Don’t fill up! This bruschetta is only the beginning … (Photo: Thinkstock)
I’m really, really into trying local food, and recently that’s evolved into an obsession with taking food tours. I’ve eaten my way through Chinatown in Manhattan, Trastevere in Rome, and many other foodie meccas. To me, food walking tours are a great way to get to know the local food culture of any neighborhood.
Sometimes, though, the unthinkable happens: There simply aren’t any food tours to be found. When that happens, I improvise, as evidenced by my latest DIY tour of Chinatown in Flushing, Queens. With a little research and planning, I ate some incredibly delicious foods at great spots, despite not knowing anything about the area before I began.
And that’s the thing: It’s much easier than you think to organize your own food tour. With that in mind, here are my rules and resources for creating your own one-day food experience anywhere around the world.
Rule #1: Pick one neighborhood
Doing a food tour of all of New York City is a terrible idea, unless you have your own private chauffeur and a LOT of time. Even doing a food tour of Brooklyn is a terrible, terribly ambitious idea. My advice: Pick one neighborhood and/or one theme, and stick to it. Try just the Lower East Side, for example, or go for the best pizzas in Manhattan. I chose Flushing because my partner and I had never been to Queens, and we both really love Chinese food.
The Internet will help you find tempting street stalls you may not have found on your own. (Photo: Stephanie Yoder/Twenty-Something Travel)
Rule #2: Have a plan
We probably could have just rolled up in Chinatown, picked a place at random, and had a pretty sweet meal. But we didn’t. That’s not the point of a food tour. We wanted to experience a variety of absolute highlights from the area, so we spent several hours researching before we went, using a variety of resources. My favorites: Yelp, Serious Eats, Chow, Thrillist, Urban Spoon, and Wikitravel.
Our findings took us to subterranean pocket restaurants and generic-looking street carts that I’m quite certain we would never have found on our own. They also gave us a better idea of the story and culture behind each place we visited.
Rule #3: Go for snacks, not meals
How many full sit-down meals in a row can you eat? I’m guessing not that many, no matter how tasty the food is. The point of the food tour is to get an overview of the best an area has to offer, not to just pig out at one amazing place (you can come back and do that later).
Instead, focus on one standout item at each place on your itinerary: the famous soup dumplings from one restaurant, the perfect Taiwanese shaved ice from another. Share your dishes, too, and try to taste as many different things as possible without filling up on any one thing.
What better way to get to know Bogota than to try all of the awesome local fruits? (Photo: Stephanie Yoder/Twenty-Something Travel)
Rule #4: Be realistic
If I were making my dream wish list of places to try in any one area, I could probably make it stretch on for hours and hours, with dozens of restaurants to try. In reality, though, you have one afternoon and one stomach — and once those two are spent, you’re done. So curate your list carefully: Most food tours I’ve taken have involved five to seven different tastings, usually all within walking distance of each other. This seems like a good balance that allows you to try quite a few different things and not end up feeling sick.
Rather than attempting to eat at every restaurant in Rome, choose the ones that look best to you. (Photo: Stephanie Yoder/Twenty-Something Travel)
Rule #5: Take something home
You may be about to sink into a food coma now, but after a four-hour nap, you’ll wake up disoriented — and somehow famished again. Make sure you have some leftovers you can dive into at that point, or at least pick up extra cookies, dumplings, cheese, or whatever else while you’re out. There’s something about post-nap food that tastes so delicious, you’ll want to go to sleep just so you can wake up again and repeat the cycle.