What's a food walk, you ask? Food walks form an integral part of culinary tourism across the world today. It's a fun concept to take part in if you are a food lover and are interested in understanding people and their lives through the lens of food, while munching your way through some delicious treats. During a food walk, you usually go out with a group of people, led by a local expert who is a food lover too. You walk down a locality and try to get under its skin through its food. You don't always have to 'walk' though. There could be variations. You can cycle your way down local restaurants, or use motorized transport such as a bus. In which case of course, it is a food trail and not a walk!
The advantage of going on a food walk is that you get to try out loads of food, carefully chosen by resident food experts, and that you get to do so in a 'strategic' manner. Walks like these typically last for two or three hours, during which, the person doing the food walk will take you to restaurants of their choice, which are usually eateries which best represent the food culture of the neighbourhood that you might be visiting. These are places which are considered to be 'safe' to eat at in terms of the quality and authenticity of the food served there. You need not worry about what to order at these restaurants. The folks conducting the walks will take care of that.
Where Food Stories Come To Life
I conducted a panel discussion on food walks at the recently held Tasting India Symposium at New Delhi. The talk focused on how food walks can help drive culinary tourism in India. Food walk veteran, Abhinav Sapra of Delhi Food Walks, was a part of the panel and spoke about the importance of storytelling in food walks.
You could, for example, go to an eatery in old Delhi and have your fill of chhole bhatoore and come back. However, when you go with someone like Abhinav, you get to know the story behind those who runs the stall today and behind the recipe of the dishes that they serve and even the stories of the people who eat here. This in turn could make you fall in love with the eatery and get you to tell your friends and family about it and this could get them to visit these places and thereby drive business to these local favourites.
What I have learnt over the years is that food walks are not just about the food that you try when on these trails. What you can get, apart from some lip-smacking food, are interesting insights into the place where you have gone to, and its culture, through the food that you eat on the walk. For example, one of the food walks that I conduct at Fort in Mumbai, includes stops at places such as the Irani owned Yazdani Bakery for itsbunmaska and chai, the Mangalorean run Apoorva for its prawn gassi and appam, Pradeep Gomantak for its bombil fry and kombi vade (chicken masala and puri), and the Keralite favourite Deluxe, for its Onam sadya served on a banana leaf and its Malabar porotta and buff chilli fry. When you eat at places such as these in the erstwhile commercial business district of Mumbai, you get a taste of the welcoming and multi-cultural foundation on which the city of modern Mumbai was built.
Food walks are also about the joy of discovery. I am extremely fond of conducting food walks in Dadar in Mumbai for example, as they serve as an introduction to Maharashtrian food which is not that easy to find in Mumbai. At Dadar you can try Maharashtrian street food dishes, vegetarian dishes and seafood ones too, and also stock up on masalas and grains and pickles used by the Maharashtrian community, which you might not find in the average grocery shop across the city.
Food Walks From Across The World
Food walks that I have taken part in across the world have taught me things that I would never have known of otherwise about the cities I took them at. It was during a food walk conducted by Shawn Henessey at Seville for example, that I came across a dish called pringa at a local tavern called Bodeguito Romero. This is a dish which consists of slow cooked pork, mixed with pork lard and choriz, stuffed in a bun. A rustic dish which became one of the culinary high points of our trip of Spain.
It was in a food walk conducted by Frying Pan Tours in old Dubai, that I first came across the middle eastern cheese, sugar syrup and ghee based fried dessert called knafeh. It was not only addictive to taste, but Arva Ahmed, who was conducting the walk, had a surprise in store for me when she put a candle in the knafeh and got me to blow it out and make a wish, as it was my birthday the previous day. A generous and thoughtful act of hospitality that ensured that I never forgot old Dubai and its knafeh.
It was in a food walk conducted by Eating Europe in Prague that I first came across the cigar-like cream filled horice rolls, which you apparently have with some dark hot chocolate on the side. What made the experience more magical was the story that the recipe used at the cafe where we had stopped, the Choco cafe had apparently come from Napoleon's mother.
i can go on about the countless such discoveries that I have made on experience how a food walk can make a visit to a place memorable for you but would urge you to go on one instead to experience this for yourself.
Planning To Conduct A Food Walk Yourself?
During the panel discussion at the Tasting India Symposium, Nidhi and Sachin Bansal of India Walks, who conduct food walks and trails day in and out in Delhi, spoke of the importance of getting one's processes in place to run a successful food walk. Nidhi Bansal, who earlier worked in luxury hotels, said that she tries to bring in the same non-negotiable focus on quality that she saw at her earlier work places, into the trails that they now conduct.
There are a number of elements that go into planning a good food walk from what I have gathered through my experiences as both someone who has conducted a number of food walks himself under the Finely Chopped Food Walks banner, as well as someone who has attended many excellent food walks across the world.
The planning that goes into conducting a successful walk starts right at the very beginning by setting expectations correct on what to expect in the walk, and making it clear whom this would appeal to, while promoting and describing the walk.
The run up to the walk has logistical factors which needs to be taken care of as well. For example, those coming to the walk should be informed in advance about where to come and meet, with landmarks and route maps if possible, the time taken to reach them and the best mode of transport to use. The briefing should include aspects as specific as how to dress, right up to the footwear, and to even details such as what sort of photography equipment would work best in the trail covered. There are some very well organized food walks, such as those run by Arva and Farida Ahmed of Frying Pan Tours in Dubai, which even give earphones to listen to the guide before setting off on the walk.
A good food walk guide, or Sherpa as some like to call it, would ensure that you pace out what you eat when on a walk so that you get to savour every dish on offer, rather than get full at the first place itself. If you are with a group of people, then you get to a try out a variety of dishes that you might not have been able to do otherwise if alone. The number of people that are there in a food walk group is important too. If you are ten and below then you get a chance to interact with everyone in the tour and make new friends as well, and focus on what the guide is saying. This might not be possible in much larger groups but the costs in the later could be cheaper due to volume advantage.
Do not forget to check for dietary and other restrictions that those coming on the walk might have but do encourage the place you are taking them to, with an open mind.
Food Walks Are A Great Way To Celebrate Your Love For Food
Don't let all the points that I just made, intimidate you from conducting food walks or from participating in them. As I had said in the beginning, food walks can turn out to be very enjoyable and give you insights to a place which you might never have got while wondering alone with a guide book.
As for me, I love conducting food walks as I love introducing people to my adopted city of Mumbai, and to its food. Conducting the Finely Chopped Food Walks allows me to do so. The participants in these walks range from foreign tourists to local expats and to even Indians and who have come to Mumbai from other parts of the country and at times, local Mumbaikars too, who want to find out more about the city. Nothing gives me more joy than seeing folks who come to my food walks fall in love with the city of Mumbai during the few hours that we spend together exploring the city. This is the spirit that I have tried to capture in my debut book, The Travelling Belly, which is centred around food trails from Mumbai and from across the rest of India too.