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Culinary Experience Travelers are on The Rise

Food tells a story that transcends cultural, ethnic and geographic divides. Any fan of Anthony Bourdain or Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” will attest to that.

But how important are authentic, cultural experiences to tourists in an era where Instagram bucket lists and social media influencers reign supreme? How important is it for travelers to meet the chefs and producers when feeds are inundated with food selfies and peace signs?

According to a AAA travel survey, “Seventy-five percent of Americans feel that food and dining are an important part of their travel experiences and four in five say they have engaged in such unique activities as touring wineries and distilleries, eating with local families and engaging in hands-on experiences such as cooking classes led by local chefs while traveling.”

In other words, the bucket list travel craze seems to have only propelled travelers to crave those hard-to-grasp experiences.

The Importance of Food

What better way to learn about the history and culture of your destination than through an interactive experience?

Food has always been one of the world’s great unifiers. We might not understand the nuances of a particular culture, but we all indulge sensory memories that tie us to ingredients. You aren’t likely to forget your first sip of crisp pinot grigio or the lingering effects of a spicy bourbon on the rocks. Just as you can feel the pop of a hot dog casing in your mouth before you take that first bite.

And while we might not consider these foods important to a country’s or city’s historical landscape at first glance, the roots of New Yorkers are intrinsically tied to the German immigrants that first sold hot sausages in buns to hungry sunbathers at Coney Island.

But you can’t simply take any food experience and package it up into a sellable product. According to dcs plus, “Authenticity is key.” So, how do you find these truly authentic experiences?

Food Tours

Food tours are one of the most accessible food experiences available for travelers. You could spend hours scouring Eater’s heat maps for your destination’s hottest restaurants and iconic foods. Or, you could hire a guide to introduce you to the food — and the producers.

If an organized tour isn’t your jam, you can find great DIY food tours similar to the one of Soho in New York City written by food blogger Kelly at https://www.girlwiththepassport.com/food-tours-new-york-city/

“Hiring a guide to take you to a restaurant, introduce you to the chef and give you a peek behind the scenes offers a richer experience than calling and making a dinner reservation,” explains Sidewalks Food Tours CEO Joshua Hirsch. “You don’t just get a meal — you get a story, an experience. You can post photos of your food on Instagram or you can post video of the restaurant owner explaining how he creates each dish.”

Cooking Classes

For travelers who want to go deeper into their culinary experiences, they can now take destination cooking classes. (Though, many would argue that destination cooking classes have been offered for years).

All you need to do is choose your favorite cuisine — and then a destination. In San Francisco SWFT Cooking Classes are taught with a beautiful view of Alcatraz in the distance. 

Discover the 50-plus ingredients that go into every batch of mole; learn about the differences in preparation between Cantonese and Sichuan cuisines or make your own fresh pasta in one of the many cooking schools across the globe geared to foodie travelers. Oh, and there’s usually beer, wine and/or mezcal included with your price of admission. 

Underground Super Clubs

In addition to traditional cooking classes, underground supper clubs have been a way for travelers to get an authentic foodie experience. If you can find them.

While plenty of supper clubs advertise online as well as through social media, they are, in essence, illegal. But the illegality also adds to the allure.

For those looking for a more regulated experience, meal sharing websites offer similar experiences without the fear of food poisoning. EatWith, Traveling Spoon, Withlocals and MealSharing.com give home chefs a platform to share authentic experiences with travelers. Everyone gathers in a host’s home and (for a small fee) shares food and sometimes drink.

Celebrity Chef Experiences

The food world has always faced a high-brow/low-brow dichotomy. In both New York City and Paris, you could easily spend upward of $1,000 on a meal — or $5 for the chewiest bagel or the fluffiest croissant of your life.

The same goes for culinary experiences. Want to meet the owner of your favorite pizzeria? Easy peasy. Want to take a trip to Italy with a Top Chef finalist or James Beard Award winner? That can be arranged too. For a price.

The New York Times reported in May 2018, travelers could book tours to Italy with their favorite celebrity chefs. The Institute of Culinary Education has long offered celebrity chef cooking classes at its Manhattan school with price tags running upward of $1,600 a class.

Celebrity chefs lining up to teach at ICE include Pat LaFrieda, Jacques Torres and David Lebovitz.

Cultural Tours and Experiences

Companies like Airbnb have jumped on the cultural foodie bandwagon with just as much haste as everyone else. The name of the game is “small, intimate group experiences” that take you deep into the culture, giving you a sense of place.

You’re not getting shuttled around by a double-decker bus; you’re living for a few hours the way the locals do.

Which is why authenticity truly is the key to such experiences.

“You walk away with a sense of accomplishment,” adds Hirsch. “You could just as easily spend your vacation on a beach or absorbing information from the seat of a van. But you could also get a similar experience from watching a travel show seated on your couch.”

Hirsch adds that while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a day at the beach or taking a bus tour, the difference is that there’s more to a destination than simply learning about its history or grabbing a selfie at a famous attraction.

“A culinary experience gets you as close to the locals as humanly possible. What better reason is there to travel than that?”