Exploring a city’s cuisine isn’t a new idea. For decades, cooking schools in culinary centers like Paris and New Orleans have indoctrinated visitors into their particular styles with certificates for gourmands and chefs. But a newly flavorful outing, the food-tasting tour, is rising faster than a flawless soufflé. The concept: Through local dishes and restaurants, we understand a city’s culture, roots, and development. And unlike in a cooking class, on a food-tasting tour, everyone can succeed at the same skill: eating. Here are some of our favorites, guaranteed to give the epicurious food for thought.
Foods of New York
212-209-3370, $44, www.foodsofny.com
Foods of New York’s most popular tasting tour meanders through the old-world bakeries and Italian specialty stores of New York’s Greenwich Village for about three hours. Get a taste of classic, thin-crust New York-style pizza (and meet Joe) at Joe’s Pizza, try a slice of homemade salami at Murray’s Cheese Shop, and savor a fresh-filled cannoli at an Italian pastry palace. Every shop and restaurant has a story to tell, says owner Todd Lefkovic, who guides participants through 150 years of neighborhood history, including original boot-scrapers and skeleton keyholes. You’ll try tea, fresh breads, olive oils, cheeses, and a rice ball—made of rice and three cheeses, breaded, and deep fried.
Culinary Tours of Charleston
800-918-0701, or international, 843-727-1100, $36, www.culinarytoursofcharleston.com
Culinary Tours of Charleston devotes almost three hours to savoring the flavors of South Carolina. The tour starts with a true Southern specialty, stone-ground grits; then it marches its way through sesame-seed benne wafers, sweet tea, a Charleston-chew pastry, pralines, cheese biscuits, pork barbecue, and collard greens. At the same time, guides delve into the contributions made by Native Americans, European settlers, and enslaved Africans to low-country cuisine. From April to December, Saturday tours include a walk through the Farmer’s Market to sample in-season treats.
Chicago Food Planet
773-425-2727, $42, www.chicagofoodplanet.com
The owner of Chicago Food Planet, Shane Kost, admits he can prattle on and on…and on, about the food and culture of the Windy City. His signature “Near North Food Tour” participants literally eat their way through three neighborhoods—Old Town, Gold Coast, and Lincoln Park—popping into locally owned specialty-food stores and ethnic eateries for samplings of tea, deep-dish pizza, cheeses, aged balsamic vinegars, olive oils, and fudge. All the while, tour-goers explore Chicago’s history, architecture, and restaurant scene. There’s the Spice House, entering its 52nd year in business and welcoming visitors to sample cinnamons, salts, and peppers, and there’s a source for chocoholics, the Fudge Pot, around since 1963.
Local Tastes of the City Tours (San Francisco)
415-665-0480, $59, www.sffoodtour.com
Local Tastes of the City Tours spotlight San Francisco’s North Beach/Little Italy neighborhoods and the Beat Generation through cappuccinos, éclairs, olive oils, and fresh bread from a 130-year-old oven. Owner Tom Medin asserted, “If you want to really experience San Francisco, you can’t do it from a bus.” Tours start at Caffé Roma to see how coffee is freshly roasted into a complex, flavorful drink. Tour-goers can watch truffles handcrafted at XOX Truffles and feel the heat from the brick ovens at Liguria Bakery (famous for its focaccia). La Spiaggia Deli serves up locally made specialty meats and cheeses. During the three-hour walk, guides also point out local landmarks, such as nightclubs where the likes of Bill Cosby and Robin Williams got started.
Melting Pot Tours (Los Angeles)
424-247-9666, $49, www.meltingpottours.com
Melting Pot Tours takes an epicurean stroll through mid-city Los Angeles. “Food-tasting tours make even visitors to a big city feel less intimidated, because they find out where the locals eat and shop,” said owner Lisa Scalia. Her tour starts at the original Los Angeles Farmer’s Market (celebrating its 75th anniversary this year), where visitors peruse stalls, take-out counters, and produce stands. Then there’s a short walk to 3rd Street, with all its neighborhood restaurants and shops, such as Cook’s Library, a culinary bookstore housing more than 8,000 titles. Sampling stops include a French bakery and café that is known for its macaroons, Magee’s Nut House and its luscious peanut butter, a Brazilian grill for Portuguese sausage and deep-friend yucca, and Mishima for a spider roll—a deep-fried softshell crab wrapped up with avocado and cucumber in pink soy paper. Another stop, called Joan’s on Third, is a New York-style deli whose signature item is, no joke, Chinese chicken salad.
Seattle Food Tours
888-987-2867, $41, www.savorseattletours.com
Savor Seattle is the ultimate guide to that city’s historic Pike Place Market. Says Owner Angela Shen, “We make it easy for people to take in cultural information and eat something along the way.” After a quick coffee tasting to learn how the bean became such a popular Seattle drink, her company’s two-hour tours head into the multi-story market for more than 26 bites and sips. Tour-goers watch workers at the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company make some of their average 12,000 holed wonders a day. Artisan cheese-makers craft fresh dairy products at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and, of course, there’s Pike Place Fish Market, famous for the guys who know how to throw a fish and do so with great glee. Along the way, visitors sample cheddar cheese, smoked salmon, peach and cherry salsa, a Russian piroshky, seasonal produce, and seafood bisque.
Anyone for seconds?