Food tours are a relatively new but rapidly growing area of tourism.
From being almost unheard of five years ago, a number of food tours now operate in many cities. They are part of a growing travel sector known as Culinary Tourism. But they are one-day affairs and not to be confused with longer, food-based holidays which might include travel each day to food producers, vineyards, and restaurants.
Guided tours for food
The food tour formula varies from tour to tour and from operator to operator (of which there are many). Most, however, feature the following elements:
- They operate in major cities, generally but not always capital cities, that have substantial tourist numbers. Tours exist – amongst other places - in London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, New York City, Lisbon, Berlin, Madrid, Belfast, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur and Barcelona. The essential for operators is to find a city with a vibrant and interesting food culture. Street food may feature.
- Tours cost around $100 - $120 (€80 to €100) per person for the typical tour. There are wide variations on this, however – more expensive in the United States and less so in Asia.
- Tours are generally on foot. The distances traveled are never large – sometimes as in the Indian Food Tour of London, they are focused on a few adjoining streets. Few tourists seem to want a cycle tour although one or two cycle tour companies are considering a food element.
- Tours typically last for a minimum three hours although many last longer. Many tours start around 11:00 am local time and continue well into the afternoon, making it the day's major attraction. Tours generally start and end at public transport hubs such as metro stations.
- Participant numbers vary but 12 to 16 is generally considered the upper limit.
- Tours rarely charge for small children who share food with parents/carers. Tours may not be necessarily fully compliant with wheelchair use – this will depend on the exact tour and the attitude of each location to disability.
- Tours take visitors to places they might otherwise not have seen, so they can shop and eat like locals rather than rely on tourist “traps”. Phrases such as “eat the city like a real Parisian/Berliner/Londoner/New Yorker” are often employed in food tour publicity.
- All tours are guided by local people. Many tour guides add their local knowledge as a bonus, perhaps recommending restaurants in other parts of the city.
- Tours are primarily about food. The format varies from company to company but will generally include visits to markets, bars, and cafés where those on the tour are invited to sample the wares. There is usually a shop visit to buy the sort of food that is difficult to source elsewhere. Tours may end up with a sit-down meal at a restaurant where there is usually the choice of beer, wine or soft drinks.
- Guides talk about food, often pointing those on the tour to shops they use. They may discuss how the sort of food they and their families eat differs from the food generally offered to tourists. They are unlikely to be kindly disposed to international fast food outlets.
- Guides generally add in material about the history of the area the tour is in. Most tours are close to, but not in, major tourist zones.
- Tours assume that participants eat almost anything and are not designed for special diets. However, most can accommodate vegetarians although vegan diets are rarely catered for – an exception is the Indian Food Tour (as many in India are vegan). The same warning applies to those looking for gluten-free etc.