Venture beyond the hotel breakfast buffet to excite your taste buds with a bevy of excursions that will leave lasting memories, says Jenny Southan
One of the highlights of a trip I did to Vietnam a couple of years ago was driving through villages on a moped and stopping off for a picnic by the side of the road surrounded by paddy fields. We ate fragrant herb salads and banh mi sandwiches, then continued to a market with our guide where men were bringing in fish on low-slung wooden boats. We stopped by a mushroom farm and learned how to make rice crackers on an open fire. In fact, I remember it more clearly than any of the fine-dining meals we had at our hotel.
Food is an important part of any holiday but venturing beyond the international breakfast buffet to explore local cuisines, restaurants and ingredients can be incredibly inspiring – and tasty. Helped by the rise of Instagram and cooking programmes from the likes of the late legendary chef Anthony Bourdain, culinary tourism has been booming in recent years, with people going out of their way to book tables in advance, sign up for classes and try exotic street food.
Travel companies are, unsurprisingly, going out of their way to capitalise on this demand and take gourmet holidays to the next level. For example, Black Tomato recently introduced a series of “luxury immersive journeys” called Tasting Notes, whereby you get to spend time with Michelin-star chefs, influencers and personalities from Chef’s Table while on the road. One trip (costing from US $7,539 per person) involves following world-renowned chef Virgilio Martinez through Peru’s Sacred Valley (main image) and up to the Andes – en route, you will learn how to make the perfect ceviche, fish for piranhas on Gamitana Creek, visit a pisco distillery and dine at his new restaurant, Mil.
New food trends such as veganism, which has seen the number of British people adopting this diet increase 350 per cent between 2006 and 2016, are also shaping the way we travel. Fresh for 2019, Intrepid Tours is launching vegan excursions to India, Italy and Thailand, where participants will be able to savour the very best of animal-free cuisine, as well as go shopping in local fruit and vegetable markets before mastering the art of making sticky rice with red beans, for instance.
Ampersand Travel is also giving people the chance to engage in a deeper, more experiential way with local food culture, especially when it comes to nose-to-tail dining. Its two-week gastronomic tour of China, for example, will take you from Chengdu to Hangzhou via Xi’an, Beijing and Shanghai, where sightseeing will be interspersed with five meals a day, and lessons in how to prepare spicy boiled chicken feet and Peking duck. Meanwhile, in South Africa, you can tour vineyards in the Winelands and sample ostrich at the Drostdy hotel in the colonial town of Graaff-Reinet.
You don’t have to take on lengthy trips to taste the world, of course, with many cities encompassing a huge variety of national cuisines. In a recent survey from Bott and Co, it ranked New York, followed by London, Toronto, Chicago and Paris as having the most diverse food scenes on the planet, dishing up everything from Haitian to Israeli fare. But where would you go for the most stellar cooking? According to the Michelin Guide, it would have to be Tokyo, which has had more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else for over a decade. All you have to bring is your appetite.
Image courtesy of Black Tomato and Getty Images