One of the inevitable effects of globalisation is that upon arriving in a new city or country one is faced with an enervating sense of same-ness. From Manchester to Manilla, the same shops and cars fill avenues and boulevards. The food industry is one of the largest contributors to this uniformity, with international food franchises representing 20 percent of all businesses (according to Entrepreneur's Franchise Top 500). Whilst it's clear that familiar still works, it does however make for a rather forgettable travel experience.
When it comes to leisure trips, seeking out the enjoyable and memorable is definitely a prime objective for a large number of us. Local food is one of the few remaining identifiers of any country's indigenous culture, and sampling it can lead to great (and occasionally visceral) memories of a destination. Getting off the high street and under the skin of a city in the fleeting time between the arrival shuttle-bus and our departure flight can often be harder than anticipated. As such, a little pre-planning goes a long way.
Today's world of cheap flights, Tripadvisor ratings and constant Insta-updates makes it simple for anyone to become a foodie traveller. What if we want to dig even deeper, to really get to grips with a cuisine, to travel specifically to immerse ourselves in the cuisine, where do we start? For those seeking something more authentic there are many places to look beyond the ubiquitous Yelp review.
The first stop might be to start somewhere that feels a little familiar; a place to stay where we can simply enjoy great food. The Italians have developed a less commercial, quite traditional model for pairing fantastic food experiences with travel - the Agriturismo. They combine the best of a B&B within a farmhouse, featuring produce from the local area. To qualify as an Agriturismo, it needs to generate more revenue from its farm activities than from tourism. Many produce their own olives, wine or cheese, keeping the artisanal food industry vibrant. As well as offering meals created using local produce, many run their own cookery classes – a reminder that Italy still leads the pack when it comes to appreciating tradition, slow food, and quality local produce.
Another underrated way to travel is through indulging in a foodie holiday – carefully curated excursions to regions where budding cooks can meet local producers, source ingredients direct from suppliers and learn how to create traditional dishes. For those interested in food, it also promises to be a social holiday with like-minded people. It's an area of the tourist industry that is growing; even Masterchef has entered the arena by creating a set of tours off the back of their popular international TV series.
Edible Destinations is one such operator based in the US and offering customised holidays for small groups. It's no real surprise that the most common destinations for their clients include Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Mexico and Costa Rica, however recent years have seen Americans becoming more adventurous. “Croatia is growing in popularity for the US market," says JoAnne Brundock. “It's great value and the hospitality is superb. Wine, olive oil and truffles are all of excellent quality, second only to Italy, and the fresh seafood is fantastic. Great chefs are on hand, while tour guides are all experts in the local variations of olive oil and wine. It's such an exciting place, especially if you love food."
Bespoke tour operators like these also give scope to go even further afield. UK-based company Open Trips says British clients are growing increasingly eager to travel off the beaten track, to destinations that until recently haven't featured prominently on the gastronomic tourist trail. For example, the Jura Mountains in the Western Alps, or the far North.
“As far as restaurant pilgrimages go, Fäviken, a Swedish restaurant close to the Arctic Circle, must be up there. It's hours from anywhere and you need to change trains at a stop called Hell in order to get there," says Florian Siepert, founder of Open Trips. If this sounds like a challenge, the rewards of Scandinavian cuisine appear to weigh up the effort. For those with a passion for seafood, the pristine, fertile waters at Sweden's Western Coastline offer a gastronomic paradise. Named Bohuslän's Big Five, the standouts are oysters, lobsters, langoustines, prawns and mussels. Take a fishing trip with local operators, or sample the fresh catch from one of the region's restaurants. To research your trip, visit information website vastsverige.com. Thermals compulsory we suggest.
For those after a more sedate food pilgrimage the sheer numbers of mouthwatering global food festivals should not be dismissed. How about the Alba International White Truffle Fair from October to November. Or if you're after something a little more adventurous, New Zealand's Wild Food Festival in March invites you to feast on grasshoppers, witchety grubs, and mountain oysters.
Finally notable for 2015 is the 'Feed the Planet' themed world expo in Milan, a chance to sample the world without travelling too far.