Bologna, Italy

If you’re lucky enough to visit , don’t be surprised if an oversize shot glass of grappa shows up at your table unrequested. It’s just assumed that, of course, you’ll want to end the meal with what it essentially a glass of paint thinner. Bottoms up.

  • Scotland

If you care to take your Scotch as those who produce it do, skip the ice. Scots drink their whisky at room temperature with some water swirled in.

  • Russia

Be prepared: Russians are legendary for long-winded toasts, which can go on for a half-hour or more. And remember, it’s considered rude not to join in.

  • Wales

If you see signs outside restaurants and pubs declaring "We Serve Brains." In this case the reference is not to some gastronomic delight made out of gray matter, but rather a popular local beer.

  • Senegal

Be sure to taste bissap, a sweetened drink made of hibiscus flowers.

  • Finland

Sip cloudberry liqueur.

  • France

In the Perigord region of France, gorge on truffles.

  • Mexico

the adventurous should sample the Oaxacan delicacy chapulines, fried grasshoppers flavored with fresh lime juice, chili, and salt.

  • Fiji

The rituals built around the national drink, yaqona, the juice, of the kava root looks (and some say tastes) like dirty water; expect your lips to go numb.

  • [1] Ethiopia

Eating with your hands is expected in Ethiopia. Most meals are served with injera, a flat bread with a spongy texture. Simply tear off some injera, wrap it around your main course, and voila, meal and eating implement in one tasty bundle.

While we’re on the subject of hands, eating with the left hand is taboo in many Asian and African countries. The left hand is generally used to take care of outputs, the right for inputs. Even if you’re a leftie, learn to adapt or risk serious offense to locals.

  • Mali

You might find yourself befuddled when your waiter brings your drink with the coaster on top of the glass rather than under it. Coasters here are used to protect your drink from flies, not to protect the table.

  • Bolivia

When in the Bolivian backcountry, pour some of your drink onto the ground in an offering to Pachamama, Inca goddess of the earth. Then you may freely imbibe.

The famous food festivals world over

The greatest way to tap into a region’s culture, its collective agrarian subconscious, is to plan trips according to seasonal food festivals. Here are some highlights from around the world.

  • Oktoberfest, Germany

On the second-to-last Saturday in September, the Lord Mayor of Munich kicks off the notorious beer bonanza by shouting "It’s tapped!" marking the first of five million litres to be consumed over the 16 days of the festival.

  • American Royal Barbecue Contest, Missouri, U.S.A

Head for Spice Grills and Seven Basted Bubbas to the smoky Kansas City event in October.

  • Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

The annual Vegetarian Festival, hosted in mid-October by the Chinese community of Phuket, is a five-day marathon of Chinese opera performances, fire-walking, knife-blade climbing, and other masochistic rituals. The island’s ethnic Chinese go on a nine-day soul-purification diet.

  • Inkwala (Festival of the First Fruits), Mbabane, Swaziland and Swazis wrap up ancient feast

Try celebrating the New Year Swazi-style: gathering branches from the Lusekwane shrub, communally slaughtering an ox, and burning the king's bed clothes.

  • Pongal, India

As India’s biggest harvest festival, Pongal marks the withdrawal of the monsoons as well as the reaping of the harvest. Celebrations are spread over three days in mid-January.

  • Féte du Citron (Lemon Festival), Menton, France

A festival for connoisseurs devoted to those tasty Menton lemons celebrated in late February.

  • Easter, Greece

Easter in Greece falls the Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox--minutes.

  • Galungan, Bali, Indonesia

In honor of Galungan, an annual celebration of the triumph of virtue (dharma) over evil (adharma), the Balinese beckon their ancestral spirits for a brief family visit. The success of this important festival, held in April, depends how well the living entice and entertain the dead with food, dance, and festive garb.

  • Vidalia Festival, Georgia, U.S.A

This is for those with a love for halitosis.

  • Gilroy Garlic Festival, California, U.S.A

Okay if the onion festival wasn't enough for the Americans, it's they decided to start a garlic festival after having read about a similarly ghoulish thing in Arleux, France. This smelly fest takes place every year in July.

  • Crop Over, Barbados

Barbadians celebrate the end of the sugarcane harvest with this street carnival in late July filled with dancing, calypso music, and parades.

  • Preuvenemint-Maastricht, Netherlands

Don’t miss such local Limburg region specialties as rabbit plum stew and vlaai, a sweet, savory flan-like dish of rice and fruit. To read more about this huge international food-tasting festival in late August see .

  • Food festivals in Italy

Holiday Food Safety Tips

To avoid illness when you are traveling, it is important to select food with care. Keep the following in mind --

  • Always wash your hands before and after handling food or carry anti-bacterial wipes.
  • Follow crowds. A long line of people is always a good indicator that the food is tasty and fresh; it never sits idle for long. If a vendor on a busy street has no customers, there's probably a reason why.
  • Watch it cook: Try and always request that your food be cooked fresh for you. A hot grill will usually eliminate any microscopic bugs that are present. And a plate of steaming noodles is safer than food left out for hours at a hotel buffet.
  • Ask the locals like the taxi drivers, policemen, shop owners and office workers. Locals are discerning: They only eat what they like and what doesn't make them sick.
  • All raw food is subject to contamination.
  • In areas where hygiene and sanitation are inadequate, you should avoid salads, uncooked vegetables, and unpasteurized milk and milk products such as cheese.
  • Eat only food that has been cooked and is still hot.
  • Eat only fruit that has been peeled (by the traveler).
  • Undercooked and raw meat, fish, and shellfish can carry various intestinal pathogens.
  • Cooked food that has been allowed to stand for several hours at ambient temperature can provide a fertile medium for bacterial growth and should be thoroughly reheated before serving.
  • Some species of fish and shellfish can contain poisonous biotoxins, even when well cooked. The most common type of biotoxin in fish is ciguatoxin. The flesh of the barracuda is the most toxic laden and should always be avoided. Red snapper, grouper, amberjack, sea bass, and a wide range of tropical reef fish contain the toxin at unpredictable times.
  • Cholera cases have occurred among people who ate crab brought back from Latin America by travelers. Link here

Television Shows and Must Reads

Watch some tv shows for fun and some enlightenment before embarking on your culinary adventures.

  • The Travel Channel Anthony Bourdain No Reservations
  • The Food Network's travel shows
  • Iron Chef America on Food Network where two chefs duel using one theme ingredient.
  • Cookin' in Brooklyn on Discovery Home by Alan Harding
  • Good Eats on the Food Network with Alton Brown.
  • Test Kitchenon PBS
  • Fox Entertainment's reality show, Hell's Kitchen with the world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay.
  • The Naked Chef

References

  • Ney York Times Article
  • Health Issues while Travelling
  • The Fodor's guide top 10 culinary tours
  • Foodie Vacations in Japan
  • New OrleansTours
  • Chocolate-lovers paradise tours in Belgium
  • Beverly Gruber's Everyday Gourmet Traveler
  • Culinary Tours in Europe
  • The International Kitchen
  • Gourmet Safaris Australia
  • Tuscany cooking Class
  • Eating Tours in San Francisco
  • Culinary Vacations
  • Culinary Tourism
  • New Culinary Tourism destinations
  • Links to Street Food Around the World
  • Eating globally
  • Food Tours around the World