COOKS’ TOURS ON THE BOIL

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - TRENDS FOOD TOURS - LISA MAYOH

For­get buy­ing a cook­book for Christmas. Pass­ports are giv­ing trav­ellers the true culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence, from un­der­stand­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents to cook­ing and eat­ing them in kitchens across the globe. In­ter­na­tional cook­ing tours are ex­plod­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, with Sri Lanka, Rus­sia and Iran emerg­ing as top run­ners, new data re­veals.

In­trepid has seen a 27 per cent in­crease in Aussies trav­el­ling on ded­i­cated food trips in 2018 alone, while book­ings to Sri Lanka have jumped 40 per cent in the past 12 months, with Aus­tralian visitors up 79 per cent.

In­trepid CEO James Thorn­ton says cur­ries, fresh seafood and sweet desserts en­tice the masses, as much as tourist at­trac­tions. “Food­spe­cific tours were once ex­clu­sive to high-end and ex­pen­sive travel com­pa­nies,” he says. “With that no longer the case, we’re see­ing des­ti­na­tions like Sri Lanka rise in pop­u­lar­ity thanks to the street food, spice mar­kets and cook­ing classes run by lo­cals in their homes.”

Melanie St­ed­man from Hel­loworld Travel at Win­ston Hills, NSW, says the in­ter­est in cook­ing tours has al­ways been bub­bling away, but it’s now more ac­ces­si­ble, and more pop­u­lar than ever. “We have seen an in­crease in peo­ple want­ing a cook­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – so a day or half-day tour, as op­posed to a spe­cific culi­nary tour,” she says. “They are lov­ing Sri Lanka, In­dia, Italy and Viet­nam – they ba­si­cally choose the coun­try or des­ti­na­tion they want, and then in­quire if there is a cook­ing tour they can do while there.

“That be­ing said, there have been some Europe river cruises and Asian river cruises with celebrity chefs that have done well.”

In­trepid has its own “food man­ager”, Neil Co­letta, who cu­rates and crafts spe­cialised cook­ing tours with lo­cals in each coun­try.

“Trav­ellers are be­com­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous with their taste­buds and pass­ports. Ear­lier this year, we launched our first ever ve­gan tours to In­dia, Thai­land and Italy,” Neil says. “Next year, we’re launch­ing our first ever food ad­ven­ture to Rus­sia. The tour takes in a mix of city and coun­try cuisines, a les­son on how to make borscht, a home-cooked feast with a Tatar fam­ily, Soviet-style can­teens and the oblig­a­tory vodka-tast­ing tour.”

He says there has also been high in­ter­est in ve­gan food ad­ven­tures since they were launched ear­lier this year. While In­dia and Thai­land are nat­u­ral choices for des­ti­na­tions of­fer­ing de­li­cious and au­then­tic ve­gan op­tions, Italy may be un­ex­pected for some.

“We re­ally wanted to give ve­gan trav­ellers to Italy a high-level gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence that would ri­val other, more tra­di­tional food tours to the coun­try,” Neil says. “We con­nect cus­tomers with a pas­sion­ate lo­cal leader and small grow­ers and pro­duc­ers while main­tain­ing a fo­cus on tra­di­tional foods, in­clud­ing a wide va­ri­ety of pas­tas – dried, with­out eggs – and sauces, cheese-less piz­zas, fresh veg­eta­bles en­joyed raw, stuffed, or roasted with olive oil, soups, stews, and of course egg­less gelato and fresh fruit sor­bets.”

And Neil says it’s easy to see why Sri Lanka is whet­ting trav­ellers’ ap­petites. “This com­pre­hen­sive tour of the is­land’s cui­sine and its var­i­ous cul­tures goes from ur­ban cen­tres to re­mote ru­ral re­treats and pris­tine coast­lines to give an over­view of the na­tive in­gre­di­ents and tech­niques that have shaped Sri Lankan food since an­cient times,” he says.

“Cook­ing demon­stra­tions and classes with fam­i­lies in lo­cal homes will equip you to recre­ate tra­di­tional Sri Lankan dishes at home, whether it’s the clas­sic rice and cur­ries found through­out the coun­try or the im­pec­ca­bly fresh seafood dishes of the south.

“En­joy­ing the daily catch with a fourth­gen­er­a­tion fish­ing fam­ily in Mirissa is an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence.”

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