When I was young, I used to travel for adventure. If you gave me an exotic location and some borderline dangerous experiences, I was the first to sign up. As I grew older, I began traveling for culture. I found it fascinating to learn first hand about other people's customs and lives. It's something I couldn't quite do even while living in major cities like New York or London.
But you know what? I am now married to a foodie, and most of my travels these days have one thing in common: they are all about seeking unique culinary experiences.
The food is part of the local history, the kind of thing that brings people together and makes them who they really are.
You wouldn't know how much different culinary tourism is from all other kinds of tourism unless you experience it. First of all, it is of course about the places you choose to travel to. There are cultures and regions and cities where food is deeply ingrained in the local texture of life. The food is part of the local history, the kind of thing that brings people together and makes them who they really are. And there are places in the world where that is more pronounced than in others.
But culinary travel is also not just about the places you visit. It is also about everything else: how you organize your sightseeing, what travel choices you make and whom you choose to travel with.
Let me give you an example. Last summer, we traveled to Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain, which is otherwise known as 'the culinary capital of Europe.' There are a lot of things that are special about Basque Country.
- Its incredible beaches are just perfect for surfing aficionados.
- The distinctive culture of a people who have fought to preserve their unique language and customs despite constant pressure to assimilate into Spanish culture.
- The friendly, open, but proud ways in which Basque people relate to outsiders.
All of these things give you sufficient reasons to visit Basque Country. But the food…the food is out of this world, and if you are passionate about it, this place is just heaven.
There were so many places we wanted to eat at during our one week there. We knew we needed a serious plan because we couldn't waste one single meal in a generic restaurant. Some of these places were popular with crazy food tourists just like us so we had to book in advance. Other restaurants wouldn't even take reservations, so we had to make sure we were there right when they opened for lunch or dinner.
Everything else about our stay had to be worked out around the FOOD. Here was our plan:
- Our daily sightseeing HAD TO happen within a four-mile radius around the place we wanted to eat in.
- We HAD TO stay in the area with the highest concentration of fantastic brunch places.
- And we HAD TO always stay flexible with everything else BUT our food arrangements.
As crazy as it all seems, we had a great time.
We've eaten the 'Best Steak in the World' at Casa Julian (rated by the best food publications in the world), a restaurant that's tucked away in this small little town called Tolosa. We would have never visited Tolosa if not for the world-renowned food.
We've had the best cheesecake we've ever had (#sorrynotsorry New York!) in this little place on the narrowest street in San Sebastian.
Over the week, we experienced the most incredible combination of tastes and flavors in the tens of Pintxos (i.e., small little snack-like bites that you eat for lunch in stand-up bars).
Because we knew that food was our focus for the trip, we would fit other activities (the museums, parks, and exhibitions) around food. It left our appetites very pleased.
What I found is that when traveling, it's always better to put your preferences first before what others think you should see. You will regret less the kinds of things you don't get to see, do, or experience. And traveling just gets better, more relaxed, and so much less stressful.