When you hear the term; “Culinary Tourism”, do you automatically think about cooking classes or busloads of hungry individuals being taken from one winemaker to the next all in a days’ time? Luckily, today we are talking about a much broader scope. You don’t have to be wealthy or retired to enjoy culinary delights and highlights while traveling, or better yet, even in your own town.
Culinary tourism need not be restricted to visiting the 5-star restaurants or the most exclusive wineries of the area; in fact, more often than not, culinary tourists are exploring the well-reviewed local bakery from Yelp or the unnamed bar on a quiet side street frequented mostly by locals. Not just for connoisseurs, food tourism basically qualifies as any pursuit of a memorable eating or drinking experience while visiting a new place. Every time a baby boomer traveler eats at a local restaurant, food cart, etc, she’s participating in culinary tourism. But intentional culinary tourism can take much more interesting forms! Food tours, for example, are an excellent way for people to quickly get a complex idea of the food culture of a place they’re visiting or have lived in for over 15 years.
These tours are much like other cultural walking tours offered in major cities around the world; but instead of stopping solely at architectural and historical points of interest, these tours are planned around stops where the food enthusiast can try morsels of the local cuisine from various “mom & pop” shops in the area. For example, Local Roots Food Tours based in Sacramento, California includes cultural and historical information, with 6 food stops interspersed between interesting cultural points, leaving plenty of time to walk off what the participants just consumed. Most food tours include some walking spread over a few hours, but not more than what is enjoyable for boomers or relatively fit seniors. Food and winery tours often include meeting with the owner or executive chef within the establishment.
Owner Lisa Armstrong of Local Roots Food Tours and her trained culinary guides share that experience on all of their walking food tours (two of which are offered in Sacramento, CA); the City of Trees Food Tour as well as Origins of Sacramento Food Tour. Participants get up close with several key chefs in the city; one-on-one time allows them to learn what chefs are passionate about, how they create their seasonal menus, or how they got started in the culinary field–something you just can’t get on a typical restaurant visit. Meeting the owners and chefs can truly define what type of culture a city evokes, Armstrong says.
Why Food? Food is the staple of a culture, and this doesn’t just mean national culture; food can tell a tourist (or local) so much more about a city, even a specific neighborhood. At a wine or beer tasting, a boomer will learn about the local climate that produces the particularities of that beverage. Food tours teach visitors about the various subcultures and ethnicities that have shaped the area throughout history, leaving their footprints on the modern storefronts and the architecture. Moreover, the convivial nature of sharing food and drink makes culinary tourism all the more appealing. Who doesn’t love breaking bread or sharing a glass of wine with loved ones? “We are so blessed here in Sacramento, and California for that matter, with an amazing variety and abundance of agriculture, right here at our doorstep,” says Armstrong. “It was important as the owner to build our tours to showcase establishments that embody the farm-to-table concept, and to bring more awareness to the Slow Food Movement that is becoming central to Sacramento area cuisine”.
LRFT makes a point of informing participants on the walking food tours where local restauranteurs shop for their produce, meats, dairy and beverages, and highlights several local farms that supply downtown Sacramento eateries. “Telling people where their food comes from is important to me,” continues Armstrong; “getting the stories of people and their efforts to bring us fabulous food is key to knowing the roots of a city.”
Lightly touching on the growing trend of Agritourism goes hand in hand with a city that is strengthening their culinary tourism agenda. Communities surrounded with urban farming as well as local rural farmers who are willing and able to market their farms that attract individuals wanting to learn where their food is coming from is growing exponentially in states like California. Tasting various foods on a food tour also offers the opportunity to share a social and learning experience with other tourists from all over the world. As the global population becomes more interested in the quality and origin of the food it eats, tourists (and even locals) will continue to seek memorable culinary adventures on their travels and exploring what is right outside their front doors.
According to Ian Yeoman at Hospitality Net, increased globalization also contributes to an interest in food tourism. With easy access to information, learning about another culture is possible from any corner of the planet. Culinary tourism is universal and will continue to grow no matter if it is a major city or a town of 250 in size……food is global so go out and savor, learn, explore and connect to the town you are visiting or living in. Cheers!