Tag along with fishermen off Kerala’s waters, make cheese in the scenic Nilgiris or lose yourself in Jaipur’s spice bazaars — a culinary holiday is the new cool for the discerning Mumbai traveller
When a relative recently invited 31-year-old city-based choreographer Kainaz Kas-navia to witness the festival of Lohri in Chandigarh, she decided to extend her trip to Amritsar too, just so she can feast on the street fare. "My husband and I are foodies and we've always been tempted to try the Amritsari food flashed on travel shows on TV. So, we looked up a few addresses online, booked a hotel near the food hubs and enjoyed the street food experience," recalls Kasnavia, who tucked into Aloo Puri at Kanha Sweets, the Roast Chicken and Keema Naan (dubs it 'the best') at the popular Beera Chicken House, and joined the langar at the Golden Temple.
Fishermen casting a net at Kannur, Kerala. Pic courtesy/Cox and Kings
Kasnavia is part of a small but emerging band of Indian travellers who combine their passion for food with travel. "While pure food-based travel in India hasn't got where it's at in international cities, there is a growing interest to design travels around specific food itineraries. In 2015 alone, 5-10% of our enquiries had a very specific F&B-led request to them. And up to 80% of our regular itineraries feature a form of gastronomical experience, be it learning to cook the local cuisine, food walks or a visit to local eateries," shares Vikram Ahuja, founder of Bengaluru-based experience-led travel company, Byond Travel. Ahuja has conducted tea trails to Sikkim and Darjeeling, Goan food tastings in the sunshine state and even a five-day trip to Kerala, where guests learnt to use the Chinese fishing nets and cook their catch with help from locals.
Make cheese at Acres Wild in Coonoor
A decade ago, the idea of making cheese in the Swiss-like locales of Coonoor, nestled in the Nilgiris would have sounded far-fetched. Thanks to filmmaker Mansoor Khan's organic cheese making farmstay, Acres Wild, it's possible to sign up for a two-day course to learn how to make cheeses — from Gouda to Gruyere and Parmesan — from his wife, Tina. "We limited the course to two days as most people can't spend more time than that. Typically, it takes a full day to make one cheese. However, you can learn extra cheeses if you have additional days to spend at our farm," shares Khan, adding that increasing disposable incomes and the popularity of food and cookery shows on TV have sparked curiosity over different cuisines.
Enjoy a tea trail in Darjeeling
Besides soaking in the Northeast's natural wonders, interest in its adventurous cuisine is also high. "Guests sign up for our food-backed experiences," shares Rohan K Abraham, founder of India Trail that personalises North-east-specific tours. One such is a six-day culinary trip to Nagaland where you learn to identify local ingredients and cook dishes like Bamboo Shoot Chicken and Bhut Jolokia spiced Pork, over firewood at a traditional Naga home.
A variety of ingredients on display inside a traditional Naga home
Travel with a chef
Taking the concept a notch higher is MasterChef Travel, operated by Cox and Kings that allows guests to enjoy intimate journeys to Kashmir, Kochi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Jaipur or Agra, with a culinary expert, indulging in cooking demos and discovering local markets together. "These are personalities from one of the MasterChef shows worldwide — either former contestants, presenters or professional chefs who have appeared on one of the shows. Many trips also feature local culinary experts who may not be connected to the shows, however, all offer insights into sourcing ingredients and hands-on cookery lessons," shares Karan Anand, head — relationships, Cox and Kings Ltd. Ranging from '70,000 to '1.3 lakh, the prices may burn a hole in your pocket, but then again, wouldn't an Indian spice odyssey across Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai, with well-known MasterChef Australia 2013 contestant, Rishi Desai, be an experience to savour?
>> Cooking lessons with an expert chef
>> Food walks and market visits with local guides
>> Visit to popular restaurants or off-the-grid eateries
>> Vineyard or brewery visits
For your next culinary holiday
>> Make gourmet artisan cheese from scratch at Acres Wild in the Nilgiris. LOG ON TO www.acres-wild.com
>> Opt for tea trails in Darjeeling and Sikkim, cook authentic fare in Kerala or step into the kitchen of a royal family in Rajasthan. Coorg, Hyderabad and Goa also offer opportunities for culinary tours. LOG ON TO www.byond.travel
>> Learn Keralite recipes from chef Nimmy Paul in Kochi or take a food tour of India’s Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
LOG ON TO www.mastercheftravel.co.in
>> Discover local ingredients and learn traditional styles of cooking Northeastern cuisine.
LOG ON TO www.indiatrail.org
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