Published Sep 13, 2012 12:00AM

Culinary Tour Tastes and Trends

By Ana Figueroa, Guide

Yesterday I enjoyed listening to celebrated chef, restaurateur and author Susan Feniger promote her upcoming appearance at Sunset's Savor the Central Coast. The event will bring together the best of California's Central Coast, which has evolved into a food and wine nirvana in recent years.

Susan made me chuckle when describing her famous travels that have taken her from India to Vietnam, France and Mexico. "I'm always gravitating to the food, even when traveling for fun," she said.

Who can blame her? You don't have to be a famous chef to realize that food bridges divides when we travel. There's no better insight into a region and its culture. Compliment the local dishes and you'll be invited to visit again and again.

Culinary tours are not a new phenomenon. They've been around in Europe for ages. But, it's exciting to see them gaining popularity. A recent survey of active members by the United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA) revealed that more than half planned new experiential travel offerings. Culinary tours topped the list.

New options are springing up from Mendocino to Marrakech that will inspire and captivate travelers. Best of all, it immerses them in the local culture. Isn't that what travel is all about?

Check back with me frequently for culinary tourism news. We'll take a look at artisanal honey tasting in the Piedmont Region and maple syrup sampling in Eastern Canada. Chocolate tours in Tuscany and Tabasco are on my list, as are hands-on cooking lessons that begin in local markets. I was introduced to this genre on a Silversea shore excursion that included a market expedition and cooking lesson on the Thai island of Koh Samui. Alas, it was cut short when the chef's wife was bitten by a monkey. But, my enthusiasm for the market-to-table cooking tours hasn't waned.

Also catching my eye are new eco-tours in Costa Rica that visit banana and coffee plantations. In fact, coffee tourism (long a mainstay in Kona) is burgeoning in Colombia these days. Spice tours and market visits hold perennial appeal in Morocco. And, here at home, the California wine country beckons foodies and wine lovers alike.

What's your experience with culinary tours? Let me know!


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