When we visited Merida in Mexico a few years ago, my husband had already decided where he wanted to eat and when. We had to taste the chaya drink made from chaya leaves, had to eat the cochinita pibil and eat at La Casa de Frida, a restaurant that was also home to many Frida Kahlo collectibles. Granted the Apte family is a little obsessed with food, but we're not alone. Food tourism, where the food and wine of a region are big draws, is getting to be big business.
According to the World Food & Travel Association, whose mission is to preserve and promote the world's food and drink cultures through travel, food tourism may be defined as "the pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near." Food tourism circuits need not be restricted to three-star Michelin restaurants either. How about street food vendors and local pubs? All food that contributes to local flavor is part of the experience. Food tourism has become so popular that a special conference devoted to the topic, Taste Trekkers, won way more than its desired funding goal on Kickstarter.
A report from the U.N. World Tourism Organization on global food tourism states that terroir (the flavor of a place's food) and an increased emphasis on local foods and sustainability are driving the popularity of food tourism. The UNWTO report shows case studies around the world where countries have capitalized on local cuisines to draw food tourists.
Canada: Savour Ottawa is a Canadian-based marketing strategy that draws tourists to the food circuit in Ottawa. Also in Canada, Prince Edward County's Taste Trail is an example of a popular tourist draw. Participants in this trail include The Restaurant on the Knoll, which serves locally raised beef, and a number of wineries including Huff Estates Winery named one of the top 20 wineries in Canada.
Malaysia: This multi-ethnic country is working hard to promote its varied cuisine in keeping with its tourism motto, "Malaysia, Truly Asia." Given that the Straits of Malacca were a prominent stop on the spice route between Europe and Asia, spices are the primary focus of the marketing campaign. The cuisine is a blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian flavors, and because the country has a majority Muslim population, the ready access to halal food makes Malaysia one of the top three preferred destinations of Muslim travelers. A New York Times article, "36 Hours in Kuala Lumpur" recommends the open-air street kitchens hawking wok-fried noodles and freshly steamed seafood.
Azerbaijan: According to the UNWTO report, the Caspian state is winning accolades around the world for its varied cuisine and places food promotion as a firm part of its marketing strategy. The report recommends checking out shashlik (kebab) houses in the country, which are just as warm and inviting as Italian taverns. Pilaw, a rice dish flavored with saffron (and often, cherries) is also a popular offering. The report adds that "hospitable owners and cooks will offer you the best menu of the season and will always wish you 'Noosh Olsoon' the equivalent of Bon Appetit.
This article was originally published in May 2013, and has been updated for the
February 2016 paperback release.
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