Having just returned from visiting Japan and having been thoroughly spoiled by the country's unique culinary culture, I found my interest in exotic foods and cooking styles renewed. I have enjoyed such experiences before, but never made it a specific quest. This time was different, and I'm glad I finally joined the ranks of international food travellers.
Food travel -- or culinary tourism, as it is sometimes called -- is a fast growing trend, and not only among seasoned globetrotters who seek new perspectives on their journeys. Widely popular TV shows like Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" or Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" have put food exploration high on many people's bucket list. And travel agencies are more than happy to comply.
Over the past decade or so, food-themed vacationing has become a trendsetter in the leisure travel industry. According to the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA), a consulting firm for specialty travel organizers, interest in local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture is at an all-time high. And this is by no means limited to gourmet dining or fine wine sampling but extends to all things related to food production, preparation and consumption as well as environmental issues like climate change and sustainability.
"A culinary adventure can be a welcome change from the standard travel itinerary," says Sabah Karimi, a travel writer for U.S. News. "The goal of culinary tourism is to educate and inspire food and wine enthusiasts while giving the traveller a chance to explore the local area and learn about local food trends, cooking techniques and food history."
At a recent business conference, sponsored by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in Quebec, the rising popularity of culinary travel and its impact on the travel industry as a whole was the main topic. A survey that was conducted for the event showed that over 70 per cent of travel itineraries now included food and beverage-themed components.
Food is a leading draw in travel these days, industry analysts say. It transcends borders, builds bridges between cultures, and connects us as human beings with the planet and one another.
Not everyone, however, is overly enthused about this newfound love for culinary discovery.
While food-related tourism is growing, food-borne illnesses are also on the rise globally and have been identified as a major public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
At destinations where accommodations, hygiene and sanitation, medical care and water quality are of a high standard, there are relatively few health risks for travellers. However, exposure to infectious agents and contaminated food and water, combined with the absence of appropriate medical facilities, can make travelling in remote regions particularly hazardous, the WHO warns.
Obviously, exposing yourself to the unknown, whether it concerns your surroundings or your dinner plate, always carries a certain amount of risk. But safety should come first, wherever you go and regardless of what you do. While travel is supposed to be fun, it is not a time for recklessness. If your experience is unpleasant because of a stomach ache or much worse, you probably won't give it another try. And what a shame that would be...
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Ever feel like you're wasting time in a world-class city by waiting in line at tourist traps or wandering streets you know nothing about? Sometimes the best way to get to know a city is through your stomach. You'll have to eat either way, and walking food tours, booming brewery scenes, and tasting events will keep you full and put you in touch with the local history and culture. Here are the quintessential foods that truly delivery the flavor of your destination, and where to try them. (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
You can't visit Paris without spending lots of time in picturesque cafes, but that doesn't mean the only thing you'll eat is crepes. Try something even more French than those thin pancakes, like croque madame—a delectable baked ham and cheese sandwich on brioche, smothered in more cheese and topped with a fried egg. Buttery French cooking is best embodied by this dish, which is available almost everywhere and is especially praised at Le Petit Cler, a chic cafe just steps from the Eiffel Tower. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Forget the deep dish at the original UNO's—any local will tell you they only go when their out-of-town family or friends visit. Chicago has an even more impressive smorgasbord of mouthwatering sandwiches and Chicago 'Dog offerings, including delectable Italian beef sandwiches and hefty hotdogs with all the toppings. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Rule number one: Don't call it Beantown. Rule number two: No one orders Boston baked beans. For an authentic taste of Boston, tourists and locals alike go for creamy New England clam chowder at one of the area's many seafood havens. There's nothing like potato, clams, and bacon in hot chowder to warm you up when the snow is chilling you to the bone. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Mardi Gras revelers head to New Orleans in droves every Fat Tuesday, but visitors can be found lining up at the legendary Café du Monde for beignets and coffee year-round. The famous bakery began as a French Market coffee stand in 1862, and still attracts hoards with their sugary fried-dough confections. Enjoy them with a chicory coffee or café au lait in the morning, before strolling the Mississippi River or exploring Jackson Square.
All Spanish food is wildly delicious in its own right, but the decadent desserts in Madrid are on a whole different level. Hot chocolate here is far more literal than its American counterpart—a steaming cup of chocolaté is essentially a melted candy bar. As if that wasn't enough, Spaniards combine the scalding chocolate with the deep-fried goodness of warm, sugary dough to make churros con chocolaté. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
It's no secret that you'd be crazy not to grab a slice of New York-style pizza in Manhattan—and there are plenty of places to choose from. For a true local experience, skip the sit-down spots and grab a paper-thin slice for a few bucks. You can revel in delicious, cheesy simplicity for less than you'll spend on any other meal in NYC. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Tourists may know Quebec for its French and British influences, but some of the best food in Montreal comes out of its Jewish Quarter—of which Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen is the crown jewel. Smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz's have been in high-demand since the deli opened in 1928, and they're piled high with flavorful, slow-smoked beef that needs no toppings. The line here is always out the doors, but it moves fast and is well worth the brief wait.
Portugal's capital is home to many rich national dishes, but the one with the strongest local flavor is a popular breakfast treat—dark Portuguese coffee and egg tart pastries, or pastel de nata. These bite sized custard cups are sweet enough to aid you through the bitter local coffee, which is served in a tiny glass like a shot. You'll want to drink it as the locals do—without milk—but if you need some help getting it down you certainly won't be the first. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
The capital of Greece is also the capital of Mediterranean cuisine, with simple yet flavorful recipes reigning supreme. A hole-in-the-wall spot near Syntagma Square called Souvlaki o Kostas has had a long time to perfect the Mediterranean method—it has been pumping out chicken- and pork-filled pita gyros for the better part of a century, and has always been operated by the same family. Kostas' perfectly seasoned meats, fresh veggies, and tart yogurt make for a truly incredible taste of Greece. Ask any seasoned local where to go for souvlaki and they'll point you here. (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Nordic cuisine is having a moment, and there's no better place to try it than Scandinavia. Copenhagen restaurants—including noma, named the world's best for four years running—serve up unique North Atlantic dishes like sea urchin, cured herring and salmon, pickled vegetables, and root-based soups.
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