My first food-focused vacation was with Kandra Kitchen Crete, when the queen of Greek cuisine, Rosemary Barron, held forth in her ancient stone house in the hills above Malia on the island of Crete. Using the AGA, a wood-burning oven and a spit, we learned to make traditional Greek dishes––from moussaka to tzatziki, tyropita, souvlaki, avgolemono, and spanakopita. The very first magical night under the stars, we climbed onto the tarp-covered roof of a neighbor’s house and stomped away on knee-high piles of grapes as the juice cascaded off a corner into buckets below and we sipped last year’s tongue-puckering wine.
We scooped sea urchin roe out of shells plucked from the sea less than an hour before; stood behind a chef as he concocted a seafood stew in his waterfront restaurant; ladled yogurt out of giant bowls in the outdoor market, and rattled around the island, stopping in a potter’s village and dining on meze and grilled octopus under a grape arbor a thousand feet above the Aegean. (Although Vogue magazine called it “One of the best cooking schools in Europe,” after a few idyllic few years, Barron moved on to other pursuits, including writing the best-selling Flavors of Greece and other cookbooks.)
Every since those sunny days on Crete, I’ve thought of food as an important element of the “terroir” of a place, along with the language, geography, music, arts, architecture and history (and je ne sais quoi) that make up a culture. On my travels, I try to add a one-day or multi-day immersion in a neighborhood or a town famous for its traditional cuisine.
Seven Cuisine and Culture Tours
Here we start with noodles and temples in Japan; then, it’s on to wine, cheese, arts and crafts in Provence; the exotic food and culture of Yunnan with a China expert; a ramble along the Scottish borders; and touring and tasting San Francisco’s Japantown and New York’s Harlem, and an over-the-top, uber-luxe food-lovers pilgrimage in Switzerland.
Culture & Cuisine of Japan
Backyard Travel’s custom-designed culinary tour: Tsukiji fish market and Soba Academy hands-on noodle-making in Tokyo, and delving into the regional cuisine of Osaka, Takayama and Kyoto, plus Nijo Castle, Nishiki market, cooking classes; vegetarian shojin ryori, and more cultural and culinary adventures.
Scottish Border Foodie Trail
A self-guided, week-long ramble around Midlothian and the Scottish Borders on one of Scotland’s “Foodie Trails.” Visit Melrose Abbey, Abbotsford House, Rosslyn Chapel of DaVinci Code fame, and the home of the Sir Walter Scott while sampling salmon, local cheeses, bloomer sandwiches, neeps and tatties, Traquair steak and ale pie (and haggis if you dare). Classes at Cook School Scotland and Bread Matters in Lamancha, visits to a World Chocolate Master and myriad micro-breweries, and sumptuous repasts in a 1745 cottage and more historic sites. A highlight is the “Born in the Borders” showcase of all that is grown, made, spun, produced, cooked and created in the Borderlands.
Cooking in Provence
Closely connected with villagers, food producers and chefs of Provence, French Escapes is known for hands-on cooking adventures that include the history, art, crafts and culture of the region around Avignon and St Remy de Provence. Chefs teach classes in their restaurants or workshop kitchens, and you hobnob and learn from wine- and cheesemakers, truffle hunters, farmers and olive growers, while touring villages, monasteries, museums and more.
San Francisco’s Japantown & the Fillmore
Add a half-day to your stay in the City by the Bay with Gourmet Walks’ Japantown/Fillmore guided walk from Nihonmachi, the country’s largest and oldest Japantown, to the Fillmore, with its bebop jazz heritage and upscale boutiques. You’ll visit a Korean market, an Asian spice shop, and stop in the city’s top Japanese eateries and food vendors to taste miang kham, banh mi sandwiches, fresh mocha and hot taiyaki.
Gourmet Getaway Switzerland
Delve into Switzerland’s food and wine world on a chauffeured expedition to Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, Lavaux, Gruyere, Val de Travers, Motiers and Neuchatel. From private winery visits to 12th century castles, a chocolate making lesson, artisanal cheesemaking and medieval villages to the absinthe region and stays in 5-star hotels. Country Bred specializes in customized, private, luxury tours led by licensed, educated local guides.
Yunnan Gastronomic Tour
Renowned expert on Chinese cuisine and award-winning author, Fuchsia Dunlop, leads an in-depth exploration of Yunnan cuisine. On the itinerary are marketplaces, noodle-making, ancient villages, steam-pot cooking, Confucian temples, a bird and flower market, a tea plantation and cooking lessons in local homes, unforgettable restaurants and more from Wild China.