COOKS’ TOURS ON THE BOIL
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.”