Taste Porto’s tours are rooted in fundamental beliefs about the gastronomic scene in Portugal’s second city. First, Portuenses like to keep things simple: so, no fusion experiments. Second, it’s as much about the people behind the food, as the food itself. “Food is an expression of culture,” says US-born Carly Petracco, who founded Taste Porto in 2013 with her Porto-born husband Miguel and his childhood buddy André. “We like to show who’s doing the cooking, who’s serving the food, who’s supplying the ingredients, and so on.”
She’s good to her word. Walking the city with one of the six guides feels less like venue-hopping and more like dropping in for a catch-up with a series of food-loving, old friends. Everywhere you go (whether it’s the Loja dos Pastéis de Chaves cafe with its flaky pastries or the Flor de Congregados sandwich bar with its sublime slow-roasted pork special) the experience is as convivial as it is culinary. And it’s not just food either. Taste Porto runs a Vintage Tour option that includes a final stop at boutique wine store, Touriga, where the owner David will willingly pair your palate to the perfect port.
• Tours from €59pp, tours last 3-3½ hours, tasteporto.com
A single espresso first thing on an empty stomach is the secret to a long and healthy life. So says 93-year-old Carlos Pina, whose father founded coffee roastery Negrita in 1924 and who still works there. One of only two roasteries left in Lisbon, Negrita is in a former stables in the Graça neighbourhood and has survived because the family own the building: elsewhere across the city rising rents are forcing decades-old businesses to close.
Graça and neighbouring Mouraria are still home to families who shop in local stores, making the two neighbourhoods ideal for Culinary Backstreets: its food tours aim to give visitors an insight into the city’s history and culture. After breathing in the scent of coffee and roasted spices at Negrita, the tour takes in a traditional cerveceria for plates of clams, velvet crab and prego (steak sandwich). Then there’s a shot of cherry liqueur at a local corner store and a takeaway grilled chicken eaten in the no-nonsense bar of a neighbourhood association – another fast-disappearing feature of old Lisbon.
A contrast to these insights into old Lisbon is tiny A Taberna do Mar, which opened in 2018 opposite the church and convent of Graça. Here chef-owner Filipe Rodrigues combines his love of Japanese techniques, Portuguese produce and a passion for sustainability to create inventive dishes. Try samples of horse mackerel bone broth and smoked sashimi of yellow fin tuna. Even the pudding, based on traditional egg custard, has a hint of sardine. At €25 the 10-course tasting menu is a bargain and worth booking if you have another night in the city.
• €115, tour lasts around 6 hours, culinarybackstreets.com
An influx of creative talent and relatively affordable startup costs have meant the German capital’s restaurant scene has boomed in recent years. Per Meurling, the Swedish founder of Berlin Food Stories, and Liv Fleischhacker, a food writer and founder of Nosh Berlin, the city’s only Jewish food festival, are here to help sift through the glut of dining options. Tours kick off at Markthalle Neun, a refurbished food hall in the Kreuzberg area, and encompass everything from a look at Berlin’s thriving Turkish diaspora – with a stop for döner kebabs and other signature staples, of course – to German classics, such as eisbein (pickled ham hock) and königsberger klopse (veal meatballs in cream sauce) at Max & Moritz. The guides take turns leading tours but each offers insights on how the city’s history has helped shape its gastronomic present.
• €90pp, tours 3½ hours, berlinfoodstories.com
More than mere culinary tours, Devour Barcelona’s small-group sojourns dive into the history and culture of the city – and steer travellers towards lesser-known local haunts. On a morning stroll on the Tastes & Traditions of Barcelona tour, visitors skip the hordes at Mercat de la Boqueria in favour of a more civilised breakfast of charcuterie, cheeses and cava at Bar Joan at Mercado de Santa Caterina. After more stops in the El Born neighbourhood, the tour winds toward Barceloneta for vermouth and bombas (meat-and-potato croquettes) at Bodega La Peninsular and squid ink-stained paella at Can Ramonet. In the evening, the Tapas, Taverns & History tour delves into everything from the Spanish inquisition to the city war. The exact stops vary depending on the guide but may include a visit to Bodega La Palma for cider-braised pork cheeks or a glass of red straight from the barrel with flash-fried anchovies and cumin-scented butifarra sausage at La Plata, a barebones tapas joint that was a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain.
• Tours from €79pp, tours last 2½ to 3½ hours, devourbarcelonafoodtours.com
The first thing visitors note about Copenhagen is the vast number of bicycles: 43% of all commutes are done by bike. So, it is not surprising that visitors want to explore the city by bike, too. If you master the art of pedalling you should give Foods of Copenhagen’s culinary bike tour a spin as it involves exploring the less touristy areas of Nørrebro and Refshaleøen.
Cindie Christiansen founded the company three years ago and she takes guests to the hippest places in town. A tour might include modern, open-faced sandwiches at Selma, desserts at Winterspring, hotdogs from Kejser Sausage at the Bridge Street Kitchen and fermented potato fries at Tapperiet Brus. It also includes local drinks, such as Nordic ciders at Rødder & Vin. Christiansen chooses places carefully, mixing street food and fine dining. All the food on the tour is consumed sitting down and eating a full dish rather than tastings. This makes for a longer tour but also for in-depth knowledge and a more sociable experience.
• £144pp including bike rental (which is yours for the full day), foodsofcopenhagen.com
Despite its history and culinary traditions, an outdated reputation keeps Naples off some travellers’ Italian itineraries. Yet, Culinary Backstreets’ tour – one of the newest among the company’s global offerings – illustrates just how much there is to discover in this hypnotic city. The tour begins outside the old city walls in Porta Capuana with a mid-morning espresso, rum baba and sweet, ricotta-filled sfogliatelle. Next up is a third-generation baccaleria for samples of salt cod, a “healing” glass of sulphuric water from Vesuvius, and a bruschetta-like snack in the city’s last traditional friselle bakery. The 10 stops on the five-hour tour offer much more than quick bites and photo-ops. The guides have fostered relationships with the bakers, vendors, and cooks who make this food scene unique, and this allows rare peeks into bakers’ ovens and chats with artisans. A stroll among the buzzing stalls of a local market highlights a slice of Naples in an area many visitors are unlikely to see. The tour also hits the “must-sees” – perfect for those on a tight schedule who don’t want to miss tasting a Sorbillo pizza or a shot of limoncello.
• €107pp, tour 5 hours, culinarybackstreets.com
The Duchess of Palma – Nicoletta Lanza Tomasi – has a crash course in Sicilian cuisine and it begins with a tour of Palermo’s Mercado del Capo. “I didn’t realise I knew so much about the city’s history until I started teaching my cooking class to fund the upkeep of the palace,” she says, working between her favourite spice merchant, fishmonger, shouty fruit and veg traders and stalls stacked with bags of pasta.
Part food tour, part cooking masterclass, Cooking with the Duchess delves deep into the way Palermitans have eaten for centuries, from the Arab traders that first set up Mercado del Capo 1,000 years ago to the Jewish, Normans and Greeks that made this city the street-food capital of Europe. It also ends at Nicoletta’s home, the cacti-lined 18th-century Palazzo Lanza Tomasi – a palace on the city’s seafront, where the Duke’s father, author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, once sat to write the iconic novel, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard).
“I have always cooked traditional, Sicilian dishes to preserve the heritage of the island,” says Nicoletta. The four-course menu changes seasonally but street-food inspired chickpea panelle, swordfish rolls and almond and pistachio pesto ruvidelli are examples of the recipes you can get hands on with in the palace kitchen, between herb foraging on the jasmine-laced terrazza and glasses of Sicilian wine. Then on to a tour of the palace and lunch with the Duke and Duchess in the grand banqueting hall.
• €146, butera28.it
Untour’s street eats breakfast tour starts with a tasting of three of Shanghai’s four most popular breakfast foods, collectively known as the “four heavenly kings”. There are crispy, oily, fried youtiao doughnuts, which are dipped into a freshly made sweetened soy milk that also helps wash down a dense cifantuan rice ball. This stodgy-and-satisfying Shanghainese dish combines white and red sticky rice, stuffed with salted duck egg and tart mustard pickles. These are enjoyed at Xiangcai Renjia, a Hunan-style restaurant that, in the morning, doubles as a breakfast joint, making use of the free seating to serve food made by the owners of the food stall next door.
Next, the tour moves to the Xiangyang Road area of the Former French Concession, where visitors can sample pancakes, steamed buns and dumplings, all served from tiny holes in the wall. The classic jianbing, or Chinese crepe, is a fitting substitute for the sesame pancake that is traditionally the fourth “heavenly” breakfast item. Jianbing, which is best enjoyed straight off the griddle folded around egg, fried wonton skin, pickles and spicy sauce, can be traced back 2,000 years to north-east China but is now popular across the country as an on-the-go breakfast.
Elsewhere, in a tiny sit-down place next door to the jianbing stall, there are rich and flavoursome pork-filled soup dumplings, served in a traditional bamboo steamer. Of course, breakfast in a city as cosmopolitan as Shanghai isn’t all about tradition: trendy coffee shops also serve western-style choices with Chinese characteristics. At Egg, a cafe on nearby Xiangyang North Road, taste the brownie topped with peanut and numbing Sichuan peppercorns for a tingly, sweet contrast to the morning’s savoury carb feast.
• £60pp, tour 3 hours, untourfoodtours.com
Despite its name, there is more to Little Adventures’ Wonton-a-thon tour than just a sampling of Hong Kong’s iconic dumplings. Each itinerary is tailored to the tastes of the guests, and could include succulent roast goose or deftly carved duck; a dazzling array of dim sum in an old-school tea house; a jarring shot of snake wine; or learning the finer points of oolong appreciation with a celebrated tea master. Stops on recent tours include Lin Heung Kui and its array of morsels served from trolley-mounted steam tables and sizzling grills, or For Kee, a quintessential cha chaan teng, the Hong Kong equivalent of a greasy spoon diner, known for its pork chops. The tour is narrated by a member of the Little Adventures team, which includes founder and journalist Daisann McLane, a local chef, and some noted food writers. The guides are Cantonese-speaking culinary experts who beyond their infectious enthusiasm for the foods of the Fragrant Harbour – Hong Kong in Cantonese – share their encyclopaedic knowledge of the city they live in and love.
• £125pp for half-day tour for a group of three. littleadventuresinhongkong.com
Skip the gloopy stir-fried noodles on the tourist-trap of Khao San Road and explore the intricacies of Thai cuisine with Food Tours Bangkok’s Chin Chongtong, a charismatic guide who has called Bangkok home for more than 15 years. Her Chili Paste day tours through Banglamphu, an especially atmospheric neighbourhood in Bangkok, include a street-food breakfast in an alleyway lined with historic shophouses, a stop for young coconut ice-cream from a vendor that has been making it for more than seven decades, lunch with a chef who pounds all of her curry pastes by hand, and a foray into Pak Khlong Talad, Bangkok’s flower market. Meanwhile, the Thonburi Food & Art Walk ventures further off the beaten track to the side of the Chao Phraya River where few travellers go. Sample traditional Thai sweets at a shop that has been making them for 80 years and delicacies such as fried snakehead fish at Wang Lang Market.
• £57pp, tours up to 6 hours, foodtoursbangkok.com
No Footprints Mumbai’s Khau Gully (street food walk) offers a condensed taste of the city’s street food, starting with the ubiquitous vada pao at the Aram vada pao stall at the grand CST railway station – serving spiced, mashed potato fritter, deep-fried, then pressed into pao (white bread) painted with chutney. A short saunter across is Mumbai’s oldest surviving eatery, Pancham Puriwala, a magnet for migrant labourers drawn to its fluffy puris and gravied potatoes.
In cacophonous Crawford Market, a five-minute walk away, is Badshah, serving its falooda (a colourful jumble of ice-cream, vermicelli noodles, jelly, rose syrup, nuts and basil seeds), the perfect cold drink for sun-charred Mumbai. Nearby is Kyani &Co, Mumbai’s oldest Irani cafe, specialising in all manner of meaty Parsi comestibles from masala-flecked mince to chicken patties to mutton cheese omelettes. Then onwards to Parsi Dairy Farm on Princess Street, purveyors of creamy kulfi (a sort of ice-cream made by simmering creamy milk for hours) and ghee-drenched sweetmeats.
On Chowpatty beach, honeycombed with food shacks, taste pao bhaji: mashed vegetables in a bath of butter, and bhel (potatoes, onions, puri, puffed rice, with a wash of sweet-sour and spicy chutneys), and a dusting of sev (hair-thin strands of fried chickpea flour) on top. Those more stern of stomach can visit the nearby restaurant Soam for the same dishes in more salubrious, air-conditioned environs. Then to the Babulnath dosa vendor for cheese-slicked dosa and spring “Chinese” dosa, the latter stuffed with capsicum, carrots, and skewered with soy and spicy schezwan sauce. The tour ends across the road at Dave Farsan Mart, home to superb vegetarian Gujarati snacks.
• Around £30pp, transport extra, tours last 4½-5 hours, nfpexplore.com
Sangenjaya – known locally as Sancha – developed three centuries ago in Japan’s Edo period, and is named after the three teahouses that provided refreshment to pilgrims heading to the Grand Shrines of Ise. Today, little of that history remains but it has become known for its maze of narrow alleys, home to squat postwar buildings and the tiny restaurants, bars and cafes they contain.
The night-time tour by Tokyo Memories through the neighbourhood is led by Simon Berry, an Englishman who’s lived in Sangenjaya for the last decade. Berry guide guests through a couple of favourites: Takomasu, a street-side takoyaki (fried octopus ball) stall that sells takoyaki “sandwiches”; Ogata, where guests make monjayaki, a cabbage-filled pancake.
Then it’s into the alleys, to Omasu, a kushikatsu restaurant owned by baseball fanatic Yoshi-san (kushikatsu is deep fried skewers of meat and vegetables). It’s easy to get lost in these alleys but Berry navigates them confidently to Kiura, a sake bar behind a sliding door disguised as a shop’s back wall. After the oil-heavy kushikatsu, it’s a welcome change and a strong finish to the tour. The sake is refreshingly light and the food menu stretches from sashimi to a plate of lightly boiled, garlic-covered edamame.
• £100pp, tour 4 hours, tokyo-memories.com
When the French settled into Vientiane amid the heat on the middle Mekong in 1893, they puffed on opium, before a smoking ban reignited colonial passion and planning. They resurrected the City of Sandalwood, razed by marauding Siamese in 1827, with French shuttered buildings, uprighted the broken Buddha effigies, and ventured south to plant coffee. Today, the Lao capital is perfumed with roasting coffee from the dozens of cafes in low-slung buildings drawing down to the river.
Tuk Tuk Safari guide Ere will take you by tuk tuk from the main streets to a stall where aproned ladies pour water through single-origin Lao coffee in cloth filters – producing an intensely earthy caffeine punch. Breakfast may be aromatic khao lam (sticky rice, coconut milk, and taro stuffed in bamboo), lifted off the coals by a family grilling 90 tubes in their front yard each morning. Then comes a lunch of kao piak sen (tapioca noodle soup with chicken, flavoured with kaffir lime leaves, galangal, garlic, lemongrass and padek; Lao fermented fish sauce), and then a trip to a tiny DIY green papaya salad roadside cafe where you’ll grind the chillis that give Lao’s fiery tham mak hoong its reputation.
• £60pp for full-day tour, tuktuksafari.com
Once you love Vietnam, you’ll love its food forever, too. Aussie expat Mark Lowerson has loved it for 17 years and, along with partner Vang Cong Tu, navigates plastic-stool eating around town as Hanoi Street Food Tours. Mark explains colour and texture in Vietnamese food, talks of Chinese, French, and American influence on the country’s cuisine, and walks foodies through a wet market glistening with fish, and decodes the food offerings at temples while ambling through holy grounds. After bánh đa cá (soup made with tea-coloured noodles from Haiphong), and bánh cuốn (minced pork and wood-ear mushrooms in rice crepes, sprinkled with fried shallots) dipped in a sauce that balances salt, sweet, spice and sour flavours using ingredients such as chilli and kalamansi, the balance tips towards sweet. Take coffee in a tiny cafe where the floor is littered with pumpkin seed shells, and tuck into heavenly soft and chewy black fermented sticky rice with frozen yoghurt (sữa chua nếp cẩm).
• £75pp, tour 3 hours, streetfoodtourshanoi.blogspot.com
NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA, CUBA
Centuries of immigration have given the Big Apple one of the most diverse culinary scenes on the planet. Whether you’re craving Tibetan momos or Ecuadorian arepas, you’ll be able to find it in one of the city’s ethnic enclaves – provided you know where to look. Several times a month, Nosh Walks’ Myra Alperson encourages travellers to ditch the hotdogs at Times Square and follow her instead on one of 35 neighbourhood walks in search of Sri Lankan curries in Staten Island or Georgian baked goods in Bay Ridge, or richly spiced Trinidadian dishes in the Bronx. Of particular note are her tours of Greenpoint, a historically Polish neighbourhood on the northern Brooklyn waterfront, in which participants swing by Acme Smoked Fish Factory, which is only open to the public one day a week, and Pyza, a traditional restaurant serving cheese blintzes worthy of a Polish grandmother.
• $54pp, tours from 3 hours, noshwalks.com
This city of eternal spring almost never sees a day without sun, so what better way to take a taco tour than by bicycle. El Taco Club leads small groups (up to 10) through the parks, art-deco buildings and colourful markets of the city’s chic Roma, Condesa and Polanco neighbourhoods to find delicious tacos at hole-in- the-wall taquerias and street stands.
The tour, which varies according to season and day of the week, might include a restaurant where patrons are serenaded by strolling musicians, offering a speciality of central Mexico, barbacoa, which is tender mutton wrapped in agave leaves and roasted in its own juices in an outdoor pit. Or a market stall serving cochinita pibil: slow-cooked suckling pig from the Yucatan marinated in a crimson chilli and achiote paste. A small street stand prepares brisket, tender enough to make any grandmother proud. And simple tacos done with tortillas made of fast disappearing heirloom varieties of corn and organic, locally grown avocados can be sampled at star chef Enrique Olvera’s Molino el Pujol. A visit to a traditional cantina is included to top the journey with a beer or mezcal.
• £48pp, includes folding bikes, helmets, food and beverages, tour 3 hours, eltaco.club
Taste for sugar in Cuba – a nation once rich from selling the sweet stuff – is embedded in the locals’ DNA. From ice-cream to milkshakes, churros and coconut delicacies to coffee sunk with teaspoons of crystals, and cakes fashioned in neon meringue, embrace the island’s candy choices. Irish-born Cubaphile Tanja Buwalda moved to Havana 10 years ago after running a restaurant in Cork. Starting a food blog to recount her travels and Cuban food experiences, she now runs food tours explaining how and where food comes from in Cuba, dual-currency hacks, how private front-room restaurants (paladares) source ingredients, and Cuba’s organic food revolution.
With Tanja, you’ll learn as much about Cuba’s contemporary food issues as you will about what the locals snack on. Try coffee from Habaneros’ windows – an espresso will cost 3p and will probably be dredged in sugar for Cuban tastes – slurp intense guarapo (sugarcane juice), and hunt for the best cookies, and creamy mamey milkshakes, across the city. While cruising around, admire the wedding-cake architecture built during the 20th-century sugar boom and sate savoury cravings as Tanja introduces you to her favourite hamburger joint.
• £103 for 2-8 people, excluding transport and snacks, contact Tanja.Buwalda at gmail.com
If you are looking for a way to make an already exciting food scene even more edgy try the Ruta del Callao gastro tour. Callao is Lima’s port, and has its own flavour (musically it prefers salsa to cumbía) and though it has some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighbourhoods – it also has some of its most lip-smacking seafood. Callao is one of the best spots on Peru’s 2,414km coastline to eat ceviche, and Freddy Alarcón’s Combi Roja (red van) is one of the places to try Peru’s flagship dish. Freddy has been cooking on wheels for more than 30 years. With ready smile he can prepare a hake ceviche at lightning speed and diners can sit and eat in the specially adapted van on fake leather seats.
Next stop is El Colorao de Chucuito, run by Andrés Angeles, a former merchant marine who has created 20 of his own dishes. His specialities are muchame de atún, layers of dried tuna fish served with avocado and olive oil, and swordfish in sea snail sauce. In Callao all roads lead to La Punta, a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific, lined with pastel-hued art-deco homes. At its end is Don Giuseppe’s eponymous eatery, owned by an older Genoa-born seaman who met his love on the Peruvian coast and decided to stay. His restaurant is famous for its pan con pejerrey, a crispy fried fish sandwich. Returning from the furthest point of the tour stop off at Kala Tanta, a bakery run by social entrepreneurs Andrés Ugaz and Gaby Wuest who created the tour. Learn to make bread and see how promoting Callao’s gastronomy is tackling crime and youth unemployment.
• To take the tour contact gabyseptember at yahoo.com or call +51 943209365, the tour takes 4 hours and departs from 10 hotels across Lima
“This is where Bogotá’s top chefs come shopping,” says Foodies Colombia guide and chef Juliana Salazar, browsing Paloquemao market’s stalls for fruity tropical bounties such as guanábana (soursop), feijoa, pitahaya (dragonfruit) and lulo piled up in perfect pyramids. Colombians have started appreciating the natural bounty of the world’s second-most biodiverse country and flock to the city’s best-stocked mercado.
Street-food kiosks serving local dishes have also grown in popularity and, besides trying a rainbow assortment of sweet natural treats at the Fruti Fruti stand, Juliana gives the lowdown on dishes made by Paloquemao’s finest purveyors. Doña Aurora’s chicken and “meat” tamal tolimense (from Tolima) is described as great hangover fodder, while warm cheesy pandebono rolls and avena (a chilled oatmeal and vanilla drink) are breakfast staples at Pandebonitos de la virgen. Paloquemao’s street-food queen, however, is Doña Rosalba; on Sundays, she sells 2,000 portions of lechona, slow-cooked pork with dried peas and rice that are mixed back into the hog and served with crackling and a white corn arepa. Leave room to sample one last dish – traditional chicken and three-potato Colombian soup ajiaco – finishing the four-hour eating tour totally sated.
• From £47pp, private groups from two to 16 people, foodies.com.co
“Asado means uniting: I’d never eat barbecue on my own because it celebrates family and friends,” says Parrilla Tour guide Antonella Saragó at the first of four restaurant stops. Besides pushing waistline boundaries with abundant servings of meat, this three-hour walking tour also opens the doors to unexpected Buenos Aires corners, revealing low-profile but authentic bodegones (taverns) and steakhouses in Palermo and San Telmo.
The first mouthful is legendary Argentine hot sausage sandwich choripán, taken at 120-year-old La Cañita, a former store dating back to when sugar cane grew in this neighbourhood. Unusually, La Cañita’s chori is made from beef rather than pork and homemade chimichurri sauce is the standard topping. Next is pizzeria La Guitarrita (though it also serves empanadas). Here, hand-cut whole-knuckle beef pasties win out over pies, paired with fragrant Torrontés white wine.
The real parrilla deal is revealed at stop three. The sign on this secret spot’s door says “cerrado” (closed) but Antonella knows better. Here, asador Albertito Odetti tends to slabs of Argentina’s prized beef, grill hood decorated with swirly fileteado letters. It’s a legit hole in the wall, with star dishes scrawled on A4 and stuck to windows; there’s puffy provoleta (cheese), hand-cut chips, malbec and a token salad, which are worthy companions to 800g of medium-rare bife de chorizo and entraña (to share). It all concludes with dulce de leche ice-cream at Persicco.
• From £66, 3-hour tour, parrillatour.com