Food tourism adds a side of culture
Have fork will travel
Cynthia Elyce Rubin
The Norwegian American
We love to travel. How can we be tourists and enjoy a non-touristy experience at the same time? One answer is the relatively new phenomenon of the food tour. It’s a growing trend whether you immerse yourself in a cooking course, tour a vineyard, or scour farmers’ markets and local supermarkets. More people are fanning the globe in search of culture-rich food-focused travel. A recent survey commissioned by the World Food Travel Association found that out of 170 million tourist travelers from the United States, more than 30 percent chose trips based on some share of culinary activities.
Food is one way to understand the world. Many travelers find local food and beverage products are the foundation of a region’s character. Thus, walking with a guide who offers personal insight and delicious bites along the way is a good opportunity to learn about a country firsthand. And it is not limited to gourmet meals produced by toque-wearing chefs in restaurants with white tablecloths and silver cutlery. Now even a hole-in-the-wall budget establishment, food cart, or street vendor has a chance. More than haute cuisine, these meals are authentic and memorable. Case in point is that a 70-year-old Thai street food seller who makes wok-fired dishes has been awarded a Michelin star at the launch of Bangkok’s first guide. The Thai capital joins other Asian food hubs deemed worthy of the French tire company’s international accolades first promoted in 1900. In addition, a total of 28 street food stalls were included in the Michelin Guide 2018.
Food tourism is a central facet to any tourist experience, because it encompasses cultural practices, the landscape, local history, values, and heritage. Eating is a dynamic way to share stories. By combining a visit with edible experiences, food tourism offers an authentic “taste of place” and can have life-long consequences. My first European visit was a stay with a family in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, under the auspices of the Experiment in International Living. I still have the diary in which I wrote recipes for traditional Swiss dishes like fondue and apricot tart. My living in Switzerland not only introduced me to the food and the culture but also to life-long friends.
When American native Kenny Dunn moved to Rome, he loved introducing friends from home to his neighborhood and favorite haunts. They inevitably wound up eating local. These informed excursions later became the Taste of Testaccio Tour with a focus on promoting food with a local vibe. Because of its success, the idea evolved into a business spreading to London, Amsterdam, Prague, and soon Paris (eatingeuropetours.com). In Florence, join a chef in his Tuscan home for a true hands-on experience. Walk the neighborhood, buy ingredients from mom and pop shops and market stalls, then pick herbs from the chef’s rooftop terrace. Enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded individuals while preparing a feast. On the docks in London, visit historic pubs that were once pirates’ and artists’ hangouts. In the Brick Lane area, it’s Banglatown with its dynamic street art and Bangladeshi shops. The 17th-century Jordaan neighborhood in Amsterdam boasts Dutch culinary traditions. If fish is your thing, then the ubiquitous haringhandels (herring stalls) and vishandels (fish stalls) will tempt you.
In Norway, you can walk your way around Oslo with the Culinary City Walk (oslo.foodtours.eu). Visit the city off the beaten track with an emphasis on New Nordic cuisine and its simple fresh ingredients. Oslo has become a new foodie hotspot. Mathallen (Mathallenoslo.no), the food hall that introduces the visitor to trendy local and international dishes in myriad specialty stalls, is the starting point. Sample handmade knekkebrød, nibble on Norway’s rich cheeses, and pause to try local honey. Sign up for the street food course at Kulinarisk Akademi. Then walk through different areas of the city, the new artist colony along the river, the old city center, and the docks where you sample a mixed plate of reindeer and fish, and then a final stop at a microbrewery, a new source of local pride with lots of local color to accompany a selection of craft beers. What better way to meet and greet?
Not only individual entrepreneurs are in on this. Full-service tour operators know a good thing too. Fifty Degrees North Nordic (fiftydegreesnorth.com) offers a variety of tours with food components in Scandinavia. Nordic Capitals Gourmet includes three in-depth food tours. In Oslo, in addition to the walking tour, depending on the season, travelers can also head into the woods to collect wild blueberries and mushrooms. Ivy Thompson, the company’s destination specialist, writes, “The foodie excursions are an exciting way to explore the essence of Nordic culture. Food has become important when showcasing the unique charm, tradition, and history of each country, a direct effect from the rise of the slow food movement. Enjoying local cuisine means to fully embrace everything the destination has to offer.”
Cynthia Elyce Rubin, Ph.D., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history, who collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. She is currently working on Enorme Amerika: Norske utvandreres postkort, humor og rariteter to be published by SpreDet Forlag in Oslo and is completing a manuscript on O.S. Leeland, Norwegian immigrant photographer who worked in South Dakota in the early 1900s. See www.cynthiaelycerubin.com.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.