Hands up, who likes a pancake? The thing is, you’ll get vastly different versions of this humble dish wherever in the world you happen to be. In La Rochelle, a classic crêpe is served with a side of Breton apple cider; in Bogotá, you’ll find fluffy arepas stuffed with cheese or cassava; and in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, it’s all about chickpea-flour dosas with a trio of spicy sauces.
Learning a country’s food is a bit like learning a whole new language: there are layers of nuance to discover; it’s an education that really never ends. Happily, it’s far more fun (and delicious) than your average high school grammar lesson. So, if you’re looking to get under the skin of regional flavours and tastes, with an authentic experience like a backstreet food safari, or a family meal and cooking lesson in a local chef’s home, there are adventures for solo travellers around the world – that handily double as great ways to meet other people. Join us, for lunch on a family-run coffee farm in Colombia and wine tastings in the vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley…
A family cooking session in Vietnam
Whether it’s fragrant spring rolls or steaming bowls of phở, Vietnamese cuisine is brimming with delights. And you can get knee-deep in tasting them with a unique cooking experience, courtesy of local legend Mr Tu. This is a man who truly knows his way around the coastal city of Hoi An, having worked with its Centre for Cultural Heritage for many years.
Since home-cooked food is the best, you’ll be invited to a family meal at his home before learning how to make some Vietnamese culinary favourites – including rice paper (for spring rolls), spicy fried tofu and more. Cooking isn’t the only ace up Mr Tu’s sleeve: later in the evening, you’ll be serenaded with his guitar performance of popular Vietnamese songs, too.
Lunch with a luchador in Mexico City
It’s not every day you get to have lunch with a luchador – Mexico City’s fabled Lucha Libre wrestlers – so prepare for meals to come with extra kick. These pop-culture legends are the talk of the capital. You’ll find out all about how they train, while also working up an appetite with a duel or two of your own (don’t worry, you’ll face off against fellow travellers, rather than the actual luchador).
Next, it’s time for a street-food lunch together and, of course, Mexico delivers some serious punch in the kitchen department, too. Quesadillas, tacos, tortillas and mole sauces: prepare for a veritable feast of flavour, with an authentic taste of some of your favourite guilty pleasures. Come evening, you’ll get to see your lunching companion in action at Arena México, with the flamboyant battle of good versus evil that is a Lucha Libre wrestling show.
A feast in Colombia’s coffee country
Colombia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers and a trip to a family-run plantation will give you an insider’s view behind your morning cup of the good stuff. Like all the best experiences in life, this one requires a bit of legwork – or should that be, Jeep work. To get to the remote jungle location, you have to hop aboard a convoy of classic Jeep Willys, for a thrilling off-road jaunt across the mountains.
Once you arrive at the hacienda, you’ll learn about the germination and harvesting process, with a truly authentic look at the lives of Colombian coffee farmers. A traditional farm lunch is all part of the experience, in a day that is brimming with local stories and the taste of sustainably produced coffee.
A culinary adventure around Marrakech
Time to dial up the pace with a twilight street-food tour around the souks that line Marrakech’s Jemaa-el-Fna square. This is a chance to really dig deep into Moroccan cuisine and culture, with off-radar hotspots that pass the tourists by. From lamb kofta and harira soup to hot-off-the-griddle breads served with buttery honey syrup, there are so many delicacies to discover here.
Even better, the setting – a maze of winding alleyways with fruit stalls, fresh spices and the smell of BBQ in the air – is as enchanting as the food itself. As you weave through tiled archways and hidden nooks, the private expedition will reveal the capital’s best-kept foodie secrets. Camel burger, anyone?
Dine on a private island in Croatia
The bay of Mali Ston on Croatia’s Dalmatian Riviera is known for its extremely clean seawater, which makes for incredible-tasting oysters. Experience the wave-fresh quality of this Adriatic seafood – best served with a splash of lemon and local Croatian wines – from a family of restaurateurs who’ve operated in the region for decades.
These local experts really know their stuff and are best-placed to give you a glimpse into how oysters are farmed, along with a guided tasting session. What’s more, the family actually own their own private island just off the coast, with a restaurant that’s not open to the public. Guess where you’re headed for seafood, cocktails and an afternoon of blissful sea time?
A street-food safari in Japan
Food is such a serious business in Osaka – a city of kuidaore culture or “eat till you drop”. On this adventure, you’ll get under the surface of the city with a street-food safari that’ll take you to the local restaurants and food carts. For all its culinary credentials, Osaka is still a little off the tourist trail in Japan: meaning the foodie scene has developed to satisfy the demanding tastes of a regular crowd, first and foremost.
What’s on the menu? Anything from wagyu beef to okonomiyaki (pancakes filled with grilled squid or pork), takoyaki (delicious dumplings stuffed with nuggets of fried octopus) or kushikatsu (bamboo skewers of deep-fried meat and vegetables). It’s likely you’ll make like the locals at a tachinomi (standing bar) to try some of these tasty tidbits, too.
Wine time in Portugal’s Douro Valley
Portugal’s dreamy Douro Valley, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a scenic place to discover – even before you account for the moreish wines made here. Naturally, the real pop in the cork of this picturesque landscape lies in its vineyard heritage: Douro is one of the world’s oldest, most-venerated, wine-producing regions.
As far as atmospheric wine tastings go, it doesn’t get any better: you and your fellow travellers can sample traditional and modern labels, as you take a journey through time to see how different techniques have evolved. This means visiting a number of different quintas – local, family-run farm estates – in the Douro Valley, to see how the wine-production process works. Lunch, along with a traditional rabelo boat ride through rolling vineyards, is a highlight; as is a three-course dinner with wine pairings at a custom-designed wine hotel.
Find out more about Flash Pack adventures right here.
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Images: Flash Pack and Unsplash