Food lovers can research a destination until the cows come home (and until the butter’s churned, and slathered on a thick-cut piece of freshly made bread, but we digress). But will it result in amazing food experiences? Not always. Especially in a location where the language is a challenge, or where specific delicacies are sought out. That’s when you have to call in the big guns: the local food tour guides.
An expert leading a food tour might be someone just like you: a voracious eater, who happens to know a certain corner of a certain city way, way better than you do. And he or she is willing to share the knowledge, and the deliciousness. Food tours are best when the guide has a certain amount of access—to tell the stories of the people you’re meeting and the places you’re visiting. You might be able to taste a cheesemaker’s newest product, or see into the kitchen of a hot, up-and-coming restaurant.
Food tours are ubiquitous these days, and sites like Viator are a good first stop to see what’s available. Here are some of our favorite guides, or ways to find trusted guides, in some of the best food cities around the world.
Quick Afternoon Tours
Katie Parla’s Culinary Tours of Rome
Parla knows this city inside and out (see her AFAR Guide to Rome). Her walking tours explore a variety of neighborhoods, meeting the producers, shopkeepers, and market sellers that a real Roman would encounter on their daily peregrinations.
Exploring Mexico City’s massive Mercado San Juan with Eat Mexico guide Lesley Tellez, we perched on a stool eating incredible tacos, we sampled pre-Hispanic delicacies like ant eggs, we crunched on crickets—but even non-adventurous eaters will appreciate the liveliness, color, and smells behind the doors that the expert Eat Mexico guides open up.
Writer and soup explorer Jodi Ettenberg—a former lawyer, current nomad who has documented her love of the soups of Saigon on her blog, has started sharing her knowledge of the street food of Saigon with a few lucky travelers (the tours fill up fast, and she isn’t in the city year-round). Score a coveted spot when she’s in town, and the secrets of the soup world will be revealed.
East End Food Tour
London’s East End is a culinary wonderland, and this tour takes you from bacon butties to the best Brick Lane curries, all in one afternoon. Along the way, meet some of the people who have put the East End on the map, foodwise—like Pat “Pop” Newland of Poppies Fish and Chips.
Go Deeper with Longer Tours
If an afternoon isn’t enough to satisfy your hunger, try one of these deeper dives into a culinary landscape.
Artisans of Leisure
With a wide array of options throughout Europe, Asia, and Mexico, Artisans of Leisure provides private, in-depth culinary tours that put gallivanting foodies in touch with their inner gourmand. Trips are fully customizable and can last as long as two weeks.
Join food luminaries such as author and Chinese food expert Fuschia Dunlop on deep dives into various regions of China, experiencing flavors and culture through the eyes of locals.
Eat, Learn, Love Cambodia
This one is tailored specifically to food writers, though anyone with an interest in Cambodian cuisine and culture will benefit. Food writer Lara Dunston (she wrote our guide to Dubai) and her husband, photographer Terence Carter, will lead a group of 12 people, departing on May 22, 2015 for eight days through Cambodia, stopping in Angkor Wat, Battambang, and Siem Reap.
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