When Tiffany Sommer began organising a group trip to India this past October, she knew that the focus had to be on food.”Food in India is such an enormous part of daily life,” says the Utah-based corporate-event planner. “Families spend hours a day preparing dishes and eating together…the colours and the smells of cooking are just everywhere.”
Consequently, she made sure that the bespoke itinerary organised for her by Micato Safaris included such memorable food experiences as cooking demonstrations, trips to local spice markets and meals that showcased chefs’ distinct regional specialties.
“It was a full sensory experience,” Sommer says of the culinary forays. “I know we all came away with a deeper appreciation of where we’d been.”
Many travellers already understand that cuisine provides a particularly vivid peek into the inner workings of a culture. More and more, however, tour operators are offering trips that specifically cater to their guests’ desire to taste—and cook—their way through a destination. These newer excursions go far beyond familiar gastronomic pilgrimages to Tuscany.
Hungry globetrotters are keen to visit goat-cheese producers in Iceland, with the likes of food writer and chef Jody Eddy; sample street food in Vietnam on a trip with Artisans of Leisure; or press their own olive oil in Egypt during a journey with Backpacker Concierge.
“Even people who eat adventurously at home find that their experience is completely different” when travelling to a cuisine’s native country, says Marion Miller, Micato’s director of operations. “Ordering a dish in an Indian restaurant is one thing…but going into an actual kitchen in India, seeing all the steps that go into creating that dish, smelling the aromas and then sitting down to enjoy it with, say, a view over the Taj Mahal—that elevates eating to a new level.”
See the exotic food tours >
More from Departures:
This story was originally published by Departures.
Following the S-shape curve of the country from north to south, Artisans of Leisure's private, custom Vietnam for Foodies tours take in both cultural and gustatory attractions along the way.
Trips start in Hanoi, where guests explore the city's famed markets, colonial architecture, historical sites and French-influenced restaurants. Next they hop on a traditional junk for a sail across Halong Bay, whose waters teem with prawns, oysters, squid and snapper that are staples of the local cuisine.
Visits to the former imperial city of Hue, a vegetarian Buddhist monastery and the herb farms around Hoi An follow (participants pick lemongrass, basil and cilantro and use them to make fresh spring rolls).
The final stop, in Saigon, includes both chef-led cooking classes and a street-food tour--and boundless opportunities for trying snacks like banh mi, pho (spicy noodle soup), goi du du (green papaya salad) and banh xeo (rice pancakes with pork and shrimp).
11-day trips (by appointment), from $6,810; 800-214-8144; artisansofleisure.com.
travellers who envision Greece as a never-ending series of secluded beaches, ancient ruins and whitewashed fishing villages won't be disappointed here.
The weeklong itinerary manages to fold in all the can't-miss sights: the Parthenon in Athens, the sparkling shores of Santorini, the cerulean lagoons of Antiparos, the ever-photogenic sugar-cube buildings of Mykonos. But it also provides an in-depth appreciation for the food and flavours of the region.
Guests make visits to groves and farms where they can sample local produce like honey, olive oil, feta and graviera (a sheep's-milk cheese).
They also take cooking classes--sometimes in the island homes of local chefs--and learn to prepare local dishes like revythada (slow-cooked chickpea stew), domatokeftedes (tomato fritters) and tsipoura (fresh-caught sea bream).
8-day trips (May--October 2013 departures), from $5,298; 800-575-1540; austinlehman.com.
Daydreams of an Egyptian holiday usually include lots of stock imagery: the soaring pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza; the riotous, colourful crowds of the market stalls at Cairo's Khan al Khalili.
But until recently most travellers haven't wondered much about the flavours of this desert country--a situation Backpacker Concierge aims to change with its new bespoke culinary excursions there.
While guests on the tours can see all the quintessential Egyptian sights, they also partake in some truly unusual gastronomic experiences, including touring the country's little-known northern wineries; learning to make Egyptian specialties like mahshy (stuffed zucchini and cabbage leaves) and duqqa (roasted ground hazelnuts and spices) in a local chef's home kitchen; and, in the remote village of Siwa, pressing olive oil and making date honey by hand.
7-day trips (by appointment), from $1,700; 248-507-4666; backpackerconcierge.com.
Though they are one of the closest holiday destinations for North Americans, the Caribbean islands are home to a singularly vivid and eclectic cuisine.
And while many island nations here have their own particular culinary traditions, perhaps none is as distinctive as Jamaica's--a blend of African, European and Asian influences that gave birth to such signature preparations as jerk-spiced meat and fish, ackee and saltfish, curried goat and festival (deep-fried bread balls).
It takes an islander to help visitors properly navigate this gastronomic landscape, and Dominican-born chef Freda Gore does just that by leading cooking seminars, guiding trips to roadside farmers' stalls, restaurants and local rum distilleries and--in between--allowing for downtime for sunning, snorkelling and cocktails.
April 12--18, 2013, from $2,999; 615-609-5421; caribbeanculinarytours.net.
A Peruvian tasting tour capped off by a trek to the most dazzling unesco World Heritage site on the South American continent? A traveller would need to be scared of heights--or ceviche--to pass it up.
Epitourean's bespoke itinerary provides an array of food-related experiences, including cooking classes--which teach the finer points of wild-boar carapulcra (stew) and morada (shredded chicken with purple potato and aji amarillo)--and trips to markets, pisco taverns in Lima and street-food stalls in Cusco.
In between gastronomic adventures, however, there is plenty of time to visit historic cathedrals, museums and Incan ruins--the most spectacular of which is, of course, the ancient high-altitude site of Machu Picchu, the figurative and literal peak of the tour.
10-day trips (by appointment), from $3,690; 800-390-3292; epitourean.com.
Food writer and chef Jody Eddy (whose cooking résumé includes stints at Jean-Georges and Tabla in New York) teamed with Icelandic chef Kjartan Gislason to put together this brand-new culinary adventure for August 2013.
Trip participants will enjoy Iceland's breathtaking natural landscapes, soaking in mountain-ringed geothermal pools, hiking alongside thundering waterfalls and sailing to remote north-coast islands.
In between they will visit with growers and producers of distinctly Icelandic products like smoked arctic char, skyr (a tangy local yogurt), sweet rye bread, reindeer carpaccio and liqueurs made with rhubarb, birch and caraway.
Guests will also get demonstrations from and take meals with some of the country's most celebrated chefs, including Gunnar Karl Gislason, whose Reykjavik restaurant Dill (dillrestaurant.is) set the bar for modern Icelandic cuisine.
August 16--23, 2013, from $3,900; jodyeddy.com.
While Micato is known for leading luxury safaris though eastern and southern Africa, the company has begun to offer customised trips to India in the last few years.
The Tastes and Treasures of India, a recently unveiled two-week tour, promises nirvana to those who dream in curry.
The trip, which hits culinary high notes in New Delhi, Jaipur, Rajasthan and Kerala, brings guests to the restaurants--and into the kitchens--of some of the country's top-rated chefs, where they can try their hand at regional specialties like naan bread, daal (slow-cooked, heavily spiced lentils) and biryani (a thick Mughal stew incorporating various spices, vegetables and meats or seafood).
Visits to rice and herb farms and fishing-boat excursions can also be arranged.
When not eating or cooking, guests can satisfy their cultural appetites with guided yoga, elephant polo and trips to the Taj Mahal and Amber and Red Forts.
15-day trips (by appointment), $14,065; 212-545-7111; micato.com.
As most culinary-minded travellers know, where there's good wine, there's good food.
That is certainly the case with South Africa's Cape Winelands, the growing region east of Cape Town that is home to more than 150 wineries.
So while guests on the Tour de Forks A Taste of the Cape Winelands tour certainly get to try their fair share of the area's Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc varietals, equal attention is paid to its cookery and artisanal food producers.
Guests visit farms and markets where local produce like sour figs, gem squash and indigenous herbs are grown. Cooking classes make use of Malay spices in dishes like Durban chicken curry and biltong (meat jerky).
Best of all, guests participate in a two-day charcuterie-making workshop with chef Neil Jewell, whose handmade sausages, mortadella, pancetta and prosciutto are menu highlights at one of the region's most revered restaurants, Bread & Wine (moreson.co.za).
4-day trips (by appointment), from $1,400; 212-327-3424; tourdeforks.com.
Many travellers know Thailand as a street-food paradise, and rightly so--one could easily spend months trolling Bangkok's wok-wielding vendors and snacking on oyster omelets, spicy noodles and barbecued squid.
With its Gourmet Thailand tour, however, TripFeast brings guests far beyond the street carts.
The Bangkok-based itinerary is built around classes at some of the country's best cooking schools, where refined dishes like plaa goong (spicy prawn salad with Thai herbs) are learned.
Guests explore the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and take trips to mussel farms, fishing villages and even a tropical-climate winery along the western edge of the Bay of Bangkok.
Visits to Buddhist temples, tuk tuk rides and a night tour of Bangkok's vibrant Chinatown are also on the itinerary.
8-day trips (March and November 2013 departures), from $2,075; 347-380-6959; tripfeast.com.
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.