An open mind and some mindful practices to make your food tour delicious
A browse through reviews on Tripadvisor is often the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to selecting a food tour. Good tours rise to the top while poor experiences, with their sediment of complaints, sink to the bottom. You don’t need to be told that food tours are not alike, or that the first step to enjoyment is to go with an open mind, but there are small ways in which you can enhance the experience of a food walk or food tour.
1. Carry a bottle of hand sanitiser and wet wipes
The possibility of gastrointestinal discomfort does not put me off eating frogs from roadside charcoal barbeques or sinking my teeth into roast chicken stuffed with fermented fish paste. As long as I adhere to the principles of basic hygiene, I am happy to leave the fate of my digestive system to the gods of adventure. What does kill my appetite, however, is a glimpse of poor hygiene.
A quality food tour will ensure that selected food providers practice standard hygiene and that your guide does not put you off your meal by patting stray village dogs moments before offering you food off his/her naked palm (true story). Small gestures are the ones most easily overlooked, so be vigilant. I am a firm believer that in travel we should be open to opportunities while taking individual responsibility for our personal (and gut) safety. There is no need to demonstrate fanatical sanitary habits, but at least sanitise your hands before and after every meal.
Food from the Black Sea region, Turkey
2. Pace yourself
Is it going to be the equivalent of a 3-hour degustation or 6-hours of tour-de-force gluttonous eating? Food is less palatable when you’re feeling overstuffed and bloated, and when you’re force-feeding yourself out of the indignation (you paid for it!), deliciousness rapidly wanes. If your food tour starts before lunch, try to skip breakfast. If you can’t, make it a very small breakfast, just enough to stabilise your blood sugar levels. A good food tour will give you enough food to sample throughout, so don’t dive headlong and start off ravenous. The key to getting the most of your eating experience is range and variety, not volume. This is not about getting your “money’s worth” when it comes to eating your fill.
A selection of Lebanese desserts, Beirut
3. Be brave, live a little
Just a taste. Even a dollop the size of the end of your pinky finger. Trying new foods, exploring new ingredients and expanding your taste memory (and I admit, memories can be bad, like a gigantic worm extracting itself from the very ripe and pungent flesh of a durian), is what food adventuring is all about. A food tour does not mean that everything served will be to your liking; it’s about trying food and coming to opinions of your own. This is what makes it fun. Disgusting? That’s fine. One of the most memorable experiences is eating lambs brains in Istanbul with my parents, lamb skull cracked open and grey matter chopped up with onions on the side of the road. Wasn’t half bad.
Note that if you are gluten intolerant, or have some other kind of medical allergy, do make this known to your guide at time of booking. Most tours are accommodating – to an extent. If you are a picky eater, don’t expect any sympathy. You’re on a food tour for goodness sakes!
Ants from a Oaxaca food vendor, Mexico
4. Carry a bottle of still water
The days can get long, particularly on food tours that lasts more than 3-hours. These tours cover a lot of ground, physically and topically, and if you’re walking, it’s important to stay hydrated. I’m recommending still water because drinks available during tours tend to be local brews, fizzy drinks, beer and wine, or other concoctions. The quickest way to feel refreshed is to drink plain bottled aqua. Drink up. You shouldn’t have to worry about access to bathrooms as your food tour should have been designed to have regular rest stops along the way that provides access to public or restaurant facilities. If not, your guide should be in the know, and if not, it’s up to you to pipe up and ask.
Bo La Lot, beef wrapped in wild betel leaf, in Vietnam