Photo: Eat Mexico cactus farm tour © ANA TELLO / EAT MEXICO
ULTIMATELY, GETTING A TASTE for culture and adventure is what travel is all about, and now more than ever, travelers take that concept literally. Many use guidebooks or spend hours scouring local listings to find the greatest sips and bites in a given destination, whether they’re Michelin-rated or hidden among the stalls of a hawker market. In a recent study, the World Food Travel Association found 81 percent of survey responders believe eating and drinking help in understanding the local culture, noting culinary history and hospitality styles are what generally create the foundation of a destination’s character.
A remarkable 91 percent of travelers admit to creating longlasting and powerful memories based on their experiences with an area’s food and beverage offerings, according to the WFTA. Culinary travel is on the rise in nearly all parts of the world, with many innovative and in-depth food tours growing from the increased interest in savoring everything a destination offers.
In Mexico City visitors eat like a local on the curated food tours through the city organized by renowned cookbook author Lesley Téllez. Téllez started Eat Mexico in 2010 to help visitors navigate the vast network of sidewalk grills, market stalls, taquerias, and small, home-style kitchens called fondas. Her mission is to show people where locals eat, and her tours range from three-hour walks through the city to all-day excursions to uncover the inner workings of a nearby cactus farm before learning the art of tortilla-making from a skilled local tortillera.
Food tours are popping up in all corners of Europe and Asia, where tour operators like Zicasso, Intrepid Travel and Lonely Planet created a huge range of tours run by local guides who specialize in a specific city or even neighborhood. Food tours in Vail, Colorado, are conducted via bicycle with Vail Valley Food Tours to help visitors pack in as much as possible while in town, including taking in the stunning scenery along the bike paths for a calorie-neutral excursion.
The only way to access some of the most exclusive and hyperlocal spots in Montréal is by booking a food tour, as the city has become a hotbed for hard-to-find speakeasies. Local guide René Lemieux has guided tours around his hometown for decades and partnered with the AC Marriott Montréal through Tourism Montreal to give guests behind-the-scenes tours. Lemieux knows just about everyone in town, which means he also knows all the secrets for entering the super-exclusive speakeasies that freckle the city, like looking for the image of a rubber duck before entering through what appears to be a refrigerator but is actually the entrance to one of the city’s hottest bars, ironically named The Coldroom.