People travel for many reasons be it love for adventure, history, culture or religion. Apart from these, one big r eason for people to hit the road is food. Food walks and curated culinary experiences are an integral part of culinary tourism and ar e highly popular with people looking for discerning travel experiences.
One of the best ways to soak in and experience the essence of a place is via its food. There is nothing more exciting than exploring narrow alleys and hidden nooks and corners of a city in search of unique culinary traditions and authentic food.
Treasure trove of culinary secrets
Just like the rest of India, the southern states of our country boast of a rich culinary heritage that is steeped in history, culture and religion. Whether it is the legendary Mysore Pak of Karnataka or the royal Jauzi ka Halwa of Hyderabad or the traditional Kerala Puttu or the innovative Murukku Sandwich of Chennai, the fare is extensive and eclectic. The best part about food walks is that they help unearth the unique and the authentic with stories of history and culture ‘peppered’ in. “Local cuisine all over the world is not just about food but is a deep dive into the culture of the land. That’s the beauty of a street food tour,” says Vinay of Gully Tours, an organisation that conducts a host of experiential walks including food walks in Mysuru, Bengaluru and Coorg. Visiting a 100-year-old local market in Mysuru, sampling Mysore Pak from the great grandson of the person who invented this dessert, exploring some of the finest coffees in Coorg are just few of the unique experiences you can expect with Gully Tours. So, while food is the focal point of any food walk, there is a lot more than just food that you can take away. One can learn about stories behind dishes, what incident drove them to be invented and how they became popular.
“The actual pulse of any city can be experienced only when you walk its bylanes and explore the local culture and food in places that have been around for decades,” says Ravi Khubchandani, General Manager, Novotel Hyderabad Airport.
Beyond the obvious
It goes without saying that there is much more to Hyderabadi cuisine than ‘biryani’ and Chennai has much more to offer beyond ‘idlis and dosas’. “Hyderabad with its rich history has seen various cuisines thrive beyond its own. Arabic, Yemeni alongside local Telangana and Andhra have all found their footing here. So, during our walks we discover the delectable world of Hyderabadi broths and gravies like the ‘Marag’ and ‘Paya’ that are best paired with the traditional bread called ‘Char Koni Naan,” says Ashis Nayak who started FoodDrifter in Hyderabad along with Neidhi Kumar. Ramadan Haleem Walks and The Breakfast Walks that combine authentic Hyderabadi breakfast and street food are some of the most popular walks of FoodDrifter.
Steering clear of stereotypes and the mundane, is the key to hosting a successful food walk. “The focus should be on the exclusive items at each place rather than all items at all places. It is only then that you discover the speciality of a place, whether it is cost, taste or the nostalgia,” says Sridhar Venkataraman who helps curate food walks in Chennai. Sridhar facilitates walks that cover a variety of areas, each of them having some unique aspects based on demographics. For example, the Mint Street Food Walk is concentrated around Rajasthani and Gujarati food while the West Mambalam focuses on vegetarian South Indian snacks and quick eats. Mint Street in the bustling Sowcarpet area of Chennai is where you can gorge on some delicious North Indian snacks like hot jalebis, pav bhaji and aloo tikki chaat.
Research and choosing the outlets
Food quality, good service, safety and hygiene are some of the key factors that food walk organisers are mindful of when showcasing outlets. Also, there needs to be a certain significance in terms of tradition, history or culture attached to the establishment and the food. “We work a lot on our presentations to make them engaging and entertaining. All our trails are researched and the content is vetted by our panel of historians. We then write our own stories. Our walks are more like delightful conversations between the storyteller and the guests,” says Lakshmi Shankar, Business head, Tours: Storytrails India (P) Ltd who curate walks in Chennai, Madurai and Puducherry.
“The places should have some heritage and historical value” says Mansoor Ali, founder of Bengaluru by Foot, an organisation that conducts walks in several areas of Bengaluru. Right from sampling good old South Indian food in Basavanagudi, the company also offers a uniquely christened ‘Shivajinagar spare parts walk’ which is a treat for non-vegetarians and meat lovers!
Interactive and enjoyable experience
Food walks today are also informative and engaging like the one offered in Kochi. “Kochi is the commercial capital of Kerala and hence one can enjoy food from all the 14 districts in Kerala here. In addition, Kochi was a well-known trade centre even much before European countries started colonising it. This has influenced Kerala’s cuisine heavily and our food walks showcase this aspect,” says Karthik Murali, founder of Eat Kochi Eat who run two main food walks on request, The Fort Kochi Chronicles and the Kerala Express.
Words: RASHMI GOPAL RAO