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- You like to explore various cuisines in depth and in context
You love to eat Indian food but haven’t experienced cashew burfi (a marzipan-like confection), parathas stuffed with methi (fenugreek leaf) and panir cheese, or sheermal (saffron naan bread cooked in a tandoor), a specialty of the Muslim community of Lucknow and a legacy of the Mughals.
You love baklava, but haven’t experienced hot, freshly-made salty cheese filled kunefe from Nazareth, famed throughout the Arab world for the quality and variety of its sweet pastries.
You love ceviche but haven’t experienced Arab-style ceviche made from fresh-caught Spanish mackerel in the coastal fishing town of Acco.
You love pasta but haven’t experienced hand-made orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) made by ladies who form the pasta on wire trays literally on the streets of old Bari.
- You are curious about uncommon local ingredients
Have you ever used orange blossom water in your kitchen? Try substituting it for water in any sweet pastry dough as Moroccan cooks do.
Have you ever tasted mastic in Mastiha liquor, mastica-flavored loukoumades (fried “doughnut holes”) or mastica-marinated lamb kebobs from the Greek island of Chios, the only place in the world that harvests this delicious, healthful tree resin?
What about “grano nero”, blackened wheat flour from Puglia where it was originally a food of the poor gleaned from fields harvested with gas-powered threshers that burnt the wheat in the field?
Maybe you’ve tasted black wheat but what about smoky green wheat known as freekeh from the Levantine countries of Eastern Mediterranean?
- You want more from a tour than a packaged list of “must-sees”
While you must see the magnificent Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, you could also visit an organic winery in Morocco with its own farm producing all the food served in its restaurant.
While you must visit Masada in Israel, you might also go on a foraging adventure with a local expert in wild foods and then cook your own meal
While you must see Florence’s Duomo, go deeper into Tuscany and learn how a dedicated producer from the wild Maremma raises heritage breed Cinta Senese pigs that feed on wild acorns and chestnuts in the forest and destined to be transformed into superb salt-cured salumi without the use of nitrates.
While you must see the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, you might also visit the Marsala salt pans, where the “culture of salt” has shaped traditions passed down through the centuries.
- You want to give back by supporting small farmers, wineries, artisans and food coops
Instead of spending your money on commercial “souvenirs” bring back a jar of hand-produced Moroccan argan oil, delicious drizzled over oranges and olives in a typical local salad. The rock-hard shells containing the precious argan seeds are crushed by hand using stone mills at all-female coops, providing a source of income to country women who are then able to send their daughters to school.
You love pizza but go further and learn about the rich and tangy mozzarella di bufala cheese that is essential to authentic Neapolitan pizza. At Vannullo, a farm in Campania producing water buffalo milk from three hundred females and three very happy male companions, people line up and take numbers every morning. When the mozzarella, yogurt and gelato runs out, there is no more until tomorrow.
- You want to come home with new culinary inspiration to share in meals with friends
Instead of roast chicken, try a Moroccan chicken tajine with preserved lemons and green olives
Instead of seared steak and roast potatoes, try rosemary-scented rare T-bone sliced and served with fagioli all’ucculetto”, “bird-style” white beans with tomatoes, garlic and sage, typical of Tuscany.
Instead of shrimp “scampi”, try South Indian coconut, turmeric and mustard seed shrimp curry.
- You want a vacation full of unique and memorable experiences
Pick wild greens in the outdoor garden of a Druze family in Israel and then cooking dinner with them.
Visit a farm specializing in indigenous herbs like desert oregano and Judean savory grown in the Negev desert where the salty soil and never-ending sun yield plants extraordinarily high in essential oils
Learn how stuffed madfouna bread in made in the Sahara and baked directly on the ashes of a small fire, lending it flavor but also the health benefits of the alkaline ash.
Explore the delectable world of chocolate in Bayonne, France where Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain during the Inquisition brought the first chocolate and a tradition of chocolate artisans still found in Bayonne today.
- You are a participator rather than a watcher
Explore the bustling Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and choose the best foods in season (artichokes, favas and fennel in early spring) and prepare a delicious dinner for the group with your selections.
Make your own spice blend to bring home from Morocco, India, Israel.
Try your hand(s) at hand-stretched pasta (the best pasta possible) from two pasta artisan sisters in Orvieto. It takes technique, strength, the right rolling pin (if you’re from Bologna, it must be made from oak; if you’re from Umbria, it must be made from maple), and the perfect tender dough made from lower-gluten soft wheat flour.
Cook a shared dinner at the outdoor rooftop cooking school on the top floor of a family home in Delhi, at another rooftop cooking school in the elegant, arts-focused city of Lucknow.
- You enjoy sharing new experiences and challenges with others
Food is more fun when its shared. When the group dines out, everyone shares tastes and comments and you might even make some new friends.
Learn to make Moroccan almond briouats (stuffed brik pastry triangles fried briefly and then simmered in cinnamon-scented sugar syrup.
Learn from Tuareg tribesmen (the “blue people”) why Moroccan mint tea is poured from high above your glass. Next, practice making it yourself and share the tea, pastries and conversation with your new friends.
- You want to expand your palate and eat healthier by eating seasonally and locally and emphasizing plants rather than meats Experience the delicious possibilities of the famed Cretan diet based on an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and plenty of legumes like lentils and favas.
You are trying to eat a mostly vegetarian or even vegan diet but are tired of limited choices. India has developed the most imaginative vegetarian food on the planet including an entire cuisine based on chickpeas like pakora (vegetable dumplings in spiced chickpea flour; khaman dhokla (steamed chickpea flour cakes) from Mumbai, and chana dal (split chickpeas simmered till soft and topped with butter-fried whole spices.
Learn what “catch of the day” really means in Puglia and Sicily: not cases of farm-raised fish all the same year round but a selection of a few different small whole fish, so fresh they came out of the water that same morning and cooked to order.
- You enjoy cooking foods from around the world
Like Puglian Fave e Cicoria, split dried yellow fava beans simmered with extra-virgin olive oil and bay leaf with sautéed chicory greens & garlic toast, delicious and vegan.
Like Moroccan lamb shank tajine flavored with exotic and complex Ras el Hanout spice mix blended especially by the owners of spice stores throughout Morocco. The mix is also blended to help with various physical ailments, so it is much more than just a flavoring.
Like Yemenite Lachuch, a crepe-like flatbread cooked in a skillet and topped with various things including fiery green zhug, labne (yogurt cheese), fried egg and chopped vegetable salad. Cooks of Yemenite background in Israel make it in small hole-in-the-wall cafes.