There’s nothing like sitting down in a Michelin-starred restaurant to a plate of artfully heaped linguine, coated with a velvety cream sauce and perfumed with shaved white truffles. But sometimes, merely consuming food isn’t enough.
You might want to learn more: go on a treasure hunt with a dog that sniffs out the truffles, speak with the woman whose family has owned that dairy farm for six generations, and learn to roll out tender pasta by hand. If that resonates with you, we’ve chosen eight activities from around the world that help shine a light on the destination’s food, culture and people.
Wine blending in Bordeaux, France
Bordeaux’s renowned blend might include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and even a splash of carménère sometimes. The art of the master blender is to combine those varietals to create a well-balanced profile, using cabernet sauvignon’s tannins to mellow the fruity notes of the merlot, for example.
To learn more about the art of wine blending in general — and about the specifics of the prestigious Bordeaux blend — you can take a private workshop when you’re visiting the region as part of a wine-focused trip around France. Under the guidance of a local sommelier, you’ll sample various blends to discern how different ratios taste. You can also learn about the region’s long and storied wine history. Not only do you have the chance to learn about Bordeaux and the science of blending, you’ll also get an insight into the subtleties of your own palate.
Basque gastronomic society, Spain
Though it’s relatively small, the Basque Country is known as a hotbed of culinary innovation — the region’s chefs collectively boast 32 Michelin stars. This well of talent is fostered by the region’s private gastronomic societies.
Traditionally closed to outsiders, they’re where Basques share recipes and techniques, urging each other to greater culinary heights. Over the years, these hothouses have produced exceptional chefs, as well as residents who appreciate excellent food.
Normally, Basque gastronomic societies are hidden to visitors, but we can arrange for you to get a rare glimpse inside their walls, visiting as a guest of one of the members as part of a wider trip around the Basque Country. While you’re there, you’ll watch a meal being cooked by locals as you learn about the history of the societies in general and that club specifically. Then you’ll sit down to share a communal meal with members of the society.
Cooking with a nonna in Sorrento, Italy
The Sorrentine Peninsula is known for its crystal-blue waters, limestone cliffs and golden sunshine, of course, but also its cuisine. Fishermen draw up exquisitely fresh seafood from the Tyrrhenian Sea, the cliffs are terraced to grow fragrant lemon trees and many different herbs flourish in the bountiful sun. All this plenitude has helped to shape the region’s cuisine as distinct from what you’ll find elsewhere in Italy.
As part of a culinary tour of Italy, you can learn more about the food of the Sorrentine Peninsula by taking a private cooking class with Laura, an ebullient grandmother who’s a native to the region and a classically trained chef. In her family kitchen, located just outside Sorrento, you can work with Laura to make a three-course meal using her family’s recipes. You’ll learn traditional skills, like how to make fresh pasta, and use local ingredients to create a meal that you’ll then share with Laura and her family.
Cape Winelands food garden tour in South Africa
One of the oldest farms in South Africa’s Cape Dutch tradition, Babylonstoren, in the Franschhoek wine valley, is also a leader in the country’s farm-to-table movement. Its sprawling, manicured gardens supply its renowned restaurant, Babel.
Humming with bees from the apiary and lively with chickens, the beds are packed with glossy green spinach, cartoonishly bright-red peppers and heavily laden peach trees. Strolling along the tidy, gravel-paved paths, it’s easy to see the parallels between this overflowing abundance and the hanging gardens of the hotel’s namesake.
You can visit or stay at the farm as part of a self-drive trip to Cape Town and the Winelands. Hotel guests are invited to wander through the gardens at whim. However, to truly appreciate all this luscious produce, you can take a guided tour.
Led by one of the experienced gardeners, you’re encouraged to pluck ripe fruit for nibbling and rub leaves between your fingers to smell as you learn about the art and science that goes into growing such revered food.
New Orleans Creole cooking lesson in the USA
New Orleans’ cuisine is as distinctive and complex as the city itself, a piquant blend of French, Spanish, Choctaw, Caribbean, West African and even Vietnamese influences. Much like gumbo or jambalaya, this mélange of ingredients, when blended together, creates a complex and nuanced whole that’s much more than the sum of its parts.
On a trip around America’s South, you’ll find eating Creole cuisine is a key part of visiting New Orleans. But, to really start to unlock the secrets of the Crescent City, we suggest a cooking class. The New Orleans School of Cooking helps outsiders deconstruct traditional dishes like shrimp étouffée or even a simple dish, like red beans and rice, that gets a local twist such as pickled pork and andouille sausages. At the school, local chefs give hands-on classes or demonstrations that will help you recreate the dishes at home — you’ll also get some insight into the city’s history.
Mauritian kitchen cooking class
Pungent garlic, fiery ginger and sweet cloves — these are just some of the scents that greet you when you visit Marie Michelle and Bridgitte as part of a trip exploring Mauritius. The two grandmothers offer cooking classes in their traditional open-air kitchen in central Mauritius. The fragrance rises from the women’s old-fashioned ‘mama baba’ — a stone mortar and pestle used to grind fresh spices every day.
Here, you can learn about the different cultures that combine to create the island’s culinary profile, including Indian curries, Chinese sauces and a European fondness for rum and sugar cane. Working on their wood-fired stove, you’re shown how to prepare dishes like wild boar curry or faratha, a flatbread inspired by Indian roti. You’ll also discover local ingredients like sousou, a wrinkly pear-like fruit that tastes like a squash.
When you sit down to feast, Marie Michelle may even share her homemade lemon rum, sweetened with muscovado.
Cooking in a family nha vuon in Hue, Vietnam
Hue’s imperial heritage means it plays an outsized role in the country’s culinary culture. Royal patrons and affluent families put an emphasis on expensive spices and precise techniques. Many of these families lived in nha vuon, single storey houses with extensive gardens to supply their kitchens.
While visiting Hue as part of a wider trip to Vietnam, you can take a guided tour of a local nha vuon. It begins in the garden, of course, where you’ll see jackfruit, plum trees and peanuts growing alongside pineapples and pumpkin vines. Your host will help you pick the ingredients you need for the afternoon meal before you head to the kitchen. There, you’ll likely start by mixing up a batch of nuoc cham, the traditional condiment made with chillies, lime, fresh garlic, palm sugar and fish sauce.
Then, help to make dishes like mango salad, deep-fried spring rolls and bun thit nuong, a cold rice noodle dish topped with grilled pork and fragrant fresh basil and mint.
Hands-on cooking in Buenos Aires, Argentina
A perfectly grilled steak, with a deep-brown crust and a meltingly tender, rosy-pink interior, accompanied by a glass of dark, fruity malbec… It’s easy to get lost in the obvious charms of Argentinian cuisine. But, by taking a culinary-themed trip through Argentina, you’ll find the country’s food is much more than just asado and wine — in addition to Spanish and Italian influences, you’ll find hints of the dozens of local indigenous cultures, all blended together.
If you want to delve deeper, consider making some time for a hands-on cooking class. You’ll begin with a guided trip to the local market, where you can greet vendors and help select ingredients for the day’s meal. Then, you’ll return to Azaí, an airy kitchen space tucked into the leafy Buenos Aires residential area known as Chacarita.
With a local chef, you’ll learn to make local treats like yerba mate, a caffeine-rich drink, and sweet dessert empanadas, all accompanied by a glass of Argentinian wine.
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