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Culinary tourism: The growth of food tourism around the world

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Culinary tourism is a popular type of tourism throughout the world, but what exactly is culinary tourism? Is it different from food tourism? Why is culinary tourism important? And where are the best places to travel for culinary tourism? Read on to find out…

What is culinary tourism?

Culinary tourism, also often referred to as food tourism, is all about exploring food as a form of tourism. Whether that be eating, cooking, baking, attending a drinks festival or visiting a farmers market – all of these come under the concept of culinary tourism. It’s something you don’t even really need to travel to do. Heading to your nearest big city or even the next town over, specifically to eat at a certain restaurant, classes as food tourism! And food tourism has taken a new twist since the COVID pandemic too, when many people would cook or eat a variety of different foods from around the world in attempt to bring an element of travel to their own home! Who said you need to travel far to be a culinary tourist, huh?

Importance of food tourism

Food tourism is a vitally important component of the travel and tourism industry as a whole. When booking a trip, people tend to consider a variety of factors – and food is high on the list of priorities. The World Food Travel Association says that money spent on food and drink while travelling accounts for 15-35% of all tourism spending. Culinary tourism is important in that it generates so much money for local economies.

culinary tourism food tourism

Culinary tourism is also an important branch of tourism in that it can promote local businesses, as well as help to shine a light on different cuisines. For so many cultures, their cuisine is a huge part of who they are. Culinary tourism helps to celebrate this, by attracting interested tourists who are keen to try something new and share it with the world. In this way, it definitely helps to boost community pride and is a great example of cultural tourism.

This type of tourism is also important to tourists. It provides a chance to try new foods and flavours, and discover new cultures through their taste buds. Visitors who engage in food tourism come away with new recipes to try, new foods to introduce their friends to, and memories that they will always associate with their sense of taste.

Culinary tourism activities

There are many activities which come under the remit of culinary tourism, or food tourism. I mentioned some above, but let’s take a closer look.

  • Eating and drinking out: going to restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, tea shops and so on. These are all examples of culinary tourism. 
  • Food/beverage tours: you can book onto organised food and drink tours when visiting a new city. These are run by guides who will take you to various foodie spots throughout the city – usually small businesses – to try local delicacies.
  • Farmers markets: visiting a farmers market at the weekend to buy fresh produce is seen as a form of food tourism.
  • Cooking classes: another activity you can get involved with on your travels is a cooking or baking class. You’ll often make, again, a local delicacy whether that be pierogi in Poland or pasta in Italy. Tasting sessions: brewery tours and vineyard visits (and other similar excursions) where you get to take a look at how something is made and then try it for yourself are another form of culinary tourism.

Best cities for food tourism

Most cities, major or otherwise, have excellent examples of food tourism. In fact – this goes right down to tiny towns and villages, some of which have incredible restaurants or bars that are real hidden gems. Below you’ll find some of the world’s best cities for culinary tourism, however, with examples of the sort of thing you can do there!

Culinary tourism in Bangkok

culinary tourism food tourism

Thai food is some of the best food around, and Bangkok has a lot of restaurants suited to all budgets. Eating out in Bangkok is a brilliant example of culinary tourism. One of the best things you can do here is try the local street food! Wang Lang Market is one of the most popular places for street food, with fresh food filling the lanes from snacks to full-on meals. Silom Soi 20 is another great spot in central Bangkok, perfect for the morning.

Looking for somewhere really unique to eat in Bangkok? Head to Cabbages and Condoms, a themed cafe decorated with (you guessed it) condoms. The restaurant say they were ‘conceptualized in part to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA)’.

Culinary tourism in Tokyo

culinary tourism food tourism

Tokyo is a very popular city, and one of the best ways to experience food tourism here is to book onto a food tour. Tokyo Retro Bites is a fantastic one, giving you a feel of old-style Tokyo at the quaint Yanaka Market. This is a walking tour which includes drinks and 5 snacks, lasting 2 hours. It starts at 11.30am meaning it’s a great chance to have lunch somewhere a bit different!

Culinary tourism in Honolulu

This beautiful Hawaiian city has so many fun places to eat (and drink!) while visiting. One of the best things to do in terms of culinary tourism is to eat somewhere you wouldn’t be able to eat at home – and try new flavours or dishes. Honolulu is the perfect place to do this. Some interesting eateries include:

  • Lava Tube – based in Waikiki, this 60s-kitsch style bar offers pina coladas served in giant pineapples, $5 Mai Tais, delicious food and plenty of fun decor.
  • Suzy Wong’s Hideaway – this is described as a ‘dive bar with class’ and is a great bar to visit to watch sports games.
  • MW Restaurant – this is a really famous and creative place to eat in Honolulu – the mochi-crusted Kona Kanpachi comes highly recommended and helped shoot the chef, Wade Ueoka, to fame.

Culinary tourism in Durban

culinary tourism food tourism

Hailed as the world’s best food city, a list of places for food tourists to visit has to include Durban in South Africa. Bunny Chow is a local delicacy that you cannot miss while visiting Durban. It is now available elsewhere, but the original is usually the best so be sure to try some while in the city. The dish is half a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with curry – delicious. This article shares 5 fantastic spots to get Bunny Chow in Durban!

Culinary tourism in New Orleans

As one of the culinary capitals of the US, New Orleans is incredibly popular with foodies. The city is a hotspot for food tourism, thanks to the various cultural roots here: Cajun, Creole and French. There is a whole range of tastes to try. You could spend your time here *just* eating and still not scratch the surface when it comes to the amazing restaurants, cafes and eateries in NOLA. Some foods you have to try include:

  • Po’boys: fried shrimp, generally, but sometimes beef or other seafood – served on a fresh crusty roll.
  • Gumbo: this is a stew, again usually containing seafood, alongside bell peppers, onion and celery.
  • Crawfish etouffee: a French crawfish stew served over rice.
  • Muffuletta: a Silician-American sandwich served on a specific type of bread.
  • Side note, you can do a haunted pub crawl in NOLA. Would you?!

Culinary tourism in Istanbul

culinary tourism food tourism

Being split across two continents, it is no surprise that Istanbul as a city has a huge range of delicious food-related activities. From kebabs sold on the street to 5 star restaurants serving the finest hummus, Istanbul is a fantastic destination for food tourism. Book onto the ‘Two Markets, Two Continents’ tour – you’ll visit two markets, as the name suggests, on the two continents. The tour includes a Bosphorus ferry crossing between the two districts of Karaköy (Europe) and Kadiköy (Asia). You’ll enjoy breakfast, tea and coffee, meze, dessert and so much more during this 6.5 hour tour.

Culinary tourism in Paris

The city of love – and the city of bakeries! Fresh baguettes, simple croissants, delicious eclairs… the list goes on. There are so many of them dotted around, whether you want something to grab and snack on while you head to the Eiffel Tower or if you want a sit down brunch, you’ll find one that suits you perfectly.

And that’s not all. Paris, also famous for its snails, soups and frogs legs, has so many fine dining opportunities. You’ll be spoilt for choice in terms of Michelin star restaurants: Boutary, ASPIC, 114 Fauborg and so many more. There are also some fantastic food tours in Paris. If you have the cash to splash out, fine dining in Paris is a brilliant culinary tourism activity…

Culinary tourism Marrakesh

culinary tourism food tourism

Moroccan food is delicious. And you can try making it yourself during a cooking class in Marrakech! Visit a traditional souk and try your hand at some tasty recipes – you never know, you might have a hidden talent. Some tours even include shopping for ingredients, so you can visit a traditional market too; these are a sensory dream with so many smells, colours, sounds and sights.

Culinary tourism in Mumbai

India is another country where street food is king. Mumbai has plenty to offer, and one culinary tourism activity you can do is to spend an afternoon trying as many dishes as possible while simply wandering through the city. If you’ve never tried a vada pav before, this is the place to do so: it’s essentially deep fried mashed potato in a bun with various chutneys, and it is exquisite. Many people are surprised to learn that one of the most popular British foods– chicken tikka masala is not commonly found in India, but fear not, there are many other dishes that are just as goods or if not better!

Culinary tourism in Miami

culinary tourism food tourism

Miami is known for its food – and Cuban food is a big deal here. Take a traditional Cuban cooking class, or head to one of the many, many Cuban restaurants here. There is something for every budget, and your tastebuds will certainly thank you.
It is also close to Key West, a wonderful place to visit for a day or two. They’re big on sea food here, and walking tours which incorporate seafood are high on the list of recommended things to do in beautiful Key West.

Culinary tourism Rio de Janeiro

culinary tourism food tourism

You cannot go to Rio and not try cahaça. This is Brazilian brandy made from sugar canes, and it is a big deal over here. Culinary tourism isn’t limited to food – it includes drink too, so head to one of Rio’s many bars and try a caipirinha. You can even book an organised pub crawl, which includes free shots and drinks, around the city. This is perfect if you want to explore at night knowing you’ll be safe and always have transport on hand.

Culinary tourism in Beijing

culinary tourism food tourism

Peking duck is the highlight of Beijing food. Quanjuede is world-famous for its Peking duck, and it’s not too expensive. There are branches worldwide now, though, and much of culinary tourism is about experiencing something you won’t be able to elsewhere. Speak to the locals when you’re there and ask where their favourite place is for Peking duck. That way you’ll know you are supporting a great local business; as mentioned, food tourism is great for boosting the economy this way!

Food tourism- further reading

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