So you wanna take a food tour? Congratulations! You have chosen one of the best ways to learn about a new place, which is through food and culture. More than just a walking tour, you will get to experience the local food and lifestyle by visiting local restaurants and businesses. I am a long time food tour veteran, so I can tell you the very best ways to make sure you get the most out of your food tour, whether it’s in your hometown or somewhere fabulous like Europe.
Know Your Meeting Place
If you’re taking a food tour, you are more than likely in a place unfamiliar to you. Heck, I’ve been in many places where I didn’t even speak the language so that added another layer of difficulty. I strongly suggest that you know exactly where the tour’s meeting place is located well beforehand. Furthermore, you need to know exactly how you are getting there (whether walking, bus, taxi, metro or subway) and exactly how long it will take to get there including any delays or getting lost. I actually pull up the location on Google Street View and visually familiarize myself with the meeting place as well as the walk I’ll need to do to get there.
Don’t be late! Most tours have a No Latecomers policy which means they will leave you if you haven’t arrived by the start time. These tours have a schedule to adhere to, and restaurants that you may visit are often holding tables for the tour group as well as preparing food for the group’s arrival.
I’ve had a few close calls. Sometimes the walk takes longer than I thought, or sometimes I’ve gotten confused about an address or even what side of the street to be on. Paris was particularly confusing in a couple of instances. It’s better to be much too early than to cut it close and be late.
Dress for the Weather
Most food tours run in all kinds of weather. It’s always nice when the weather is pleasant but of course it isn’t always like that. I’ve done tours in sweltering 95 degree heat and also in the rain. Tours in the winter may run less frequently due to demand, but I’ve done tours in the winter and fall in New York and Iceland so bundle up! Bring an umbrella, dress in layers if you can, and just go with the flow. The tour guides will do everything they can to keep your experience as pleasant as possible.
What to Bring
I like to take a little backpack to keep my hands free, and this is what I have in it:
- Camera! This is obviously my favorite part. Whether you use a camera or just your phone, take photos! The guides love when you take photos. Also take photos of everything including storefronts and restaurants to help you remember what you visited so you can go back if you liked it.
- Water Bottle. Usually plenty of water is provided but it’s nice to have something in between if you need it.
- Wallet/Money. Sometimes on tours you have the option to purchase a beer or cocktail, or sometimes there is an opportunity for a bit of shopping at ethnic groceries or local products in shops or markets. Also bring cash for tips for your guide!
- Umbrella or packable rain jacket
- Phone and a charger, possibly a portable battery. Not a fan of that time in Rome when my phone died and I had no paper map. But in Paris, all the sidewalk bus stops have a USB plug for phone chargers!
- Paper map or directions if necessary. Sometimes you can’t get phone signal! Especially if you’re in a different country.
- Comfortable shoes and clothing. Tours are typically around 2.5-3.5 hours and you’re doing a good bit of walking, standing, and exploring.
A food tour is a travelling feast, and usually (but not always) they follow a progression of smaller tastes, building into a larger tasting in the middle, and ending with a dessert or two. And here’s a spoiler: if you take a food tour in Italy, it WILL end with gelato.
So don’t eat a big breakfast! You’ll want to save room for all the delicious food you’ll experience.
Many of the European tours are designed to include a sit-down restaurant experience complete with wine because that is such an important part of their culture. Lots of the American tours (but certainly not all!) are more grab-and-go style or with quick bites.
Many tours state that the combination of foods sampled is equal to an adequate lunch. This is a very vague description, and of course is very subjective depending on the person. But I think they tend to underestimate this characterization (you know, underpromise and overdeliver?) You will find yourself pretty full at the end of a typical 3 hour food tour. I have seen plenty of people unable to eat everything, and so they pack things into their purses for later.
In my experience, the tastings selected for the food tours are designed to appeal to a wide range of personal tastes while still demonstrating a new or particularly local food. So there’s usually not anything too weird. You will, if you do enough of these, occasionally come across a tasting that you just don’t like. But try everything anyway!
I have tried things that I was skeptical about, and ended up liking, such as a brains taco in Pilsen, Chicago on a Mexican-themed tour. Rye bread ice cream in Iceland? Fantastic! I also have tried a couple of things that did not appeal so I discreetly disposed of it in my napkin, such as a slice of prosciutto in Rome (and I was not going to be the weirdo to declare in public that I don’t like prosciutto!) I don’t like lobster, so the lobster roll sample in Boston was not so great for me.
Most companies give a pretty specific itinerary of what you will be tasting so you should check that out beforehand and if there are really multiple things you can’t abide then don’t do that tour. But for the most part, keep an open mind and just do it.
Allergies, of course, are a different thing, and most companies can work with you to provide alternative samples if given enough notice. Or if they can’t, they will say that on the tour description.
Go at the Beginning of Your Trip
For my 6th and last tip, you should book your food tour for the first or second day of your trip. This way you will become acquainted with a neighborhood and its restaurants and it will give you ideas for places you may want to return to. Many tours also provide a pamphlet at the end of your tour outlining other restaurant recommendations in the area. Your guide, of course, is also a wealth of information about anything you’d like to know.
So there you have it! You will thoroughly enjoy getting to know a neighborhood with a walking food tour. Tastings will more authentically connect you with the lifestyle of the place you’re visiting. I do hope you indulge in a bit of gastronomy tourism at your next destination.
New Hampshire Food Photography
Erika Follansbee is a published Goffstown, NH food photographer whose job is to make food look amazing. She is available for hire to help small restaurants and cafes to create beautiful images of their dishes to use for marketing, websites, and social media. Magazine-quality food images are the best form of advertisement.
Erika is also a wedding photographer. Visit www.erikafollansbee.com for more information.