Earlier this year I was planning a trip to Italy with my husband. We were bombarded with suggestions of what we should do during our time there—visits to Vatican to evenings spent walking down beaches on the Amalfi coast.
While all of these were great, what I really wanted to spend my entire time doing was eating. Even before my flights were booked I had a long list of pizza, wines and gelato's I wanted to try. And, I spent long hours trying to somehow include the small town of Parma on our itinerary simply because that is where Parma ham was invented. That's because for me, the only real way to experience a new town or culture is through its food. In fact, I spent more time filling out an application form for a culinary travel scholarship to Sri Lanka than I did on my college application.
While food will always be my first love, it's great to note that over the past few years this trend of exploring a place through its indigenous food is catching on a wider scale. Sure you may still catch the odd Gujarati with their box of theplas and pickle at the airport, but it's becoming quite rare. The best part is that travelers today—at least those that are looking to fully explore a place—are increasingly giving the standard hotel breakfast buffets a miss in exchange for a meal at their local food stall or bakery.
A couple of years ago my friends were kind enough to show me around Purani Dilli. Rather than spend our time wandering around Red Fort and Jama Masjid, we explored the area by walking almost 8km and eating at nine different places. From the signature Parathewali Galli to the kebabs at Karim's and Butter Chicken at Moti Mahal, we ate till our stomachs would burst. But the best part was that we met not one but three other such gangs of friends exploring the area with jalebis stuffed in their mouths and they gave us some recommendations of their own.
If you don't have friends in a city you're exploring, this can of course be daunting—you don't want to waste money and importantly stomach space eating the wrong thing or at the wrong place. This is where the new food tourism companies come in.
Internationally, I've been on walking food tours in Hong Kong and China, and they added so much to my experience in both these places. Despite having visited Hong Kong twice before, I realised on the tour that I hadn't tried so many of Hong Kong's iconic treats—like the egg waffles or Tim Ho Wan's Pork Bun—and eating those like a local made my trip to Hong Kong truly worthwhile. In China where almost all restaurant menus are in Cantonese and ordering food is an amusing game of show and tell, the tour not only helped me have my first tasty meal of the trip but also gave us some great insights into the local culture—something that I will cherish far longer than my photos of the Guangzhou Tower.
Locally too, more and more people are discovering India through its food. For example, in Maharashtra there's Wandering Foodie, which curates a weekend food adventure in Nashik where you can experience local Khandeshi food. And, if you'd like to try more than a momo while in North East India, tour company Kipepeo partners with local food experts to offer an eating tour of the Seven Sisters. While travel shows on TV and food bloggers have paved the way for people trying more than butter chicken and masala dosa when they are travelling, I believe a lot of this interest also stems from the fact that sitting down for a meal with a local or stumbling onto an iconic Kottu Parota vendor while strolling in Coimbatore makes for some amazing memories.
The best part though is that people are now not waiting to travel and are also open to exploring facets of their own cities through food. Whether it's by going on a Sindhi Food Crawl in Chembur or by having a Bohri meal at a pop-up in Colaba, residents are discovering that such food experiences not only offer something different to do aside from going to a mall or a movie but are also a great way of learning more about different parts of the city and its own unique history and culture.
A lover of food and travel, it has been my steadfast belief that food brings people closer together and is one of the best ways of making lasting memories while travelling. So, it’s great to see more and more people getting bit by the culinary travel bug and starting to eat rather than sightsee their way around the globe.
When she is not eating or writing, Perzen Patel runs the Bawi Bride (a food blog site) and the Bawi Bride Kitchen—a gourmet Parsi food delivery company in Mumbai.