Tasty Tours
April 2, 2007 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever taken a culinary walking tour? Might you be willing to share highlights and details? I'm planning to develop some tasting tours for my city and would appreciate hearing about your own food tour experiences.

I'd like to learn from successful tour models like Foods of New York, Boston's North End market tours, or Chicago Food Planet, but from a tour-goer's point of view. My plan is to offer 2- to 3-hour tours of a compact downtown environment, covering the culinary history of our area and featuring small tastings from six or seven businesses that represent classic regional food traditions.

I'm pretty set on the actual foods I'm going to focus on and solid on the historic information. This is a pilot for a potential side business for me. As I'm planning now for summer, I'd like to hear about your experiences on tours like this. For instance -

-What did they charge? Was it worth it?
-How was the balance between information and entertainment? Humor and history?
-If it was fun, what contributed to that feel?
-How was it organized? Reservation or drop-in? Payment method? Did you wear a special badge to show you were a paying tourgoer?
-Did the sites you visit offer free tastings or educational tidbits, or just show their wares?
-Did the tour host give you gifties like coupons or freebies at the end of the tour?
-In general, what would make such a tour fun and worthwhile for you?
-Was there anything you disliked?
posted by Miko to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Many years ago (perhaps 2000?) I did a big onion walking+eating tour of NYC. I remember it vividly to this day and keep promising myself I'll go back and go on another.

To answer your questions.
1) I don't remember, but I think it was in the region of $15 or $20 each.
2) I don't really understand the question well enough to say 'the balance was good'.
3) It was fun - alas, too long ago to really give specifics as to WHY. One thing really stands out - we were outside the last pickle company in the lower east side (something like that, anyway) and the tour lead had these gallon jars of pickles. We're all standing around and taking a pickle to eat and this random passerby swings in, grabs a pickle, and walks on. The tour guide just points to him and says -- see him? pickle thief! We all laughed and walked on.
4) We booked ahead of time. I don't remember if we paid ahead of time or when we showed up. Showing up was convenient - it was at a diner/coffee shop so if you got there early you had something to do instead of just wait for everyone else. We had coloured adhesive badges to show we were part of the group.
5) Free tastings at the sites -- the tour guide would go in, grab whatever, and come out and we'd taste on the sidewalk outside.
6) No coupons, no freebies that I remember.
7) Fun -- seeing parts of the city I wouldn't know to walk through. Going slow enough and with an informed, educated lead who could go into detail about very unobvious or unintuitive aspects of the architecture, history and such of where we were walking.
8) Nothing I disliked enough to remember ...

Hope that helps - if you have any specific Qs, feel free to email (via profile yadda yadda yadda).
posted by devbrain at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2007

I haven't taken one, but the culinary tours in Toronto that interest me are the Dish Cooking school neighbourhood tours. They apparently take you out and walk you around, say, Little India, explaining what all the stuff not labelled in English actually is, and then go back to the school and have an Indian cooking lesson using stuff bought on the walk.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:03 AM on April 2, 2007

Several years ago my wife and I went on the Boston North End tour. It was great, and we still talk about it. Let's see if I can answer any of your questions (it was a long time ago).

- The tour was a gift, so I don't know anything about the payments.
- I don't remember our guide being funny. She gave us some history of the area, but mainly talked about the foods we saw. I think she also got the shop owners to pitch in too. And she was very welcoming of questions and was good talking about whatever we asked about.
- Reservations, pre-paid. I don't think we wore badges. We were a smallish group (6 or 8 maybe), so I guess she just kept track of us.
- We had free tastings at a lot of the markets, but not all. Even in the liquor stores.
- I don't remember any freebies except the tastings.
- The fun part was seeing and tasting things I'd never seen before. We got into the back of a bread bakery where we saw the great old brick ovens. Mainly, though, it was just nice to stroll around town in the sun.
posted by booth at 10:04 AM on April 2, 2007

Oh my. I went on that same Big Onion walking tour about four years ago and I remember being terribly disappointed. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't what we got: a standard walking tour with a stop for a pickle here, a dumpling brought out from the restaurant into the street there, a handful of nuts from a dry goods store, and some pre-purchased tofu cubes the guide had in their bag. I'm not saying that a walking tour with little things like that couldn't work, but you really need to manage participants' expectations. I was expecting pig slaughtering and piƱa coladas and fresh pasta... and that's not what I got.
posted by whitewall at 1:11 PM on April 2, 2007

In fact, my wife and I JUST went on the Boston Chinatown tour. (It was a 'dim-sum' tour organized by the Brookline Adult Ed people).

It was great! Except for a couple of annoying points:

1) The hostess could not speak loud enough for everyone to hear her really well. What I would have wanted is someone with a nice loud tour guide voice.

2) Because there were about 14 of us, when we went into a small store, not everyone could stand near her to get all the cool trivia she was dishing out.

But on the plus side, we ate well, and we got tons of cool info.
posted by yet.another.boston.question at 11:38 AM on April 3, 2007

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