Taste your way through towns from Memphis to Maui
Treat your taste buds to a guided tasting tour when you’re in a new city — or even better, in your own town. You’ll spend a few hours “noshing” on distinctive local dishes, regional specialties and unique taste treats at restaurants, street stands, take-outs, food markets, bakeries, delis and retail shops, often in neighborhoods you would otherwise never get to explore. Don’t worry — you’ll get small portions, so you won’t end up overstuffed (unless you want to!).
Many cities offer affordable tours escorted by enthusiastic foodies who take small groups on epicurean adventures to sample foods that may be gourmet, ethnic, trendy, traditional or just plain kooky. You might go behind the scenes, see how the food’s made and meet the cooks. Along the way, you’ll hear about local culture and history and the origins of the food. Some of America’s most intriguing and delicious food-tasting tours…
You can eat your way through local specialties in America’s most historic city any afternoon. The Flavors of Philly Tour gives you the inside scoop on the unique foods to be found in favorite eateries in Philadelphia’s center city, including some located in the vast Reading Terminal Market. Surely you’ve heard of Philly cheesesteak? Now you can sink your teeth into the original version of that luscious sandwich stuffed with beef, cheese and fried onions… then drop into Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies for a mini hoagie (cold cuts, grated provolone cheese and a squirt of balsamic vinegar on a small, locally baked roll). Top it off with a couple of crispy cheese fries and a taste of “tomato pie,” a Philly specialty of thick Sicilian pizza crust topped with “extra-sweet,” “extra-heat” sauce.
Pace yourself, because soon you’ll visit a pretzel bakery to try a soft pretzel, followed by chocolate-covered pretzels, before stopping at Famous 4th Street Cookies, in business for 30 years and best known for its chocolate chip cookies.
Information: City Food tours, 800-979-3370, www.cityfoodtours.com. Daily, 1:30 pm to 4 pm.
The Brady Street/Old World Third Street culinary tour explores neighborhoods settled by Italians and Germans in the late 1800s. While you munch on their old-time dishes, you’ll hear stories of the immigrants who came to Milwaukee from Europe in search of a better life.
First stop is Zaffiro’s for its renowned square-cut pizza made with amazingly thin crust. On to Sciortino’s Bakery for a Sicilian-style cannoli filled with ricotta cheese, chocolate chips and cherries. You’ll then stop at Glorioso Brothers Grocery to sample its endless varieties of olives and garlic salami, then on to the popular restaurant Buca di Beppo to talk food with the chef over a glass of red wine. Crossing over a bridge to the part of town settled by German immigrants, you’re treated to a variety of Old World cheeses, soft German pretzels, deep-fried Reuben sandwiches shaped like egg rolls, and your choice of the 70 varieties of sausages still made from their original recipes at Usinger’s Famous Sausages (washed down by an ice-cold local brew). Finally, if you can manage it, try a piece of German dark chocolate to top it all off.
Information: Milwaukee Food Tours, 800-979-3370, www.milwaukeefoodtours.com.
The Pike Place Market, the country’s oldest farmer’s market, with a maze of street-level stalls and a subterranean warren of shops, is a year-round destination for local residents and tourists. On the two-hour Classics Tour of the vast marketplace, you’ll try 26 different foods and beverages, starting with alderwood-smoked salmon and going on to Russian piroshky pastries filled with Pacific salmon pâté, dill and cream cheese in a soft baked dough… crispy crab cakes… handmade artisan cheese… seafood bisque and clam chowder that won first prize for several years at the Great Chowder Cook-Off.
Next on the agenda: Watching the production of hundreds of mini-doughnuts and eating a couple of them served warm with a cup of locally roasted coffee from the original Starbucks, and more. All the while you’ll learn about the history of this 101-year-old landmark.
Information: Savor Seattle Tours, 888-987-2867, www.savorseattletours.com. Participants receive a 10% discount card at all food merchants visited.
On these epicurean adventures on the Hawaiian island of Maui, you pass right by the tourist traps and follow pastry chef/food writer Bonnie Friedman on excursions to restaurants, snack shacks, markets and kitchens to eat like a local, feasting on foods unique to this multicultural melting pot. Each tour accommodates two to four guests and includes a full breakfast or lunch featuring island specialties at a good restaurant, followed by stops at a variety of establishments for small tastes of other typical dishes. You’ll try fresh, hot malasadas (Portuguese hole-less donuts)… Spam musubi (a slice of grilled teriyaki Spam on a block of sushi rice wrapped with dried seaweed — surprisingly delicious)… “shave ice” (smooth ice flavored with lychee, mango, passion fruit or guava)… and maybe some li hing mui (a tart dried plum flavored with Chinese spices). You’ll leave with a goody bag of snacks and a list of recommended off-the-radar eating places.
Information: Tour da Food, 808-242-8383, www.tourdafood.com.