You have just arrived in a new-to-you city. Where do you start your adventure? What is this location’s claim to fame? And, most importantly, where is the best food? Typically when we travel, we are in a location for only a short while and want to make the most of every minute. Before I am on the plane to a new place, I schedule a food tour for right after my arrival.
When I can’t find a great food tour that fits into my schedule, I will make a plan to hunt down foods based on a theme. Where to find the best waterfront restaurants on Cape Cod or the best places to eat along the Ruta del Lechón in central Puerto Rico are good examples of getting out and exploring a destination through a food lens.
Traveling is about the experience and delving into a region’s food culture. Following a local guide is the very best way to explore an exciting new spot. Here’s why taking a food tour is a must in a new city.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. You Sample Amazing Food
Guided food tours bring local cuisine to life. They will take you to a selection of restaurants where you will sample small bites of a wide variety of dishes. It’s like having a progressive meal — a nibble here and a nosh there.
Great food tours will expose you to the exciting food offered in their region. For instance, the Street Corn Salad from The Mission restaurant in Scottsdale is a delicious interpretation of the classic Mexican street corn. This amazing bite of food — sweet corn, salty cheese, and creamy dressing — is so good. Many regional traditions and flavors come alive in this dish.
This tour experience was through Arizona Food Tours.
2. They Explore Local Culture
In the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, roosters run wild — you could say they rule the roost! In Cuban culture, the rooster represents strength and power. They roam the neighborhood of Little Havana just like they would back in the residents’ hometowns in Cuba.
Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina serves up a classic mojito complete with sugar cane stalks. Their Cubano made with slow roasted pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles on warm, pressed Cuban bread is a slice of gooey deliciousness. The 1950s-inspired tropical decor punctuated by a rogue hen or rooster sets the stage for a culturally immersive meal.
This tour experience was through Miami Culinary Tours.
3. They Expand Your Comfort Zone
Our guide, Georgia, said, “Let’s walk through the fish market.” My first instinct was no thank you. She assured me it didn’t smell at all, and she was so right. The local food safety requirements keep the fish market clean and fresh. We even sat down and enjoyed a snack right in the market. I have wandered into many fish markets where the fishy odor was so overwhelming I had to leave. Trust your guide — you may discover a new perspective.
Athens’ food market is huge — exponentially larger than your local farmers’ market. You could easily spend an hour or more wandering through all the different sections. As you turn each corner, you are assaulted with a riot of colors, spicy aromas, and beautiful displays. The vendors are pleasant and helpful and many speak enough English to get through a transaction.
This tour experience was through Athens Walking Tours.
4. You Might Learn Cooking Techniques
When you learn to create a culturally rich dish, you gain a new perspective of a region or country. Exploring the history of food by crafting it with the guidance of a true artisan helps you capture the soul of a dish. At Agriturismo Il Mandoleto, I took a class on pasta making — I was astonished at how easy it was to make delicious pasta by hand. We made pasta without a machine, simply rolling the dough out with a wooden rolling pin.
Our instructor, a nonna who had been making past for many years, walked us through hand-mixing the flour, egg, and water and kneading it to the right consistency. After rolling out our gorgeous dough, we practiced cutting and forming shapes. Simple foods like pasta made from scratch transport you immediately back to a treasured adventure.
This tour experience was through Oceania Cruises.
5. They Can Introduce You To The Bar Scene
The local bar and cafe culture offer visitors an interesting peek into the daily lives of hometown folks. In Prague, particularly at neighborhood bars like Lokál, you will find groups of friends enjoying the quintessential Czech beer — Pilsner Urquell.
After a long day, tables filled with workmates and friends gather for a few hours of sharing stories, food, and great beer. The lager has only a 4.4% alcohol content, making it very drinkable during a long evening of pub enjoyment.
Researching the bar scene can be lots of fun. You might want to try joining the locals on your next trip.
This tour experience was through A Taste of Prague Food Tours.
6. You Can Taste Great Wine
Wine tastings usually involve fabulous local wines and delicious bites — two of my favorite things. The excellent vintners in the Etyek-Buda wine region were a surprise for me. Wine tasting in a newly built tasting room is lovely, but when you can taste in a vintner’s cellar, that’s an experience.
We were treated to a tasting directly from the fermenting barrel. Our small group crowded into the underground stone cellar where the vintner used a “wine thief” to extract glasses of aging red wine from its barrel. Our experience was followed up by a glass of an aged vintage of the same wine. It was interesting tasting the unique journey grapes make on their way to becoming a great wine.
This tour experience was through Avalon Waterways.
7. The History Lessons
So many times a culture’s foundation is built on history. Guided food tours partner with local businesses and impart local history into the tour seamlessly. Puerto Rico’s coffee is a good example. They have been growing rich, flavorful coffee beans since the end of the 18th century. The demand for Puerto Rican coffee in Europe, known for hints of chocolate, helped elevate the island’s farming economy.
Central Puerto Rico has a coffee culture built on high-quality coffee grown on the rich volcanic slopes of the island’s interior farmlands. Cuatro Sombras farm-to-cup coffee is one of the best coffee experiences in Old Town San Juan. Their coffee is grown in Yauco (Coffee Town) in the southern coastal region where the climate and soil are perfect for growing coffee.
This tour experience was through Flavors Food Tours – San Juan.
8. The Sweet Sensations
If you don’t have enough time for a half-day food tour, pick one delectable item and learn a little bit about how it is made. Short classes that focus on a local artisanal product are the ultimate way to experience food cultures.
The Swiss know how to manipulate chocolate. Known internationally for their decadent milk chocolate, the farmers tending herds of cows would say it is because the cows eat the sweetest grass and are happy and content. Sweet milk combined with perfectly roasted cocoa beans produces the best chocolate.
When I visited Interlaken for a ski trip, I took a day to explore the village. As a chocoholic, taking a hands-on class to make my own Swiss chocolate bars was an absolute must-do. A little taste testing along the way made for a chocolate-infused party.
This tour experience was through Funky Chocolate Club.
Finding The Best Local Food Tours
When you are researching the food tour that’s best for you, there are several sites that can lead you to an excellent guided food tour. Local tour guides will sign up to be part of several group booking sites in addition to having their own website.
Viator is a good place to start. If you check the “Additional Info” section, it should list the name of the vendor. This allows you to research the vendor more thoroughly and explore all your tour options. Another good site is Get Your Guide, very similar to Viator. If you want a private tour, Tours By Locals is the way to go. For an immersive experience, you venture into the homes of local chefs with Eat With where you can explore dining on a personal level.
Take A Food Tour
Get out there and explore your next destination through its food. It will bring you closer to the local people, their history, and their culture.
Pro Tip: Foodie tour guides are accustomed to making dietary restrictions work for their guests — don’t be afraid to ask about substitutions.