Inhaling fresh herbs and fragrant spices at a local market, savouring street food treats at curbside stalls, and tasting delectable samples at gourmet food shops are some of the delicious reasons to do foodie walks. We may have set some kind of record for the number of culinary walking tours two travellers have done. We’ve experienced so many – all in the name of research of course – we thought it was time to share our list of favourite tours, the ones we think are the world’s best foodie walks.
In the last few months alone in Vietnam we’ve done half a dozen tours, from street food strolls to market walks that kick off cooking classes, in Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An, and we’ve got more to do. We’re working on magazine stories on Asia’s best foodie walks and cooking schools, so we’ll bring you our favourites of those in separate posts after the stories are published.
Below you’ll find tour details in a nutshell, but click through to our original posts on the tours and you’ll find more comprehensive reviews and links to the tour operator sites. Here are our picks of the world’s best foodie walks from those we’ve road-tested, from Mexico City to Melbourne.
MEXICO CITY – MEXICAN STREET FOOD
The tour: Mexico City Street Food Tour
The operator: Eat Mexico
The guide: Our guide was Eat Mexico founder, third generation Mexican-American, Lesley Tellez, a journalist who blogs about Mexican cooking at The Mija Chronicles.
Why do it: “Street food is so ingrained in Mexican culture,” Lesley says. “Some of these vendors have been here forever.”
Food you’ll try: Everything from tacos al pastor and tlacoyos (fried masa patties) to tacos de canasta (‘basket tacos’), and tasty carnitas (‘little meats’).
Highlight: Cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork) and tinga de pollo (spicy stewed and shredded chicken with chipotle) from La Abuela, Río Lerma and Río Rhin.
Best tip: On identifying carnitas, Lesley warns: “These places never have any signs. Look for the glass case with pork steaming inside, and listen for the sound of chopping on a wooden breadboard.”
Where it starts: Our tour began on Río Lerma in Colonia Cuauhtémoc. It’s easy to get to by taxi from anywhere in the Centro Historico, just allow plenty of time.
Where to stay: The nearby colonias of Condesa and Roma are home to boutique hotels, however, we stayed in a holiday rental in the Centro Historico.
Where to dine after: You’ll try a lot of food on the tour, but not so much that you won’t get hungry again. For more of the same, head to Salon Corona. For creative contemporary Mexican cuisine, book ahead for our favourite restaurant in the city, Chef Enrique Olvera’s Pujol.
LONDON – GOURMET FOOD SHOPS
The tour: London for Foodies.
The operator: Context.
The guide: Our guide was self-confessed foodie Phillipa Owen.
Why do it: To get a taste of the fantastic produce being produced in the UK by a new breed of purveyors who are extraordinarily passionate about their produce, as well as the superb local specialty shops in London.
Where you’ll go: We visited The Ginger Pig, La Fromagerie, Fish Works, Rococco Chocolates, Biggles Gourmet Sausages, Italian deli Lina’s Stores, Algerian Coffee Stores, Borough Market, Monmouth Coffee, and Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Highlight: Neal’s Yard Dairy, specialists in British artisanal cheeses. Try the ‘Stichelton’ (unpasteurised English blue cheese considered to be more like ‘real’ Stilton), Colston Bassett Stilton (rich and creamy, with a tang providing balance), Montgomery’s Cheddar (a sweet, bold cheddar with a dry texture), and a Tunworth soft cheese (similar in texture to Camembert).
Where it starts: Our walk began in Marylebone at The Ginger Pig, easy to get to by bus, tube, taxi, or foot, depending on where you’re staying.
Where to stay: We only stayed two days last trip – too short really to rent an apartment. For finding hotels in London we like www.londontown.com which lists properties all over the city.
Where to dine after: As our tour finished at Borough Market, our guide Phillipa recommended Roast, specialising in British cuisine, in the heart of the market. We had the superb Market Menu, based on what’s fresh and in season that day.
MELBOURNE – INDIAN FOOD FEAST
The tour: The Masala Trail, Dandenong
The operator: Foodie Trails, an offshoot of guide Himanshi’s family-owned Mumbai travel agency, which also runs culinary tours in India.
The guide: Indian-born Himanshi, a foodie who lived in Dandenong as a student.
Why do it: To get a taste of Little India in Dandenong, a suburb of multicultural Melbourne where 55% of residents are foreign-born, from 156 different countries. Few foreign visitors get here.
Food you’ll try: Northen Indian specialties, including chaat (see Highlight), aloo tiki (potato cutlets), samosa channa (chick peas, cauliflower, potatoes, and peas in a deep fried roti), spicy masala tea, and Indian sweets, and Southern Indian food, including a thali platter laden with tasty curries, lentil soup, rice, sambal, papadums, and crispy dosa, washed down with lassi, and more sweets.
Highlight: We loved the chaat, made from flat crispy biscuits topped with potato, tamarind sauce, green chilli, chickpeas, yoghurt, salt, chilli, and cumin powder.
Best tip: Himanshi’s advice on what products to buy from Indian Bazaar.
Bonus: You’ll also visit a Bollywood music and DVD shop, an Indian clothes shop, and an Indian grocery shop cum spice bazaar.
Where it starts: If doing the Dandenong tour, you’ll meet Himanshi at Dandenong train station. She also runs a tour in Melbourne city centre if you’re stuck for time.
Where to stay: The Melbourne CBD is central, or anywhere on a train line. We tested out these boutique hotels and apartments.
Where to dine after: We were too full to eat a large meal again that day. If you get hungry later try the Vietnamese pho on Victoria Street, Richmond.
ISTANBUL – TURKISH MARKET TASTINGS
The tour: Markets of Istanbul
The operator: Context
The guide: Aylin Oney Tan, a culinary writer and food columnist for Istanbul’s national daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet.
Why do it: For a local insight into the city’s markets and to discover the best places to shop for everything from coffee and spices to dried fruit and cheese.
Food you’ll try: Dried fruit and vegetables, such as kayisi doneri (a fruit doner kebab); Turkish cold cuts and cheeses, such as pastirma and tulum (sheep cheese in dried goat skin); tavuk göğsü, a creamy pudding made of finely shredded chicken breast; lokum (Turkish delight); pickles and peppers; and (at an annotated sit-down tasting), traditional buffet dishes, such as pickled cabbage in yoghurt and succulent kebabs.
Highlight: Pulverised wild cherry kernels from Malatya Pazari.
Where it starts: We began our tour at Mısır Çarşısı, the Egyptian Market or Spice Bazaar at Eminönü.
Where to stay: We stay in apartment rentals in Beyoğlu when we’re in Istanbul, from where it’s a fascinating 30-minute amble down to the Egyptian Market.
Where to dine after: We couldn’t eat another thing after this tour – it was a lot of food to try, so skip breakfast. You’ll probably be happy just continuing to snack on goodies you buy on the tour.
BUDAPEST – BUDAPEST MARKET BRIEFING
The tour: Budapest Market Walk
The operator: Taste Hungary, owned by Carolyn and Gábor Bánfalvi.
The guide: Carolyn Bánfalvi, author of Terroir Guides’ Food Wine Budapest and The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary.
Why do it: For local insight into Hungarian cuisine through the prism of Budapest’s best market, Central Market Hall. Caroline explains how locals shop, what they buy, where they buy it from, and what they do with it.
Food you’ll try: This isn’t really a tasting tour – although lunch at a local eatery is included after the walk – rather it’s a chance to find out what the local specialties are and who the best purveyors are.
Highlight: The pork shop! Smoked pork knuckle, pork jelly aspic, unprocessed bacon, tripe, pig snouts, feet and tails, pork brains (crumbed, fried and eaten with mayonnaise), and pork crackling… it’s all here!
Best buy: The pork crackling and famous Pick winter salami (the one with white mould around it).
Best tip: Don’t buy the ‘saffron’ the guidebooks all recommend – it is not in fact saffron at all, but safflower.
Best discovery: The Asian supermarket hidden away downstairs, packed products from Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
Where it starts: We met Carolyn at the main entrance to the Central Market Hall. Allow plenty of time if taking connecting trams.
Where to stay: We spent a couple of weeks in an apartment rental on Andrássy Avenue, which is central and a couple of (connecting) trams away from the market.
Where to dine after: Get tips from Carolyn – she’s the expert on eating out in the city.
TOKYO – BEYOND TSUKIJI FISH MARKETS
The tour: Tsukiji Fish Markets & Outer Markets
The operator: Etsuko Nakamura of tokyofoodcast.com
The guide: Tokyo food and sake expert, Etsuko Nakamura.
Why do it: To appreciate that there’s more to a Tsukiji Fish Market visit than watching a tuna auction and that the Outer Market, a warren of narrow lanes lined with specialty shops and stalls, is equally rewarding to visit if you go with a local.
What you’ll see: Scores of specialty shops selling everything from kitchen supplies to a particular type of product or produce from a specific town or region. For example, a handful of shops only sell Tamago-Yaki (Japanese omelette) in different styles; tofu specialists sell every conceivable form of tofu, including tofu icecream; and countless shops sell only nori (seaweed), unagi (dried fish) or katsuobushi (bonito flakes).
What to try: If you’re here in summer, try the colossal succulent rock oysters from Ivakaki, which you can slurp down as they’re freshly shucked.
Highlight: A shop specialising in products from Kanogazawa on the coast selling delights such as tarako (spiced cod roe) and karasumi (bottarga).
What to buy: Handmade Japanese knives.
Best tip: Unagi (dried fish) is seasonal and July is the month to buy it. Where it starts: We met Etsuko outside Tsukiji-Shijo station (Oedo line; exit A1), however, Tokyo Metro Hibiya line’s Tsukiji station is also handy.
Where to stay: We stayed in an apartment rental in Akasaka for two weeks, however, it doesn’t matter where you stay in Tokyo because a train station is never far away.
Where to dine after: Ask Etsuko to direct you to her favourite teishoku (set menu) place, where you can eat well with the locals. We tucked into sea urchins with vegetables, sauces, pickles, miso soup, and rice for US$9 and there wasn’t a foreigner in sight.
Pictured above: An off-the-beaten-track floating market in Bangkok we visited recently on a food tour. Review coming soon.
Are you a fan of foodie walks? Got any favourites that you’ve done? Feel free to share them in the Comments below.