It is certain that the tastiest way to fast-track your understanding of a locale’s culinary culture is to embark on a hands-on adventure — whether immersing in compelling cooking classes or hiking through forests in search of wild edible ingredients. There’s really something for every taste — and suitor of the delectable. And if you somehow find an interesting gourmet affair that resonates with your stomach, where cuisine and setting unite for a transporting experience, then it must be a food match made in heaven!
Foodies in search of the authentic, the palatable and the inspiring, here’s a taste of where in the world you can satisfy your cravings for non-festive culinary encounters.
Hike the Skåne Gourmet Trail in Sweden
Some destinations really have all the elements of a fairytale. In Sweden’s southernmost county (also dubbed Sweden’s Tuscany), you will feel so for yourself. From the dappled sunlight that falls on the forest floor to Hansel and Gretel-like cottages that pepper the meadows overlooking the glistening North Sea, the fabled Skåne is a patch of heaven for any traveller seeking a unique experience. What’s more, this is where you will also get to visit fertile farmlands, forests and lakes, castles, manors and myriads of museums.
For dedicated gourmands, Skåne is synonymous with the fertile breadbasket of the country. At Kullaleden, a section of the Skåneleden Trail, you can take a foodie walking tour to discover what the region has to offer. There are plenty of locally-produced ingredients here and there has been a boom in small-scale artisan food production. Skåne also has its very own food traditions such as spättekaka or cake on a spit as well as eel and roast goose feasts, and teems with palatable local delights such as thick pancakes, coarse, sweet mustard and a myriad of marinated herring mixed with new tastes and influences from near and far.
You can also explore the pretty seaside town of Helsingborg, where you will be tempted to join locals on a food walk of the city and visit the award-winning craft brewery, Helsingborgs Bryggeri, which was set up by two friends who wanted to reclaim the old Swedish brewing methods. And if you head for the picturesque seaside village of Arild, do stop at the stunning cafe Flickorna Lundgren where you can try a traditional Swedish “fika”, the Swedish version of afternoon tea. Wherever you are in the county, when birdsong fills the air on a sunny day, just choose a picnic table donned in red-checked cloth, and simply enjoy a feast of Swedish fare!
Get together with La Famiglia in Italy
It’s hard to imagine that any other country could beat the land of “la dolce vita” when it comes to traditional cuisine. As a visiting gourmand, you can expect Italy to fulfil any culinary fantasy. For thousands of years, Italians have respected local traditions and techniques of preparing dishes, and have honoured mothers and grandmothers as pillars of the culinary world.
But even though any sojourner can find impeccable Italian fare in almost all restaurants around the country, there is something special about dining in the intimacy of a real home. Thanks to the non-profit organisation Home Food, travellers can now roll their sleeves for authentic food experiences, which take place throughout the year in private homes across Italy, from Milan in the north to Catania in the south. For this project, women (and a few men) are called Le Cesarine — the name is derived from the Roman emperor Julius Caesar — because they are considered “empresses” who preside over their kitchens. To participate, you simply have to pick any location in Italy, whether it is a town or even on the countryside and find a real Italian mamma or a cesarina who will cook for you!
Tame your foraging mania in Melbourne
One of the greatest and newest global culinary trends — food foraging — is exploding in popularity as individuals are seeking connection with food sources and chefs are taking up the cause of integrating more wild foods into their culinary creations. Today, amateur cooks and culinary tourists can sign up for seasonal urban or countryside tours accompanied by experienced guides who will lead them to secret places, where they can find ingredients that grow wild and also teach them how to identify plants that are both safe and delicious to consume. In Melbourne, the foraging trend is at its best, allowing travellers to discover another facet of the city through their exploration of the Merri Creek Trail in search of culinary and medicinal plants and lush wild greens such as chickweed, purslane and blackberry nightshade.
Meet the mermaids of Jeju in South Korea
For hundreds of years, women in the South Korean island of Jeju have made their living harvesting seafood by hand from the ocean floor. These brazen sea women known as haenyeo use no breathing equipment to dive, even though a typical dive might last around two to three minutes and take them as deep as 20 metres underwater. When visiting Jeju, be on the lookout for these sea women who will brave the treacherous waters of the Korea Strait, even during frigid winters. Using only flippers and goggles, haenyeo scour the sea bottom for abalone, octopus, conch and seaweed.
While there isn’t a specific place to meet these seasoned female divers, your chances will be greater if you visit one of the Haenyeoui Jip located near major tourist attractions or along the coast. Along the coast, there are restaurants where you can feast on freshly-caught seafood by haenyeo. Main dishes include sea cucumber, octopus, abalone porridge, and hand-cut noodles. For those interested to learn more about the haenyeo, there is also a Jeju Haenyeo Museum in Jeju City, which introduces the unique activities and culture of Jejudo’s haenyeo female divers. You can also emulate the haenyeo activities, by fishing, snorkelling or catching sea creatures in the shallow waters as part of an experience program that is available between March and November.
Seek chocolate nirvana in Brussels
There is chocolate and there is Belgian chocolate. The comparison is almost impossible considering that Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium but — as far as chocolate connoisseurs are concerned — the World Capital of Chocolate. With about 2,000 chocolate shops scattered around the country, it’s easy to see why anyone should take Belgian chocolate seriously. To get a heady hit of this dark delicacy yourself, join a chocolate tour while visiting Brussels and you will get the chance to explore the best chocolate hotspots in the city. From the imposing Grand Place to the architecturally wondering Royal Palace to Art Nouveau houses, your guide will lead you to some of Brussels’ most prominent landmarks around which there are quaint shops where you can sample topnotch chocolate treats and even participate in a workshop with a master chocolatier.
Immerse in a tea ritual with Berbers in the Atlas Mountains
Beauty and mystery are obvious in Morocco: from breathtaking panoramas of ancient royal cities to infinite aureate deserts to palm-dotted and alpine forests, this fascinating land boasts many ways to lure travellers. In Marrakesh alone, the inquisitive traveller will experience that beguiling feeling of being in the midst of a historical yet exotic city.
But what’s even more riveting is immersing in the enigmatic Berber culture. For even more intrigue and sheer energy, take a trip up to the High Atlas Mountains, where you will trek with camels and get a glimpse of the Moroccan countryside. Continuously backdropped by dramatic vistas, you will stumble upon traditional Berber villages, where you will sample the locals’ hospitality and enjoy hearty dishes such as tajines and authentic mint tea.
Roll cheese on wheels in the Netherlands
Perhaps many foodies have often wondered where cheese gets its holes from, or why the Dutch love their cheese by the wheel. No matter how many questions one may have, you can be sure to get your answers whilst exploring Netherlands’ most famous cheese towns. And while you may not have time to become a full-time cheesemonger, you will still have the chance to learn inside tips from families of artisan cheesemakers and even indulge in amazing tastings.
Today, there are currently some 150 cheesemakers along the Netherlands’ burgeoning cheese trail, ranging from big companies to small-scale artisan producers. North of Amsterdam, the countryside opens up to a beautiful landscape of grazing pasture and ever-picturesque windmills. Stop in the city of Edam, which is home to a historic-weighing hall and where you can pop into quaint cheese shops which feature traditional Dutch varieties such as Edam, Gouda and Leiden. For cheese cognoscenti, however, the small town of Alkaamar, which has been hosting Holland’s most important cheese markets for centuries, teems with museums and a weighing hall which depict the history of cheese-making from medieval agriculture to 20th century artefacts.
Drive on a culinary Tour de France
La Nationale Sept or the National 7 is often regarded as France’s very own Route 66, a mythical road that defined summer holidays for generations. Considered the spine of France, the route traverses the Loire Valley, crosses the Rhone River, working its way through Provence before ending at the beautiful Riviera. The winding road snakes its way from Paris to Menton and passes by rolling hills, valleys, and quaint villages and towns that open up to the curious and the observant as well as lure travellers with their culinary checkpoints. Many a visitor to the area has also been awed by the locals’ hospitality.
In Lyon, you will sample mouth-watering charcutière while in the coastal town of Antibes, you can expect to feast on fresh, local seafood dishes; Valence promises a memorable meal at the restaurant of Anne-Sophie Pic — the only living female chef to hold three Michelin stars. One thing is for certain: whether you are after ambitious chefs who set out their stalls along the road, Michelin-starred pit stops that will dazzle you with refined dishes or institutions from the pantheon of French gastronomy, this culinary road-trip is sure to satisfy even the most fastidious gourmand.
Feel ‘Outstanding in the Field’ in the US
There is a breathtaking feeling about spotting amidst an empty field, a ginormous outdoor dining table that can seat 200 persons. With Outstanding in the Field, a unique farm-to-table experience that takes place in quirky locations around the United States — from fields to ranches to sea coves and vineyards to rooftops — food lovers can be part of a culinary movement that not only has the aim to satisfy taste buds but also make diners understand, learn from and celebrate the farmer. Throughout the years, dinners had tables nestled amongst the papaya trees and permaculture of Olana Organic Farm in Kilauea, Kauai, or at the Worden Farm in Punta Gorda, Florida, where guests basked in a five-course menu served at sunset. So if you are in the US, be on the lookout for this moveable feast and you will be in for an once-in-a-lifetime experience: dining together outdoors really has the power to connect you with nature!
Hunt for the gourmet’s golden egg in Istria
Boasting luxuriant rolling hills and picturesque medieval towns, this Croatian gem has been hailed as the new frontier for truffle hunting or perhaps even the next Tuscany. While travellers visit for the beautiful scenery and auburn-red towns such as the port of Pula and the pretty towns of Rovinj and Novigras with their cobblestone piazzas, there is definitely a draw that goes beyond history. As the sun sets, the forest trails of the legendary Motovun are already alive with the snuffle of eager dogs and the pace of locals who lead their keen-nosed hounds into hidden places where they might find the beloved “white gold” or truffles. However, do keep in mind that while black truffles are available year-round, the white variety has a short-lived season from September through December. Whether small or big, truffles are considered a gift from nature by locals — a gem which depends on weather, soil and trees.