Ramen safaris in Tokyo. Underground cava cellars in Basque Country. Traditional cooking classes in the Sacred Valley and haute cuisine in Lima. Culinary travel is an authentic (and tasty) way to experience a destination, and our specialists in Spain, Japan, and Peru shared their favorite regional cuisine, places to eat, and ideas for your next trip in this interview.

Culinary Travel in Japan 

Omicho Market in Kanazawa

Specialist: John McMillen
Based In: Boulder, Colorado

What makes Japan a great choice for travelers interested in food?
Tokyo itself is the number one city in the world for food culture. It has the most Michelin-starred restaurants, and the most variety. Beyond its own traditional food, Japan takes the best cuisine from around the globe and makes it better—French, South American, East Asian, and beyond. The best thing about the food scene in Japan is that the price you pay for your meal doesn't determine quality. You can get amazing meals for super low prices. From five dollars to hundreds of dollars, incredible care is taken no matter where you eat.

What may surprise travelers about the food in Japan?
What many travelers don't consider is that Japan is a great place to drink. There are just as many options for beverages as there are for food here. The variety at vending machines alone is astounding—you can find everything from hot Japanese soup to cold beers. And the attention to detail that permeates Japanese culture makes mixology at cocktail bars mind-blowing. Travelers can partake in whisky, sake [rice wine], and shochu [another distilled spirit] tastings throughout Japan as well. 

What are a few unique culinary experiences that you offer?
We're able to set up an exclusive morning lunch with a world-renowned sushi chef. You wake up at 6 in the morning, visit the fish market with the chef, and make a sushi lunch together with the option to help or just watch. Another fun experience is the Tokyo ramen safari, which takes guests to multiple ramen shops over a few hours, trying different varieties along the way. This can be catered to dietary preferences. And travelers going to Matsumoto can learn how to make buckwheat soba noodles in a workshop.

Specialist: Kathie Callum
Based In: Kyoto, Japan

What are some different regional cuisines in Japan?
Mountainous areas are known for soba noodles and sake, as the buckwheat and mountain-fed waters are key to producing these items. Kyoto is known for its kyoyasai, a vegetable native to the area, and tofu—which is far different from the tofu you will find in your local supermarket.

I think a dining style to definitely try is kaiseki, where a series of courses with various preparations of food are presented in artistically beautiful form. My absolute favorite treat is gohei mochi, a simple food found in the Kiso Valley in Nagano and Gifu prefectures where roughly pounded rice cakes are grilled with a sweet-savory sauce with miso, sesame, and walnut paste. 

What are a few unique culinary experiences that you offer?
Our small group culinary tour goes deeper than most by including unique experiences organized especially for our guests and that would not be possible to arrange independently.  For example, in the Takayama and Hida Furakawa areas, you learn about the art of earth-oven cooking and visit a locally run sake brewery. You can also enjoy a 'food-scape' meal with a local chef, learn about the seafood culture of Awaji Island, go foraging for vegetables, and enjoy a kaiseki dinner produced by a master chef.

What should travelers keep in mind while planning a trip to Japan?
Dietary restrictions that are common outside of Japan, such as gluten-free diets, and vegan or strict vegetarian diets, can be challenging to accommodate in Japan due to the pervasiveness of soy and miso (which contain gluten) and dashi (a stock made from dried fish).  For the best experience of Japanese cuisine, come with an open mind and embrace the many new and delicious things you can try that reflect the local culture and cuisine.

Learn more about Culinary Travel in Japan

Culinary Travel in Spain

Explore the underground cava cellars of Basque country on a private tour

Specialist: Patricia Marques
Based In: Huesca, Spain

What are some different regional cuisines in Spain?
In Madrid, you must try los callos a la madrileña and the place to go is La Tasquita de Enfrente, a restaurant located on Calle Ballesta in one of the most traditional areas of Madrid. Juanjo López has been able to maintain the tradition of the restaurant, fusing it with modern day cuisine, without losing that special touch of the traditional. 

In Seville, especially in the summer season, its all about cold dishes, and that’s where Andalusian gazpacho comes in. If you want to taste the traditional dish with some tapas, head to the bar Grana y Oro, a benchmark of good Sevillian tapas, located in the neighborhood of Los Remedios since 1964. Traditionally, it has been a meeting point for lovers of bullfighting, a world to which it owes its name.

During summers in Malaga, you'll see old, traditional fishing wooden boats stuck on the sand that have been turned into grills for sardines—here you need to order the traditional espeto. Go to Playa del Pedregalejo, the old fishermen's quarter, which has several restaurants featuring espeto; Andrés Maricuchi is one of the most famous in the area.

What is your favorite place to eat?
One of my favorite places to eat it is at the Terraza Martinez in Barcelona. You can have one of the best paellas in a hidden gem restaurant with great views of the city and seaport. And if you're touring the Basque coast, stop at the Elkano restaurant in Getaria, a small fishing village. Elkano it is undoubtedly one of the best fish and seafood steakhouses in Spain. The ingredients are excellent, and the fresh fish is always at the perfect roast point. The owner, Pedro Arregi, is personified kindness, making you feel at ease as soon as you enter the premises.

What are a few unique experiences or trips centered around food that you offer?
We offer cooking workshops with a local guide and chef, including a fun visit to the local market. In Valencia you can learn how to cook the perfect paella, in the Basque country you can discover the secrets of Michelin-starred restaurants by learning their techniques, and in Seville, you'll make tapas, those tiny bites beloved by the Spanish. In the south of Spain, we organize daily tours to a sherry winery and an Iberian ham farm (Jamón de Jabugo).

We also organize seasonal private tours with traditional Almadraba fishing boats. During spring months, bluefin tuna migrate from the depths of the chilly Atlantic into the warmer spawning grounds of the Mediterranean. These enormous fish build up blubber to keep warm, which is what makes the Atun Rojo de Almadraba the most delicious tuna in the world. The traditional method of the heavily regulated Almadraba harvest is unique to the Costa de la Luz and dates to the time of the Phoenicians. 

What will surprise foodies about your country?
From the moment you step out off the plane, you will find a variety of Spanish-style bars and restaurants. Spain is the country with a higher number of bars per citizen, 175. This brings us to the fact that eating and drinking it is very important in our culture. Every celebration will be surrounded by food and drink, and if we have nothing to celebrate, we will come up with something just to meet with family and friends for lunch. For us the bars and restaurants are more than places to eat, these establishments are social meeting places where people can have fun by watching a soccer game, having a coffee, eating, drinking...

Learn more about Culinary Travel in Spain

Culinary Travel in Peru 

Cooking class in Cusco

Specialist: Nicholas Cino
Based In: Lima, Peru

What makes Peru a great choice for travelers interested in food?
Food is a huge part of Peruvian culture, with a huge variety of flavors: ceviche, lomo saltado, 3,000 types of potatoes, 300 species of corn, Amazonian fruits, coffee and cacao beans grown in the cloud forest, and more. There's a unique mix of African, Asian, European and Andean influences in the food that you won't find anywhere else in the world. 

What are some different regional cuisines? 
Anyone who has visited the country can tell you that diversity is one of its main differences. We always tell our travelers that Peru is a place where you can have breakfast next to the ocean, cross the desert to have lunch next to snowy peaks, and finally descend into the rainforest for a tropical Amazonian dinner. All in one day! 

Coastal northern cuisine is very famous for its seafood. They make really good chinguirito, a kind of ceviche made with a dried salty fish, and also a really good seco de cabrito, roasted goat cooked with local chilies and other spices.  Central and southern coastal cuisine is known for lomo saltado, strips of beef cooked in a wok with vegetables, and conchitas a la chorillana, scallops cooked with lime juice.

Andean cuisine is known for its quinoa dishes nowadays. A very popular option in the Colca Canyon is the vegetable quinotto, a quinoa based risotto cooked with vegetables and Andean cheese. But my personal favorite is Amazonian food—it's much less explored, and uses produce not common in other areas of the country. They have really great citrus such as camu camu, used to make local ceviches, and really good fish, paiche being one of the most popular.

What are some of your favorite places to eat in Peru?
In Paracas Bay, I am obsessed with the causa de cangrejo, a cold entree made with potatoes and crab, at Intimar Restaurant and Lodge. The vegetable risotto of Killawasi Lodge is my weak spot, and I always go for it when I’m around.

In Arequipa, my first choice is always La Benita (the one close to the main square), where they do awesome degustation menus that are more than enough for two people and give a taste of various local specialties. And in Cusco, Chifa is a great Peruvian-Chinese fusion place. They have great options of dishes to share and I really like their cocktails too! They had an amazing lemongrass chilcano last time I was there.

What are a few unique culinary experiences that you offer?
Enjoying a traditional Pachamanca in the Andes is a must for me. It’s so much more than just a meal, it has so much symbolism. A pachamanca is cooked underground, using previously heated stones. As you unearth it, it’s symbolically, the Pachamama (Mother Earth) providing for you. This type of meal is usually accompanied by a brief gratitude ceremony.

Another classic that we offer in many places in Peru is a cooking experience. It’s a lot of fun, we go to the market to purchase ingredients and then head to our cooking venue together with a local chef. Because our cuisine is so varied, this experience is different in every city—what you prepare in Lima will differ from what you do in Arequipa or Cusco.

Finally, for people who are interested in coffee and cacao, we have some very unique experiences too. We can spend a couple of nights with local coffee and cacao farmers near Machu Picchu or in the northern Amazonian city of Tarapoto—in both cases, it’s a lot of fun.

Learn more about Culinary Travel in Peru