Want to combine wanderlust with a desire to sample authentic Indian dishes in traditional kitchens or scenic spots across the country? As a personal touch, you could also shop for the ingredients in some of the vibrant and bustling open-air marketplaces that India offers. All this and more could be yours for a price - thanks to the genre of culinary tourism.
As gourmands from Britain, the US, Scandinavia, Europe and Africa troop into India to experience its food culture, tour groups and exclusive food travel consultants have come up with special packages to offer the best of the country's food regime. Whether it is the age-old Mughlai fare of old Delhi, rustic dishes of rural Rajasthan or the quintessential fishy affair in West Bengal, the Indian food-travel trail runs deep and promises to throw up surprises.
Mexico resident Katja Gaskell, co-founder of globetotting.com, an online travel portal that caters to families, designed a nine-day tour of Rajasthan for families that includes a jeep safari and picnic lunch in rural Rajasthan, a royal dinner in a magnificent fort setting and cooking lessons with a local family where you'll learn how to create your own Rajasthani meal. "This nine-day holiday explores the history and culture behind some of the region's most celebrated dishes and will teach visitors that there's more to Indian cuisine than simply chapatis and curries," Gaskell informed.
Mumbai-based travel photographer Mayank Soni, co founder of Caribou Drift, who takes groups to virgin locales in North East and far north Kashmir, also includes a 'dose' of culinary trails on the itinerary.
"Discovering the culture of a place is an integral part of the way we travel, and local food often provides a delicious window," he smiles. He explains, "Our trip to Arunachal in Ziro Valley in March coincides with the local tribes Myoko celebrations, that have the 10-day trip to Ziro valley in March, Rushina Masala Trails's popular Grand Road Market, seafood tour, spice tour for an owner of a spice shop from UK
Day tours, which anyone can sign off. Her sister Himanshi based in Australia, who Foodie Trails, do tours with elements of Indian Food. Rushina in fact also offers cooking classes, Indian home cooking for expats and foreigners. In the same breath are the chai walks conducted by Tea sommerliar.
While a fitting rural setting is the draw for tourists from Britain, picking out fish and exotic produce like yam lures gastronomes to narrow their narrow alleys of southern Kolkata's Jadubabur Bazar or Lake market. Tailored for them is an offbeat walking tour offered by Calcutta Walks, a city-based walking tour company. In the "Bengali Cooking Lessons" tour, enthusiasts can learn the art of making Bengali staples like loochi (leavened round flour bread), chholar daal (Bengal gram curry), rice dishes, Bengali chicken curry or jhol (broth) and vegetarian items like baingun bhaja (eggplant fritters). But the real deals are the iconic fish receipes (hilsa, rohu and bhekti or Indian carp) with a hint of the trademark mustard. "We teach them to cook rohu/katla fish made with mustard or doi (rohu or Indian carp infused with the flavours of mustard and curd), shorshe baate diye maachh or doi maachh (mustard fish and curd-flavoured fish) and bhetki fillet. The lessons end with desserts like payesh or kheer, malpua and jaggery-based caramel custard," said Calcutta Walks founder Explorer Ifte.
The advantage of a trip to the market is that it familiarises one with the ingredients that go into these dishes. After the exercise, tourists can then get hands-on training in cooking from either a regular homemaker or owners of the city's acclaimed restaurants. For Prashant Kalra, founder and proprietor, Delhi Food Tours (DFT) are a way for non-resident Indians (NRIs) to get back to their roots. "We rarely have any Indian guests as our products are designed to introduce people to India. We have had a few NRIs who are coming home after a long time or bringing their children here for the first time," Kalra told IANS adding that DFT has serviced guests from 35 countries since its inception in 2011. DFT's outings, dubbed "a food tour of India within the geographical confines of Delhi", takes one through six different restaurants with a signature tasting of teas from across India. One can savour cuisines from Goa, Lucknow, Chennai, Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi itself in a span of three to four hours in these restaurants.
Besides, cooking classes for tandoori cuisine to biryani, pakoras, parathas, korma, daal and phirni and other basic items are held at the Kalra family's private farmhouse, a 20-minute from south Delhi. So strap on that backpack, roll up your sleeves and sharpen those kitchen knives for a session of Indian cooking!
—With inputs from IANS