The Next Big Thing in Food Travel
Why secondary and tertiary destinations are poised to skyrocket in popularity.
For the new food traveler, nothing quite scratches the itch better than your first trip to France, Italy or Spain. But after the second, third or fourth trip to these countries, foodies start to yearn for new and different. The occasional business trips to London, Singapore and New York give us some opportunity to try new food and beverage experiences, but typically trips like that are made for business reasons and are not necessarily our first choice as food destinations. We still dream of cute cafés with outstanding views, the best locals-only restaurants and a new “undiscovered” beverage. These are the kinds of experiences that we tend to find on our own or via word-of-mouth from friends and family who we trust. Often this information does not filter down quickly enough, or more likely, our friends and family are not the same kinds of foodies that we are, and the traveling foodie is left to find new and exciting destinations on his or her own. That can take a very long time.
In the past few years, I have had the good fortune to be able to travel to dozens of countries. It’s just part of my work. I’ve had some very interesting food experiences, some that I would not mind having again, and some that I truly miss. As the consummate foodie traveler, I am always looking for new destinations that offer something truly unique and memorable for others like me. Typically, nothing I discover is brand new. People who have been to those destinations before are already aware of what that destination has to offer in terms of food and drink. But coming onto my radar for the first time, these new experiences are fresh and exciting.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Poland. It was a work trip, and I had absolutely no expectations as to what food and drink awaited me in that country. I had been contacted prior to my departure by an outbound food tour operator who runs trips to Poland. She told me that I would be pleasantly surprised. I always go with an open mind and try not to have any expectations because when expectations are not met, then we can be disappointed. When I told friends that I was going to Poland, my statement was met with blank stares. No one knew what to say. People my age remember when Poland was still a Communist country. In fact, I had visited Poland back in 1987 when it was communist. There were a few chuckles about vodka, kielbasa and pierogi. Of course those things are available if desired. But I was introduced to a new world of Polish food and drink that is on the verge of becoming one of the world’s most interesting “new” cuisines.
My first stop was at Mierzęcin Palace Wellness & Wine Resort, northwest of Poznan, in the western part of Poland. We toured the vineyards on this beautiful estate and then went to taste the wines. That’s when I knew that Poland had something truly remarkable, and yet to be discovered.
Then at dinner that night, I was blown away by the quality of the ingredients and the culinary innovation exhibited by Chef Dawid Łagowski (pictured above) and his team. He has not earned a Michelin star yet, but he is well on his way. We enjoyed some more truly outstanding wines from this winery. According to the wine maker, the estate has been growing vines only for 10 years. And in 2016, there are expected to be 200 vineyards in Poland. Grapes are doing well in Poland, partly due to climate change, and partly due to winemakers choosing the right kinds of grapes. Poland can still have cold winters, but they are not the winters of 30 or 40 years ago. Some grapes fare better in a cooler climate and that’s what these winemakers tend to focus on.
I was also taken to Folwark Wąsowo, an eco-farm with a venue suitable for weddings. Before lunch, we toured the herb gardens and old buildings, one of which would make an amazing restaurant. Lunch was simply outstanding. Folwark makes their own fruit cordials on-site. Products that they serve were either grown or produced on the farm or nearby farms. The food was fresh, flavorful and fun. I wish I had brought home a jar of cherry confiture (on the ice cream below), which was to die for. They also offered the very typical fermented cucumbers and also pickles that Poland is known for. Both are healthy and delicious. This is just one example of a food and drink experience that is flying under the radar for visitors to Poland.
As I was wrapping up my trip to Poland, I began to think about what Poland needs to do to truly emerge onto the world’s stage of unique and interesting cuisines. Truthfully, Poland is almost there. Perhaps lightening up some of the heavy dishes and experimenting more with fusion with other cuisines might be the formula that Poland needs to launch its cuisine globally. Already the high-end restaurants are doing this. However, like any high-end product, it will take a few years for this approach to filter down to the everyday restaurants.
Poland is just one example of an emerging food destination with a lot of potential. A couple of years ago I visited Ecuador and was similarly amazed by what that country produces. Jams, teas, chocolate, coffee, fruit and herbs are just some of the very basic outstanding products. As for Ecuadorian cuisine, it is heavily influenced by soups, grains like quinoa and potatoes. There are as many as 800 different kinds of potatoes in the Andes Mountains. We in North America and Europe tend to only see two or three kinds of potatoes. I never knew a potato could taste so amazing. The Ecuadorian people are so humble; they almost don’t seem to know what all they have. It is truly one of the world’s best kept foodie secrets (well, no more, now that I’ve said it).
I also recently visited Peru. Some of the dishes there reminded me of Ecuadorian cuisine, with the similar influence on soups, quinoa and potatoes. Probably the best black olives of ever had my life were in Peru. Peruvians tell me that it’s because their olives have the highest acid of any in the world. Whatever the reason, they added an amazing flavor to many of the dishes I tried. And of course there are plenty of fine dining establishments that showcase true culinary innovation. Good food and drink seem to permeate every aspect of Peruvian society. While Peru may not be a rich country, its people are happy going to bed every night knowing that they have eaten well with the local products that nature has made available to them.
A couple of years ago, we had a work assignment in Jordan. Some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted in my life was in Jordan. And I remember a falafel from a street vendor that was probably the freshest most flavorful one I’ve ever enjoyed. We went to a cooking class near Petra and I learned how to make some classic Jordanian dishes. Many people are scared to visit Jordan because of the unrest in the Middle East, and that’s understandable. However, for something new and even exotic, a trip to Jordan for the food and drink would certainly hit the mark.
What other places could emerge as the world’s next exciting foodie destinations? Everyone has their favorite “undiscovered” places, so choosing one over another puts me in an awkward position. Immigrants from many destinations have brought previews of their food and drink to the new countries that they now call home. Perhaps a better question to ask is, what cuisines am I most looking forward to trying next? That’s an easy list. I’m looking forward to the day when my travels take me to Turkey, Iran, Armenia, India, Nepal, Mexico and Thailand. And someone told me that Costa Rican coffee is the best in the world. I’ll have to find out soon. Ecuador and Peru were already doing pretty well in that category.
You can find great food and drink all over our planet. Some destinations are more ready than others to package and promote their food and drink for visitors to enjoy. Sometimes food and beverage businesses need extra training to understand how they can woo food travelers to their destination. Other times, the tourism office needs a boost to understand why it needs to invest in promoting the area’s food and drink.
There are a lot of secondary and tertiary destinations with exciting food and drink to uncover. That’s one of the exciting things about being a foodie who travels. We are inherently explorers, and our next great meal is only a plane ride away.