Taste for Travel: 20 Tips for Culinary Travel Adventurers
A foodie panel talks Culinary Travel at the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show. If you’re a seasoned culinary traveler, a culinary travel wanna-be or a newbie who wants to make a meal of culinary travel, read on.
By Wanda Hennig
“Everyone who travels is, in fact, a culinary traveler because everyone has to eat,” says Maralyn Hill, epicurean explorer and president of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.
Think about it. You may favor adventure travel, responsible travel, cultural or heritage tours or trips, the solo or family travel experience — to mention a few of the more obvious of scores of travel options.
Whatever your focus, wherever you go, you have to eat. So even if culinary travel is not your primary focus, to add it to ones “curiosity” list makes for a tastier and more diverse travel experience.
Picture above shows the Culinary Travel speakers panel a the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show, left to right, Maralyn Hill, Wanda Hennig, Cuisine Noir magazine publisher and Culinary Stage sponsor/organizer Sheree Williams, panel moderator Mary Vincent and Chef Marcelle Bienvenu.
Twenty tips for seasoned culinary travelers, wanna-bes and newbies:
Consciously make culinary travel your focus. Before you head off, do some googling and discover the food and drink specialties of your destination, be in in the US or abroad.
- Before I went to Porto while on a three-week visit to Portugal last year, my online research — plus responses to an e-mail sent to food and wine writers friends — told me the city was best known for its port, it’s wine (from up the River Douro) and its tripe (the citizens of Porto have been called tripeiros — tripe-eaters). Knowing this meant I arrived ready to seek out the best-of and with a sense of focus and purpose.
- Culinary being my focus, also meant getting excited by the old Bolhão city market where stallholders sell everything from fresh fruit and veggies to breads, cheeses, fish and meat.
- In turn, it meant speaking to artisans responsible for the breads and cheeses, fresh veggies and fresh fish. And trying versions of bacalhau, the salted cod that the Portuguese reputedly have the equivalent of a different recipe for every day of the year.
- As a culinary traveler, one is looking at the local lifestyles, which saw me hanging out in coffee shops learning about Portugal’s coffee culture.
- If you are partial to city culinary tours (which many cities within the US and internationally have now), look before you leave to see what’s available and ideally, set up something in advance.
- Or you can do it when you get there, which I did when I spotted a flyer for a culinary tour of Lisbon, all about heritage and traditions.
To be a culinary traveler, you don’t have to eat at expensive places. Markets and where the locals eat work well for anyone on a budget.
- Having said that, I have a food critic friend who, every year when she travels, makes a point of eating at one of the world’s best restaurants. (Last time she stayed with me, we ate at the French Laundry.)
- Think in terms of cooking schools and cooking classes. I have a friend who did a Thai cooking class in Bangkok. He will tell you it was the best “souvenir” he brought back, given that he still cooks Thai and uses what he learned six years later.
- Ask locals where to eat. Before I went to New Orleans for the first time, someone suggested asking guys from the fire department where to eat, which we did — and ended up in a hole-in-the wall with some of the best food.
- Of course, going online you can do huge amounts of upfront homework, especially for traveling and eating in and around the US. Just follow the Yelpers! Or become a Yelper.
Being a culinary traveler also means you can travel the world right where you live, if it’s the San Francisco Bay Area or any other sophisticated city or region worldwide. With the wealth of restaurants reflecting a melting pot of cultures, it’s possible to go culinary traveling to a different destination any day of the week.
- It’s not necessary to be extreme travel and to eat like Andrew Zimmern of bizarre foods fame to qualify as a culinary traveler.
- Nor is it necessary to eat scorpion in China. But I’m glad my daughter was brave enough to try one when she visited.
- Or to eat things you really don’t feel you can stomach, which might include scorpions in China, an embalmed toe in the Yukon — and some cannot believe Canada could be responsible for poutine.
- And if you eat bunny chow in South Africa, rest assured they’re not skinning a rabbit for you.
- Culinary travel is one of the fastest growing travel niches. It makes sense. It supports every aspect of the hospitality industry including chefs, restauranteurs, winemakers, small-time cooks with passion, farmers — the list goes on. And that’s before considering the tourist niches growing to support the culinary market.
Culinary travel aligns well with the Slow Food movement. Look at it this way, if you’re traveling to appreciate the culture, traditions and heritage of a country through what they people eat and drink, you’re helping to preserve the culture, traditions and heritage.
- Culinary travel is cool — because food (and wine plus other drinks that fall under the culinary umbrella, which would be anything you choose to drink with a sense of “place”) is about conviviality and conversation. And appreciation and enjoyment. When we eat, we stop (please do stop!), sit down (please do sit down!) and involve the senses. And when one is traveling, what better way to really take note of, appreciate and relish where you are?
Culinary Travel Panel
My list of travel tips was inspired when I was prepping for the Cuisine Noir magazine panel to speak on The Culinary Stage at the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show at the Santa Clara Convention Center where headliners included well known travel writers and personalities Rick Steves, Andrew McCarthy, Pauline Frommer and Patricia Schultz.
With me on the culinary panel were “Queen of Cajun Cooking” Chef Marcelle Bienvenu, chef/instructor at Nicholls State University, located in Thibodaux, Louisiana and Maralyn Hill, past president of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association who I quote and link to above.
Bienvenu, who is also a food writer, columnist and author of more than a dozen books, provided the recipes for True Blood—Eats, Drinks and Bites from Bon Temps (published in 2012), a companion series to HBO’s True Blood series.
Sheree Williams, publisher and co-founder of Cuisine Noir magazine, online and print, arranged the panel, organized the Culinary Stage.
© Wanda Hennig, 2013