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Throughout Italy, the food is delicious. And what makes Italy so unique as a country is that each region, and in some cases individual towns within a region, has their own specialties. There are regional pastas, pastries and chocolates, as well as regional recipes. Each time I head to a new town in Italy, I seek out these regional specialties and when I was heading to Naples, that was no exception. When one thinks of Naples, pizza is what comes to mind. Pizza is the most popular and best known creation of all Neapolitan cuisine. Naples is also known for its cheeses, especially mozzarella di bufala, and the fresh ripe tomatoes. But there are also the pastries, such as the babà (a rum cake), sfogliatella and zeppole. And there are the meats, seafood, vegetables and pastas and their various preparations. When heading to Naples for two days, how would I ever know what to try and where to try it? Naples is 1/11 the size of Rome but it is 1/3 of the population making it the densest city and the third largest in Italy. When it came to pizza, I had done my research and had a plan. But, I had no idea what else I should be looking to try or where to go. So, as a fan of food tours, I looked for one in Naples. As I have written before, food is a cultural identifier and it is shaped by location and by history. A food tour is a wonderful way to learn about a city and its culture, and it tastes good. The food tour organizer in Naples was Eating Europe. Founded in Rome in 2011 by American Kenny Dunn, Eating Europe has grown to be one of the largest food tour operators in Europe. They operate in nine cities, offering intimate experiences of a neighborhood and its food.
Some people like museums, others architecture, for me it is food. And what better way to get to know a city and its people than through its food. Every time I travel internationally, I take at least one day to do a local food tour. While in Porto, Portugal this past week, that was no exception. But, I loved my tour so much I went on a second one the next day with the same company. And that is why Taste Porto is the Please The Palate pick of the week. Located in the Northwest of Portugal, Porto is the second largest city in Portugal with a population of approximately 214,000 people. Famous for is Port wines, Porto was a forgotten second city of Europe. However, in the past few years, Porto has exploded and is a popular tourist destination. Knowing I was going to be in Porto for a couple days, I immediately googled "food tours Porto" to see what would come up. One of the first companies to pop-up was Taste Porto, offering local walking food tours with passionate local guides. Taste Porto was started by three friends, two natives from Porto and an American, who wanted to share their love for Porto and the cuisine of Porto.
My newest addiction is food tours. Each time I head to a new country, I search out a food tour to take on my first day in the city. It is a great way to get a sense of the place and an understanding of the cuisine, which I feel enhances the rest of my trip. I shared some of the great food tours I have found in a recent story in the Napa Valley Register which you can read here. The late Anthony Bourdain once said that “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
On his show, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” he filmed 96 episodes over 11 seasons in which he shared his passion for culture, food, travel and adventure. His enthusiasm was contagious, and we were all inspired explore the world through food.
Or, at least, I was.
After all, what better way to explore a different culture than through its food? Of course, there is architecture, art, religion and nature, but food has so many meanings and incorporates everything. Food is a cultural identifier. Food is shaped by location and by history. Food can represent status and pleasure or can be for survival. Food is also about community and is a unifier across cultures.
As I traveled to countries for my first time, I have found myself in search of food. Yes, I like to eat. And, I can think of no better way to learn about a city and a culture than through its food. But, how does one decide where to go?