So you’ve booked a trip away. Now what? Well, how about a DIY Food Tour for your time away? Sounds like a daunting task, where do you start? What resources can you trust and what can you ignore for an authentic experience without a local guide? Luckily, I’ve been doing the food research for our travels for a good couple of years now and I’ll share with you some of my tips to build your own food tour, that I’ve picked up along the way.
Starting Off and Resources
Where to begin? My first port of call tends to be, Olive Magazine. A brilliant food and travel magazine, that publishes some of their travel articles online too. This a great place to start your base research and you could actually probably just take one of their City Guides/48 hours in.. Guides and have a fantastic eating experience. They have experienced foodies to do a lot of the legwork for you. They also do a great food and travel podcast which has great insider tips as for where to eat when travelling or at home, which I love to listen to weekly for ideas and to add to my long travel list.
Other publications might come up in your search, like weekend features from newspapers online. Of course, depending on the publication might depend on the budget they had for the meal. These tend to be 48 hours in a city guide or a specific event article can be useful not to miss out on festivals.
Next, I google food blogs of the area. Whether, a local blog or visitor, they tend to contain a lot more pictures than the newspaper articles, you know us bloggers love at least 10 pictures of each plate of food. There will be a blog style that will suit your type of holiday vibe and sorry but that tends to mean working through the search engine results until you strike gold. Depending on the location you might have a wealth of posts (like for Rome or Paris) but others (like my visit to Maderia) you might be a bit more limited on what you can read up on. Hopefully, you start seeing patterns of places that get repeat mentions, clear favourites but also keep your open for mentions of places that might have been out the main drag or took some travel time out of the centre as this could be your gems.
I tend to also you Bloglovin’ to pull blog posts to read on a place. You will need to sign up but it’s a free account. The search feature has been greatly improved over the years and articles can be searched by the city and blog type. Once you’ve found a useful article you can create your own Collection to save the article to and return to at a later date building up your own guides. I have so many collections saved under different locations e.g. Canada, one for the USA, one for Europe and Japan etc. I don’t have plans yet to visit them all, but you never know when you might need an article on best ramen restaurants in Japan or patisserie shops in San Francisco.
I tend to then cross reference against the restaurant’s own website to check out the rest of the menu and style. However, I tend to be a snob when it comes to type font and pictures of food and can easily be put off a place because of these in the UK. But, you need to bear in mind that a place might make the best risotto but not the best website. Also, menu translations by be not the most accurate when trying to describe an apple volute cloud from French to English through google translate. If a blog post looks good, go for it.
There is a distinct lack of apps out there for you to plan your foodie adventures on the go. However, using Instagram is also a great way to find hidden gems or locals new favourite openings. Using a simple hashtag of the location and food e.g. #romefood will reveal glorious pictures to salivate over and add to your ever-growing list.
At the end of the day, we all have our own tastes when it comes to food and literally (and pun intended) listen to your gut when researching. If you’re a vegetarian, probably don’t read and research into a blog article that lists the top 10 meat restaurants in Rome. Not into seafood, don’t add it to your list, this is the beauty of building your own food tour, you can eat what you fancy. All gelato stops, girl I ain’t going to stop you.
Organising Your Findings
As you find you haunts that appeal, build up a table in excel. I tend to add more info than I probably need. But you never know when you want to ring to book a restaurant whilst out and about and don’t want to zap your precious data roaming quota that you’ve saved for your drool-worthy Instagram posts. I include in my table of research, Name of the Spot, Address, Telephone Number, Style of Place e.g. casual fusion, smart French, Bakery and then Speciality, has there been a certain dish that is mentioned in your research that you must simply try. In Verona, this swayed were we ended up based on the speciality to try there.
Now you can leave it at that stage and have your lovely table to print out and tick off the visited places whilst on your merry way. Or, you can take it to the next level. Oh boy, you want to take it to the next level. There are two methods of this. Firstly, manually add the stops to a Google maps. When doing this for our Verona trip I found you couldn’t number the markers on the map- a bit irritating. But if you number the marker label to match the number on your table, when you print the map it will have the number so you can cross reference the spot on your map and table. But you’ve got a lot of just red markers on your map and it’s not that clear, well you can edit the marker to an icon. I worked through the image markers rather than colour. So on your key on the map, not only will you have an image marker but the numbered label to cross-reference with your beautiful table. It’s really easy just a bit time consuming but really worth it. It meant that if we were peckish, we could check where we were and what type of places were nearby or did we need to walk further to a great treat spot.
The second method is new to me but want to use it more in the future. Fusion Tables by Google, you can simply load a CSV file into the system and it does all the donkey work and creates a map for you. If you do your excel table straight into a Google Sheets then you can upload that information straight away. It will also add the data that you had in your columns such as Style of Place and Specialty to the marker label. A lot quicker to plot all your places and with the easy tutorials, you can alter the markers to icons in a blink of an eye.
A Note on TripAdvisor
There is a reason that I didn’t mention TripAdvisor under the resources section. It’s not that I think bloggers and magazines outweigh peoples experiences, however from my experience it the tends to be a lot of negative reviews to a positive one and an outlet for people to rant. Don’t get me wrong a bad experience can ruin a holiday but a bad review could ruin a small business. Most negative reviews I’ve read of places actually could have been resolved in person at the time not when you’ve stewed over it for a couple days when the review was written. Granted there are times complaints might not have been dealt in the best possible way. What I’m trying to say is take the reviews with a pinch of salt. Read the reviews on your favourite local place, does it match your experience of there? I have used TripAdvisor in the past and had successes but had better finds from following the process above and compiling the list myself.
Tour Guide Companies
All of the above seems like a lot of effort for someone with a rather a lot amount of time on their hands? Well, how about checking out if there’s a food tour company based in the city that you’re visiting. Most places now have companies that have predesigned tours that will take in the culture, history and flavours of the city for you to experience. If you are travelling in a big enough group you might be able to have the guide to yourself, however being in a mixed group is always a great way to meet travel buddies. The guides know the cities and insider information as to where else is good to eat, so well worth checking with them where else is good to go. We did in Istanbul and it led to the best kebab we’ve ever eaten. Depending on how much you fancy on doing, you can do a couple of hours tour or a full day with cookery courses included. Again worth doing your research as to what they offer for the money.