x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 December 2017

Off the eaten path: 8 immersive food adventures 

From Norway to the United States, get a taste of the wild when you travel, where hands-on dining goes to new lengths 

Courtesy Plan-it-Fez
Courtesy Plan-it-Fez

They say the world is your oyster, but with the latest wave of foodie tourism it could also be your ground-smoked alpaca or perhaps your forest-foraged nettles.

Culinary travel is trending in 2017 and travellers’ demands for immersive experiences are changing the face of dining out around the world, bringing freshly plucked wild ingredients into the city or taking guests outdoors for alfresco dining with a difference.

Recent research from The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) shows that one in every four adventure itineraries now revolve around food experiences. From food markets and tasting sessions to cooking lessons and farm visits, tourists are showing a real desire to connect to a place through authentic cuisine and tour companies are following suit, with experiential tasting adventures and a flurry of regionally-fused trips that allow travellers to season their next adventure whichever way they like.

From ground-smoked meat in ancient Inca territories to foraging for wild herbs in remotest Norway, these food-centric trips are sure to whet your appetite.

Tea tasting in Ceylon

A tea plucker in Ceylon, Sri Lanka. Photo by Adam Golec
A tea plucker in Ceylon, Sri Lanka. Photo by Adam Golec

For tea connoisseurs, a visit to Sri Lanka is a must. This year marks 150 years since the first tea bush was planted on the teardrop-shaped island and, to celebrate, Resplendent Ceylon are offering travellers a package that’s geared towards giving guests a real taste of the country’s signature brew.

Checking into the luxury Taylor Owner’s cottage in the heart of the Dunkeld Estate, you’ll be surrounded by the rolling hills of south central Sri Lanka’s Bogawantalawa region – known as the golden valley thanks to its abundance of tea bushes. Your experience begins with a dinner hosted by a local tea historian followed by a night trail through the estate, keep an eye out for lizards and wild boar.

Afterwards, you’ll fly south by seaplane to Cape Weligama, just off the coast of Galle Fort for a taste of low-country tea. Relax and enjoy tea-inspired treatments at the resort’s brand new Sanctuary Spa or simply take in the coastal views. Heading back to Sri Lanka’s capital, take part in a tea mixology class before the real cherry on top – a meeting with the founder of Dilmah Tea, Meril J Fernando, who’ll join you for a tasting session while sharing some industry secrets.

The seven-night Ceylon Tea Celebration Package starts from US$7,000 (Dh25,715) per person, based on two people sharing, including road and sea-plane transfers. Etihad, Emirates, FlyDubai and Sri Lankan fly to Colombo from Abu Dhabi or Dubai from Dh1,001 return, including taxes. The flight takes four hours.

Foraging adventures

Earth finds. Courtesy Food Studio
Earth finds. Courtesy Food Studio

As well as workshops on fermenting and pickling and a commitment to sharing stories of people who believe in food that is healthy, responsibly produced and tastes delicious, Norway’s Food Studio Oslo hosts adventures in remote parts of the country where guests are invited to forage barefoot by day and dine at campfire banquets after sunset.

Taking place four times per year, expect to dine on the likes of long-fermented bread, cheese made using milk from local farms and fish served with edible ants. Because they are held outdoors, these are all one-off events, creating an experience that lets guests switch off from the modern world and focus on reconnecting with the world around them.

Participants are expected to join in with the harvesting, foraging and cooking preparations before enjoying an evening of songs, inspirational talks and animated discussions under a starlit Norwegian sky.

The next event takes place on September 30 and costs kr550 (Dh262) per person. Emirates fly direct to Oslo from Dubai with prices starting from Dh3,190 and the flight takes seven hours.

A Balinese restaurant safari

Courtesy Bali Food Safari
Courtesy Bali Food Safari

The tropical Indonesian island of Bali has long been celebrated for its temples, party scene and beautiful scenery, but now it’s making a name for itself as a serious culinary destination. Get to grips with this evolving dining scene by booking a tour with Bali Food Safari and a taste of some of the island’s top restaurants.

Take your pick from a tour of Seminyak, Ubud or Jimbaran then get ready for a foodie experience to remember, taking in four venues in one night. Locations are chosen from over 30 partner restaurants and bars with the exact details remaining a surprise until you’re dropped off at each spot by your driver.

If you’re a group of six or more, the company can create a private customised experience based around a specific theme or flavour. Run by husband and wife team Simon and Gael Ward, the pair donate part proceeds of each tour to Bali Kids, one of the island’s leading charities – so you can tuck in knowing you’re money is being well spent.

From beachside hideaways to towering rooftop bars, Michelin-starred chefs, up and coming eateries and exclusive new dishes, this foodie tour really lets you get under the skin of Bali’s evolving food-scape.

Tours start from around Rp150,000 (Dh418); Emirates flies direct to Bali from Dubai with prices starting at Dh2,320 return, including taxes.

Earthen eats

Earthen Eats. Photo by Alex Kornhuber
Photo by Alex Kornhuber

Take dining to new heights with a visit to El Albergue Ollantaytambo. Located about an hour from the Inca capital of Cusco and perched on the platform of Ollantaytambo’s railway station about 2,700 metres above sea level, this lodge is at the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Food is first-class with meals crated using an abundance of fresh local ingredients where most of the vegetables are sourced from the on-site organic garden.

There’s no head chef at this eatery, instead chefs take turns to head up the culinary team creating a real sense of spirit, and if you join for the Pachamanca Farm Lunch experience, you’ll get to be part of the aforementioned team. Translating to ‘earth oven’, Pachamanca is a traditional Incan meal, cooked upon hot rocks set into the earth. After a tour of the historic hotel which dates back to 1925, guests can explore the sugar cane distillery and on-site coffee roasting facilities. Then, it’s time to get your hands dirty as you join in the lunch preparations.

Whether you’re heating the local granite stones, burying meat and potatoes deep underground or shovelling earth on top of the fire-pit, it’s a team effort. As the food roasts, enjoy a tour of the farm and find out more about traditional Peruvian farming methods before reconvening at picnic tables to tuck into lunch as you take in the breathtaking surrounds of mountains, glaciers and Inca archaeological sites.

Tours available daily, pre-booking required with min. two guests, $88 (Dh323) for two people, not including transfers (0051 84 204014). Emirates flies from Dubai to Lima via Sao Paolo with prices starting from Dh7,580 return including taxes. The flight takes 23 hours. From Lima, Peruvian Airlines offers a one-hour flight to Cusco starting from Dh504 return, including taxes.

Mountain treasures

Foraging in Asheville. Courtesy No Taste Like Home
Courtesy No Taste Like Home

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina’s Asheville, acclaimed chef Alan Muskat was one of the first to offer a forage-to-table experience back in 1995 when when he started food gathering tours in the local woods with his company No Taste Like Home.

A firm believer that the best way to get a real taste of a place is to eat what’s local to it, Muskat has now partnered with chef Katie Button of Nightbell restaurant to create a monthly event called Gathering Asheville. Taking place first thing in the morning, after a brief safety demonstration, guests head off on a three-hour excursion where they try some solo foraging in a region that’s home to over 300 edible species.

Reconvening with the group, Muskat helps everyone sift through their treasures, separating edible from inedible and cooking up a sample platter right there in the wild. Afterwards, ingredients are dropped of at Nightbell, a speakeasy restaurant where there’s a strong focus on local Appalachian food, and this is where Chef Button works her magic, transforming the ingredients into a five-course evening meal. After cleaning off the remnants of the mountains, guests return to enjoy their personally-sourced meals.

The next event is scheduled for October 4. Tickets start at $75 (Dh275), with advance booking required (001 828 209 8599). Etihad flies to Charlotte from Abu Dhabi via Chicago with prices starting from Dh3,860. The journey time is 20 hours.

Rainforest finds

Courtesy Carmen Restaurant
Courtesy Carmen Restaurant

Get set to enjoy a Latin American gastronomic feast in the heart of Colombia, the region’s newest foodie hotspot. As one of the world’s most bio-diverse nations, natural ingredients can be found in abundance and Amakuna’s Colombian Flavours trips offer a 10-day immersion into the recent movement from some of the country’s top chefs to use these ingredients in exciting new ways.

Start with a visit to Bogota’s Paloquemao Market where you’ll join chefs to gather yuca brava, sweet plantain and purple potatoes, before heading to Leticia in the Amazon, the crossroads of Colombia, Brazil and Peru and a place that’s home to some of the country’s most exciting flavours.

Staying with indigenous communities, journey into the rainforest with local guides to forage for army ants, canangucho fruit, black ahi peppers and arapaima fish. Afterwards, chefs at El Cielo restaurant will transform your gathered bounties into delicious meals, drawing inspiration from local recipes.

Feast on Amazonian red tree bark and beef-stuffed larvae, then head on to Medellín where you’ll enjoy an excursion to a family-run farm to source more local ingredients that you’ll learn how to prepare as part of a five-course tasting menu.

This 10-night trip costs from £2,970 (Dh14,400) per person (0044 20 7193 7582). Fly with Etihad from Abu Dhabi, or from Dubai with Emirates with one connection and a journey time of around 22 hours. Flights start from Dh6,388 return, including taxes.

Dark-sky dining

Bennett's Mouth in Mortehoe, North Devon, England, United Kingdom. Courtesy Seadog
Courtesy Seadog

For those who want to catch the last of England’s climes before the winter chill, a trip to Exmoor is in order. In collaboration with the National Trust, a 10-day Exmoor Dark Skies Festival in October will celebrate the country’s starry nights in a procession of events celebrating disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.

As part of this, award-winning catering company Seadog will host a unique alfresco dining experience on October 28 where participants will have the chance to forage on a secluded Exmoor farm for ingredients before settling down to an Autumnal Harvest Feast with a menu featuring local game and seasonal vegetables.

A communal affair, guests will tuck into sharing platters in the barnyard before heading outside to enjoy delicious desserts by the warmth of a bonfire and ending the evening with a stargazing session. Having already hosted a regional riverside culinary event and a September cliff-dining experience, this nighttime excursion is another edition to Seadog’s growing alfresco repertoire.

Prior booking is essential, with tickets starting from £75 (Dh364); email seadogfoods@outlook.com or call 00 44 753 3333 976. Fly with Emirates, Royal Brunei, Qantas, Etihad, British Airways or Virgin Atlantic from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to London from Dh1,957, from where it’s a three-hour drive to Exmoor.

Feasting in Fez

Courtesy Plan-it-Fez
Courtesy Plan-it-Fez

Morocco’s second largest city is arguably its most appealing. In the walled Medina, where donkeys still cart goods through alleyways and historic ruins await at every turn, the appeal of this World Heritage Site is obvious and for anyone seeking a taste of tradition, Plan-It Fez offers a culinary immersion experience that lets you learn all about local cuisine.

The day starts with meeting your hosts, a local family who’ll take you wandering through the local souk where you’ll barter for spices, vegetables and poultry before heading to the neighbourhood farran (bakery) where you’ll wait your turn to bake bread in the oven. Your guide will be on hand to translate for you, helping you really connect with the market traders and bakers.

Returning to the family home, you’ll learn how to preserve lemons, prepare fresh mint and make traditional Moroccan salads before creating what is most probably Morocco’s most famous dish, tagine in a traditional dar. With the work of the day finished, feast with your host family sitting on cushions and enjoying your meal in true Moroccan style. The experience lasts five hours and starts from Dh767 for two people, including all ingredients, and pick-up from your accommodation in Fez.

Direct flights to Rabat start at Dh3,130 return including taxes with Etihad from Abu Dhabi. Fez is a two-hour drive from the airport.

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