The food tour has become one of the great tourism successes of the last decade, and most major cities have some sort of walk and taste tour available. These tours are also diversifying – concentrating on specific cuisines and honing in on certain neighbourhoods. It’s this delving-beyond-the-staple citybreak diet that makes such tours worth their while – and not just as a chance to explore the local food scene. They’re also a good opportunity to discover neighbourhoods that you might not ordinarily consider visiting – and these tours are classic examples.
Deira’s not the part of Dubai that generally finds its way into holiday brochures, but it’s where Arva Ahmed, founder of Frying Pan Adventures, grew up, and the food-obsessed entrepreneur manages to conduct a culinary tour of the Middle East in the neighbourhood.
It’s abundantly clear that a lot of taste-testing has gone into selecting her favourites, with the likes of chilli-paste-stuffed felafels and sujuk-topped manakish on the menu. The sticky, gooey kunafa from a Palestinian-owned sweet shop is gorgeous, while Iranian ice cream and Lebanese baklava are also in the mix.
Frying Pan Adventures has since expanded into other food trails around Dubai, but the Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage – lasting about four hours and costing Dh415 – is still the classic choice for unheralded surprises.
Away from the royal palaces and headline museums, London’s East End is traditionally working class. It has undergone a revival in recent years, with Shoreditch in particular pulling in the creative crowd. But, arguably, the most underplayed aspect of the East End is its large population from the Indian subcontinent.
It’s this that the Secret Food Tours jaunt through the East End concentrates on. Its Secret Indian Food Tour takes in seven stops of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian food, visiting the notorious curry-strip of Brick Lane and heading farther afield. This involves tasting pakoras and dhoklas in a savoury shop, heading around an Indian supermarket and finishing off with chicken tikka and lamb chops at a tandoori restaurant. There’s plenty of curry sampling – both hot and sour – on the way, but part of the aim is to show that there’s way more to food from the subcontinent than just “curry”. The tours last three hours and cost £59 (Dh264) via www.secretfoodtours.com.
Kampong Glam isn’t as upscale as the name might suggest (it comes from the gelam trees once prevalent there), but it has a historic role as the city’s Muslim quarter. Street names such as Arab Street hint at this, while the population of the area has traditionally been Malay.
This makes it an excellent place to try out Muslim-Singaporean food, which is close to Malaysian cuisine, but has taken in influences from elsewhere. So the tour may take in a spice garden, an Indian chef making meat-filled pancakes or sharing a nasi padang rice dish with local residents.
It’s also a good excuse to explore an area that feels very distinctive – it’s one of the few parts of Singapore where you’re likely to find street art, while a gaggle of young fashion designers have taken over the old shophouses. The four-hour tours cost 80 Singapore dollars (Dh208) via www.foodtoursingapore.com.
Besiktas is better known for its football team than its food scene, but it’s the starting point for the Born on the Bosphorus tour by Culinary Backstreets. This salt-of-the-earth neighbourhood is full of simple breakfast joints, serving up Turkish-style scrambled eggs and bal kaymak, clotted cream blanketed in honey. From there, the tour takes a ferry ride across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul, with visits to honey stalls, olive vendors and candymakers at the market in Üsküdar.
The trio of Bosphorus suburbs is completed in Kuzguncuk, an area where cultures have traditionally mixed and the small, family-run restaurants reflect this. The full-day tours cost US$125 (Dh459) per person, via www.culinarybackstreets.com.
Culinary Backstreets also runs food tours in Lisbon’s gritty but up-and-coming port zone. Most of the hip factor is found in Cais do Sodré, an area that’s still rough around the edges, but where the hugely popular Time Out Market has brought together the best restaurants and foodie shops from around the city, then given them stalls to showcase their wares.
The Song of the Sea tour, focuses on more traditional culinary experiences, though, such as Lisbon’s last wood-fired “bica” coffee roaster. It then moves on to humble fish-grilling joints for sardines when in season, before finishing at the solidly working-class district of Alcântara, where typical seafood restaurants serve up fantastically moreish cod cakes. Tours last around five-and-a-half hours, and cost US$135 (Dh496).
New York City
Brooklyn has been hip for a while now, but not the parts that A Slice of Brooklyn’s pizza tour go to. The vast majority of the borough hasn’t been touched by bushy-bearded, artisan-everything hipsterisation, and the pizza joints that the tour goes to have been keeping the locals satisfied for decades.
It’s also an opportunity to delve into the different styles of pizza – Grimaldi’s in the Dumbo district is proudly Neapolitan, while L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst does it the Sicilian way. En route between the pizza joints, the tour takes in the filming locations of classic movies such as Saturday Night Fever and Goodfellas, before finishing at the Coney Island Boardwalk for a classic New York hot dog. The tour lasts about four-and-a-half hours and costs US$80 (Dh294), via www.asliceofbrooklyn.com.
Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs are usually well off the tourist trail, and not entirely without reason. But head away from the Harbour and the beaches, and you’ll find various neighbourhoods where different waves of immigration have made their mark. Particularly distinctive of these is Cabramatta, where thousands of Vietnamese migrants and refugees made their home. Taste Cultural Food Tours runs half-day jaunts through the neighbourhood, stopping off in cafes, and the shops and stalls where the locals get their ingredients. The aim is partially to broaden the horizons beyond the well-known pho, but also to give the senses a blast of Sydney’s mini Ho Chi Minh City. That means tailors, street vendors and jewellers that have carved out a niche for themselves since arriving, as well as the humble cafes and restaurants. The tours last four hours and cost 99 Australian dollars (Dh274), via www.tastetours.com.au.