Chow Town

Culinary tours a great way to learn about city’s food and history

How about exploring a new neighborhood or city, eating at great, off-the-beaten-path spots? Add a group of fun, new friends, all the while sharing stories about the local history and lore!

If this sounds like the best lunch or dinner EVER, then a culinary tour is your ticket to paradise. After eating my way along two food tours, one here in Kansas City and one while on a trip to Charleston, S.C., I am a champion for them.

Each tour I took featured an array of incredible tastes and small plates, and they added up until I had eaten more than a feast of great, local foods. We stopped at four to six spots, along a pre-determined path and had freshly prepared food served to us within moments of arriving. Each exquisite dish was a house specialty. The smoky barbecue let us taste the local specialty, the steak sizzled on the lava rock, the pizza crust was chewy, the pie was over-the-top and the cocktail was icy and strong.

We began as eight or ten strangers, some paired by two’s or three’s, but magic occurred along the journey. As we gathered around a communal table, we shared both food and lives and became friends. We laughed, tasted and talked.

The tour guide shared lore and local history. In Charleston, the stories painted pictures of early settlers, of seafaring captains and of local gentry walking by the pre-Civil War era homes. In Kansas City our group dined where Tom Pendergast may have held private dinners and made his schemes, while we enjoyed drinks served at the many speakeasies that flourished here during Prohibition.

To me, a culinary tour is a fun progressive meal to the best spots, surrounded by folks as interested in the food as I am, while talking about the city’s cuisine and history.

In Kansas City our tour operator, Rebekah Dykstra of Taste of Kansas City Food Tours, explained that tours are designed to go into neighborhoods that have a story to share about the people, the architecture or the history. Her goal is to bring people into areas they may not have explored on their own so they gain a sense of security and will feel comfortable going back. Currently she reports a great mix of locals and tourists on her tours, with tourists making up about 60 percent of the participants. She suggested that if you are traveling, you might want to take the tour on your first day in that new city so you can get tips to use for the rest of your stay.

Kansas City tours include ones that explore the Crossroads, barbecue, Prohibition era cocktails, Sunday brunch and now, streetcar finds. Check the internet for listings and pick one that suits your interests, time and budget. Do you want one with local brews or without alcohol? Is it a walking tour or do they provide transportation?

Reservations are required, and for some, you may want to schedule days or weeks in advance. If possible, reserve directly with the tour operator instead of a general travel website. Read carefully as you may not be able to cancel or reschedule. Check restrictions regarding age (for example, must be over 21 or be realistic as the time and food may not be appropriate for young children.) That special tour to the private back room or the “behind-the-scenes” peak that only a tour operator can arrange is priceless but there may be stairs to climb. Culinary tours may not be able to make adjustments for dietary restrictions (vegetarian, special diets, allergies) or physical disabilities, so ask before you book it.

Bring your friends and family — or go alone. Either way, you will have a ball, eat wonderful foods, laugh and learn. I have my next culinary tour scheduled. How about you?

Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is “Delicious Dump Cakes.” Other recent books include “Slow Cooker Desserts, Oh So Easy, Oh So Delicious” and “The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After.” She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com .

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