On Food Tours While Traveling

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Michael Ruhlman is one of our nation's great food writers. I also enjoyed reading his memoir HOUSE, about he and his wife's house in Cleveland Heights. I've always found him down to earth and relatable -- despite the fact that he's written some of the most iconic cookbooks you'll find on shelves and has worked with several of the world's best chefs. I probably wouldn't have called him a snob, but then, I wouldn't call *me* a food snob either ... and yet others have.

My point here is I found his New York Times article not only fascinating, but also indicative of the type of experiences we've tried to capture on our travels. We haven't always done food tours on our trips, but we started actively seeking them out after a particularly amazing experience with Maya of Venice Bites Food Tours back in February 2016. Since then, we've had many more terrific experiences in Munich, Copenhagen, Prague, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Florence, and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Honestly, I don't know that our trips to these places would have been half as enjoyable had we not done these small group tours. Our goal on any trip now is to book a food tour our first night in a location so that we get the lay of the land and learn about the city through its food. Then, we can use what we learned that evening (or afternoon) to eat our way through a city for the remainder of our duration there. In Venice, we learned how to order cicchetti, in Munich we went off the beaten path to discover a beer garden for locals, in Prague we learned about "milk" and why it's so important in Czech beer, in Copenhagen we had another unintentionally private tour that included craft beer, porridge, and cheese. In Bordeaux, we visited a boulangerie, fromagerie, and a chocolatier. Every city, a new, highly tailored local experience. Every city, new flavors to enjoy and savor.

And one of the single greatest meals of our life was a truffle hunting excursion in San Gimignano when we were in Italy in 2017 for my 40th birthday. It turned out no one else had booked so we had a private experience with our guide Massimo, and the truffle hunter Fillipo and his dog Birba. Massimo's English was about as good as our Italian, and Fillipo spoke no English except to say, "California ...." and shake his head. But the multi-course truffle feast we had afterward at a nearby agritourismo was unlike anything we'd ever experienced before, and we never would have had we not booked a local food tour.

My only regret is that we didn't start doing these until 2016, because our couple of days in Budapest in November 2015 prior to our Christmas Market Cruise would have been an epic way to see the city. As it was, we did wander around their historic indoor market, but it just wasn't the same as learning about the food, spices, and people from someone local.

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