Celebrations International Travel Blog

Posts Tagged ‘India

This article in The Washington Post was brought to my attention this morning:

Travelers Turn Back to Travel Agents

Taj Mahal    Normally I don’t read articles like this in detail, but what got my attention was that it recounts the experience of a traveler who asked his travel agent to book a 10-day trip to India on short notice.  When we first opened Celebrations International Travel in 2005, we booked itineraries like this every day.  The reason was that we worked with adoption travel at that time, and most of our clients departed within 7-10 days of purchasing their arrangements.  With that being said, we had several clients who left within 48 – 72 hours of completing their arrangements.  No, that is not a misprint!

We know and understand that as travelers, you always have a choice as to how, where, and with whom you book your travel arrangements.  I’ll be the first to admit there are great travel deals to be found online, and travelers can indeed book on their own.  However, there really is no substitute for the expertise that a good travel agent brings to the table.

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Whether you are an aspiring chef or simply an epicure, culinary travel promises the opportunity to truly savor your vacation. This growing trend of experiencing authentic cooking and dining around the world allows you to broaden your education and your palate at the same time. What a decadent way to travel!

The genre of culinary travel includes trips that focus on learning to create local dishes, those that emphasize tasting and wine pairing, and everything in between. As you can see, there are many options available. Let this TRO report assist in your planning, as it will provide you with the basic recipe for culinary travel. With it, you and your travel consultant are sure to cook up the perfect culinary adventure!

The most important consideration in planning your culinary vacation is whether you want to learn traditional recipes and cooking techniques, or if you’re more interested in enjoying the end result. Those wanting a strictly educational experience might enjoy cooking alongside famous chefs in renowned cooking schools. If dining inspires you, perhaps you would prefer the company of a learned chef as your guide. Or maybe you would like just a taste of culinary arts in your trip, as you explore other cultural aspects of your destination. The more consideration given to these issues before contacting a tour operator, the more efficient the planning process will be and the quicker you’ll be on your way.

If cooking is your passion, think about attending a cooking school, many of which boast award-winning chefs as instructors. If you go, you will have to consider your level of expertise to ensure pairing with courses that suit your abilities. The less experienced might learn more through hands-on instruction, while advanced students may feel confident in attending cooking demonstrations. You can even choose to learn a particular specialty such as pastry making. Wine schools are also a popular choice, offering classes on wine making, history, appreciation and pairing with foods.

For those interested in learning to cook according a country’s customs but want to spend a little less time in the kitchen, a cooking tour may be the best bet. Along with culinary classes, these tours are peppered with visits to wineries, vineyards, superior restaurants, and local markets and food producers. With some tours, you will travel to different cooking schools to take classes. Others offer the more intimate experience of attending the kitchens of various celebrated chefs.

Culinary tour guides, many of whom have backgrounds in history and/or cultural anthropology, will tell you the history of indigenous dishes, offer guidance while dining with you, and even provide cooking instruction. Your tour may be guided by an actual chef, or may enlist the services of two guides: one culinary and one cultural. Your guide should be bilingual, even if those providing the cooking demonstrations are not. And of course, if you would like to design your own culinary dream vacation, chef guides and cultural guides can be hired on an individual basis – the possibilities are endless!

Most cooking tours will accommodate travelers with every level of experience. However, general kitchen knowledge is expected. Before you go, ask your travel consultant if class participation is mandatory, or if you may merely observe. You will also want to inquire about attire. Cooking classes are generally casual, but more sophisticated dress may be necessary when dining out. You may also want to find out whether recipes will be provided after the demonstration.

Your tour operator should be able to accommodate any dietary needs regarding meals. However, the meals prepared during cooking classes, unless the class is designed and taken on an individual basis, are usually determined by the instructor and cannot be changed upon request. There are tours designed for vegetarians, which usually take place in Asian countries. Thailand, for example, boasts an annual vegetarian festival.

If you are more of a gastronome, you will want to take or design a tour that focuses on the pleasures of dining. Many culinary travelers maintain that there is no better way to learn about a culture than by sampling its traditional dishes. Such tours often include the excursions mentioned above, as well as more standard tourist attractions such as museums and art galleries. Certain tours allow more time for exploring the towns in which you stay. There are also more active tours, which incorporate such activities as hiking, painting and language instruction. These tours also provide a good option for those wanting to dine independently.

Not surprisingly, the most popular destinations for gourmet vacationing are Italy and France. Tasting tapas in Spain is also en vogue. When visiting these popular regions, the earlier you make your reservation, the better. But Europe isn’t your only option. You may enjoy a culinary cruise to the Caribbean, or take a chef-guided tour of Mexico. For the more adventurous, culinary tours are offered in such exotic locales as Morocco, India and Vietnam. For those looking for an experience closer to home, consider becoming a barbecue connoisseur in West Virginia or cook up some Creole in Louisiana.

Travelers may also take a culinary vacation by means of a food festival. The Netherlands boasts an international food-tasting festival every August, and Georgia is home to the annual Vidalia Festival. If you appreciate good beer as much as good food, Oktoberfest is certain to leave you hoppy.

The cost of a culinary vacation varies widely. The biggest factor in determining the price of your trip is whether you opt for a package tour, which generally means sharing your travel experience with other culinary enthusiasts. Most culinary tours are packaged at a fixed price that includes daily classes, meals, excursions, accommodations and ground transportation. You will be responsible for making your own travel arrangements to the school or destination, a task with which your travel consultant can greatly assist. The cost of your trip is further determined by the country visited, the extent of teaching provided, the quality of restaurants enjoyed, and the number and nature of excursions taken.

Accommodation is also a factor. Luxury and high-end hotels are a more expensive option. Staying in a countryside villa may not be as posh an experience, but the relaxation granted by fresh air and lush landscapes could prove to be priceless. Work through the options with your travel consultant. The more clearly you state your own preferences, the better your travel consultant can work with the tour operator to properly accommodate you and your traveling companions.

When pricing your stay, remember to take into consideration any Value Added Tax (VAT) levied by many countries in Europe and elsewhere. Because VAT is often as high as 20% of the cost of an accommodation or good purchased, the amount is often not insignificant! Many travelers assume that VAT is refundable. However, this is typically not the case for services such as transportation, accommodation, food, gas or any other goods or services consumed within the country itself. Ensure that the price you are quoted includes all taxes and other fees.

Sound too good to be true? It’s all for real and with a little planning a culinary vacation can be an absolutely wonderful way to garnish your next trip away from home.

Content courtesy and with the express permission of Travel Research Online.

For a sample of Celebrations International’s culinary tours please visit our Culinary tours homepage. Please note that all our tours are fully customized!

As a follow-up to my last post, I’d like to expand upon the adventurous nature that culinary tours can take on.

I don’t mean that every culinary traveler would necessarily want to embark on a strenuous hike or go bungee jumping (although we can certainly work that into a culinary tour if that’s what they want).

Culinary travel in the truest sense of cultural immersion tends to evoke the adventuresome spirit in many travelers.  For example, how often do travelers on your average sightseeing tour to Japan get to witness traditional cormorant fishing by the Ukai fishermen, done by firelight?  In India, travelers have the opportunity to stay overnight in an ancient palace and fort that has been converted into a hotel.  In Vietnam, you can take a cycle or walking tour through bamboo thickets to a rural village to see the threshing and harvesting of rice and get a glimpse of what modern-day village life is like.

In northern France, culinary travelers may want to visit the Cointreau Museum in Angers and tour the salt fields of Guerande.  In Germany, you can visit a farm to explore the origins of authentic Black Forest ham, spend the night at a hotel with rooms constructed of hollowed-out wine barrels, and marvel at the beauty of medieval castles and rolling vineyards while you enjoy some of the best German beers and wines.  In Italy, culinary travelers can enjoy a visit to a working Agriturismo, where five restored farmhouses sit amongst a grove of olive trees and a vineyard.  The Agriturismo produces amazing wines, olive oils, and cheeses.

In many culinary destinations, travelers have the opportunity to visit with local families to share a meal and learn their cooking techniques.  Especially for travelers looking for something that’s unique and not touristy, I can’t think of a better way to experience a destination, its people, and its culinary traditions.

These are just a handful of examples of the adventuresome nature of culinary travel.   Contact us to learn more and start planning a culinary adventure of your own!

A tweet from @travelstour caught my attention just now, publicizing this article on foods named after places.

This article intrigued me for a number of reasons.  First, it was a fun challenge to see what I could add to their list.  I posted a comment with the following:

Carolina BBQ, Texas BBQ, Georgia peaches, Maryland blue crabs.

If I took more time, I think I think of quite a few more.

Second, this article got me thinking:  Identifying signature foods with certain places has everything to do with the very existence of culinary travel as a specialty travel niche.  If places were not culturally and historically identified with certain foods, culinary travel specialists like myself would not have much to talk about, would we?

Just off the top of my head, here are just a few examples featured in our own custom culinary tours:

French Champagne and Calvados, German Chocolate, Peking Duck, Edo-Style Sushi, Phad Thai, Chianti, and Rajasthani Thali

Indeed, we live in a very diverse, interesting, and tasty world!

Here is the text of an article I wrote that was published on WhereIveBeen’s “Your Daily Escape” yesterday.  Please note that the picture I’ve included here is different than that pictured on WhereIveBeen.com, and the links herein our for Celebrations International Travel’s site.

This tweet was WhereIveBeen’s announcement of my article:

whereivebeen International Flavor: An Introduction To Culinary #Travel http://su.pr/33u9Mi Thanks, Adrienne! (@celebrationsint) #foodies

Enjoy!

International Flavor:  An Introduction to Culinary Travel

By Adrienne Mitra
Celebrations International Travel

Culinary travel is an emerging trend amongst ardent travelers and food and wine lovers alike. What exactly does the term “culinary travel” bring to mind? As with any type of specialty travel, the variety of trips that could fall into the culinary travel category are as countless and unique as the travelers themselves: a weekend getaway visit to a special event like the Lobster Festival in Maine; a wine connoisseurs’ cruise; a tour of the Napa Valley vineyards; or hands-on cooking classes. What all of these culinary travel options have in common is this: The focus is not on simply having travelers eat their way through their destinations.

In my mind, the idea most intrinsic to culinary travel is that it provides travelers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culinary heritage and traditions of their destination. Excellent food and drink can be found anywhere in the world without necessarily having to travel. However, because food and its associated traditions are an intrinsic part of life, culinary travel is about experiencing a destination’s cuisine, culture, history, people, and way of life.

With this outlook, at my agency, Celebrations International Travel, we endeavor to create culinary travel that is unique and includes a variety of activities and experiences. We do this by combining elements of traditional sightseeing and cultural highlights with culinary-focused components to create customized tours. The culinary-focused components can be anything, depending on what the destination is best known for. For example, many culinary tours involve components that highlight the region’s renowned wines and classic cooking.

As a premier wine destination, your options in Tuscany are endless. For example, travelers can stay at a villa in the countryside with its own renowned chef. From this “home base,” travelers may choose to visit several wineries and sightsee in different parts of Tuscany. The winery experiences include not only wine tasting, but also olive oil, grappa, and cheese samplings. Guests have the opportunity to witness the wine-making, olive oil pressing, and cheese-crafting processes, take leisurely guided walks through the vineyards and olive groves, and enjoy visits with the local vintners and farmers. Germany is another great destination for wine connoisseurs, where travelers can choose to spend the night in a hotel room built in a hollowed-out wine barrel after a day of exploring the vineyards (pictured below)!  Guests may also enjoy a meal in the peaceful surroundings of a vineyard, grove, or farmhouse, with the venue’s signature wines as the centerpiece.

Wine Barrel Hotel Room in Germany

Stay in a hotel room built out of a wine barrel on our Germany culinary tour!

Speaking of meals, culinary travelers can enjoy hands-on cooking classes highlighting local specialties and ingredients. Sometimes the classes are held in culinary schools; other times they are hosted by well-known restaurants, villas, or bed-and-breakfasts. Whatever the venue, travelers will find themselves learning first-hand from culinary experts. In many instances, the “students” will assist the chef-instructor in gathering the ingredients to be used, either in an on-site garden or during a visit to a local market. The chefs introduce their guest students to the ingredients and guide them in the preparation of a gourmet meal that the entire group will enjoy at the conclusion of the lesson. These cooking classes give culinary travelers an excellent opportunity to try their hand at making pasta and other Italian favorites, learn the many uses of fresh Italian herbs, and enjoy a scrumptious meal that they helped create! Similarly, in Germany, guests may get to make an authentic Wienerschnitzel, learn various ways of incorporating fine German beers into traditional dishes, or try making Spaztle noodles. Best of all, cooking classes always end with a chance to sample the specialties made in the class!

There are many notable culinary destinations around the world. Domestic highlights include Napa and Sonoma, New England, the Louisiana Bayou, and the Hawaiian Islands. Internationally, France, Spain, Peru, Chile, China, Japan, Thailand, India, and Australia are some culinary hotspots to consider. No matter what destination you choose to explore from a culinary perspective, you are sure to find that a variety of activities and experiences await you.

Rasamalaysia.com is offering a chance to win a copy of this unique new cookbook.   Here’s the link to enter by leaving a comment:  http://tinyurl.com/yjhfog6

Subtitled “Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens”, the cookbook offers a collection of recipes from various cuisines across Asia.

I must confess that I wasn’t always a fan of Asian foods while growing up.  I’m an American-born southern girl of Chinese heritage; many times I preferred to stick to good old macaroni and cheese!  But now that my husband and I have combined two distinct Asian cultures in our household, we are both ardent connoisseurs of all Asian cuisines.  (We’ll still join you any day for some scrumptious BBQ, NY Strip, or hearty American breakfast any day!)

I think this cookbook is a great way to not only celebrate our Asian origins, but to acknowledge and embrace our way of life in our American homeland as well.

Celebrations International Travel currently has sample itineraries for culinary tours in China, India, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam.  We customize all itineraries to suit your family or group’s preferences, budget, and travel timeframe.

Interested in visiting another country in Asia or elsewhere in the world?  Let us know and we will create the tour just for you!  Contact us to start planning your culinary tour today!

Tonight’s State Dinner in Washington, D.C. is being held in honor of the Prime Minister of India.  While I’m not usually the one into blogging about “all things Indian,” I came across a link on the President’s Web site with the guest list.  These are the names that jumped out at me at first glance:

Deepak Chopra

Katie Couric

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

The Honorable (Governor) Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana
Mrs. Supriya Jindal, First Lady of Louisiana

Gayle King

General Colin Powell

Mrs. Marian Robinson

Brian Williams

I also found it quite interesting to see the number of American dignitaries and statesmen on the list who are of Indian origin.  Goes to show what a melting pot America truly is.

Tonight’s menu, by Guest Chef Marcus Samuelsson, combines American and Indian cuisines.  Here’s the menu, course by course:

Potato and Eggplant Salad
White House argula with onion seed vinaigrette
Wine: 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Modus Oprendi, Napa Valley, California

Red lentil soup with fresh cheese
Wine: 2008 Riesling Brooks “Ara” Willamette Valley, Oregon

Roasted Potato Dumplings with tomato chutney
Chick peas and okra
or
Green curry prawns
Carmelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati
Wine: 2007 Granache, Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez, California

Pumpkin Pie tart
Pear tatin
Whipped cream and caramel sauce
Wine: Sparkling Chardonnay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia

Petits Fours and Coffee
Cashew Brittle
Pecan Pralines
Passion Fruit and Vanilla Gelees
Chocolate dipped fruit

Personally, I think the pumpkin pie is a befitting nod to the Thanksgiving holiday this week, and pecan pralines are a wonderful way to highlight not only an American classic, but also Gov. Bobby Jindal’s home state.

For your personal taste and experience of authentic cuisine by 5-star chefs around the world, see Celebrations International Travel’s Culinary Tours.  Here’s our India sample itinerary, just to tempt your palate and inspire your travels.  All tours are customized to suit your needs and preferences. 

Contact us to start planning your culinary tour today!

 

 

 

 

 

An update just published on Cruise Critic caught my attention:

Oasis of the Seas Update:  Here Comes the Crew!

The article says that crew members of Royal Caribbean’s new Oasis of the Seas have begun arriving in Turku, Finland to prepare for the ship’s maiden voyage.   These crew members are being flown in from Miami, Manila, and Mumbai.

Seeing Mumbai mentioned in the article reminded me of a young chauffeur who drove us around in Kolkata, India one day during our last trip.  Towards the end of the day, the driver glanced into the rear-view mirror and addressed my husband.

“Sir,” he said hestitantly, “May I ask if your wife is from Thailand?”  Agni responded no, that I am American.  A short conversation ensued, and the driver told Agni that he was curious because he wanted to go overseas to find work, and he was considering Thailand.

Once Agni translated their conversation (It was in Hindi.), my gut reaction was to advise the young man to seek out a job onboard a cruise ship.  I asked if he spoke any English, and he was able to tell me “Yes, I speak some English.”  I went on to explain that there are all types of jobs onboard cruise ships, depending on what his skills were (prep cooks, dishwashers, busboys, waiters, stateroom hosts, deck hands, maintenance workers, etc.). 

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas now adds to the list of traditional cruise staff jobs the need for horticulturalists and zip line instructors.

When he asked how to get a job, I, armed with my modern-minded American ideas, told Agni to tell him to go to an Internet cafe and look on the cruise line Web sites.  What was so awful about it (that I later realized and still regret) was that it completely slipped my mind that Mumbai was the closest cruise terminal, and I should have just told him to go there and talk to anyone he could.

I am a firm believer in giving people a chance, especially those willing to work hard.  I applaud the cruise lines for hiring crew members from all over the world, which not only gives those individuals a chance to make a decent living, but often gives someone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to the opportunity to see the world.

From the cruise passenger’s perspective, I am always amazed at how many different languages and nationalities are represented aboard most oceanliners.  I think it enriches the guest experience to meet such diverse people, many of whom can share their insights into the ports of call.   In the case of international passengers, a culturally diverse crew can be essential to ensuring that the guests’ cruise experience is smooth and enjoyable.

Information on oceanliner cruises is available on the Celebrations International Travel Web site.

I found this travel tweet’s blog entry quite insightful: http://www.501places.com/2009/10/travel-broadens-the-mind-i-beg-to-differ/

I think the notion that travel broadens the mind is definitely true in that as we travel, we discover new places, different cultures, people and languages. But the other writer has a very valid point in that travel does not broaden your mind unless you have an open mind to begin with. Of course our own individual view and experience of new places, cultures and people are influenced by our previous travels, life experiences, background and beliefs, but if we don’t travel with open minds, whatever we see, hear, and do is filtered through the lens of whatever pre-conceived notions or ideas we might have. To that effect, I think this could be all-encompassing, from long-standing notion ingrained by the environments and/or cultures we were raised in to ideas garnered from pop culture (TV shows or commercials, the Internet, celebrity news, etc.).

Some of my own experiences might be good examples: Being an American-born Chinese, I was used to being one of the only (if not the only) Asian child in school in the southern United States. It wasn’t always easy, and I knew I was culturally different, but I never realized the extent until I went to Europe as a teen. One of my French host mothers said to me “You’re not American, you’re Chinese.” Having grown up in a family that always considered me as American as apple pie, and never having had anyone say that to me, (and especially not someone from outside American culture) I didn’t know how to react. Part of me wanted to lecture her on what it means to be a part of America’s “Melting Pot,” but I also wondered if anything I said would make a difference. The fact that I didn’t fit the mold of whatever her idea of a “typical American” is kept her from experiencing what it was like to get to know a multicultural American, in my opinion.

A good example of how pop culture influences people’s thinking is my experience with the teenagers at school in France. Back then, coffee wasn’t “en vogue” with most American teens, and I used to down soda just like everyone else. While in Europe, I learned to drink coffee, but not the strong black stuff without cream. Seeing me with a soda in hand, the teens there often remarked “How do you people live on Coke and hamburgers?” They had learned from watching syndicated American TV shows that American kids are always eating burgers and drinking soda. They wouldn’t dare attack french fries, as they are a favorite with the French as well! Talk about how modern pop culture influences our thinking.

Speaking of broadening the mind, until my husband and I traveled together to his native India for the first time, I had always considered myself well-traveled. Suffice it to say that that trip broadened my mind not only with new and different experiences, but it forced me to see first-hand what a wonderful thing it is to call our prosperous, modern nation home. You’ll hear more about our travels to India in future posts.

Here’s to open minds, travel that enriches the soul, and the endless memories and experiences our travels leave us with. That’s why we believe in Celebrating Life Through Travel SM.

A post on Twitter yesterday read: “101 Frightening Ice Cream Flavors From Around the World,” with this link: http://goplanit.com/l/1gu

Intrigued, I scrolled through the entire article. I found it quite interesting that although the title reads “….From Around the World,” all of the ice cream tubs have Japanese labels. So unfortunately, though I’m sure there are strange ice cream flavors from all over the world, this assortment doesn’t show it.

However, this article got me thinking about how foodies and travelers view other countries, their foods, and culinary traditions. As an American-born Chinese, and having lived in various parts of the U.S. and in Europe, and being married to an Indian man, I recognize the fact that my own perceptions of the world’s culinary scene is more than likely atypical.

I’m well aware that many strange-looking, unfamiliar delicacies in the world originate in Asia: 1000-year-old eggs, squid ink, and shark fin, just to name a few.  But I must say that reading this article made me realize that more often than not, Asia is the first place in the world many people would associate all that is unappealing, weird, maybe even downright yucky in regard to food.  Why that is, I’m not sure.   Unfortunately, I think this pop culture reputation sometimes causes Asia to be regarded as too different, exotic, and possibly less desirable to less adventuresome foodies and travelers.

I do know that my experiences in France as a teenager quickly turned some of my long-held notions about food and culture upside down. Up until then, I had never seen duck eaten any other way than roasted Chinese-style.

When a waiter presented me with my first Canard a l’Orange, I knew it was a traditional French preparation of duck, although I had never tasted it. My host, momentarily forgetting about my Chinese heritage, leaned over to explain, “C’est du canard.” (It’s duck.) For lack of a better response, I said “Oui, je sais.” (Yes, I know.) His eyebrows shot up, then realizing that I had, of course had duck before, he quickly says “J’ai rien dit.” (I have nothing to say.)

On a different occasion, I had lunch at Au Pied de Cochon, near the Centre Georges Pompidou Museum in Paris. Same experience, except this time it was pig’s feet. I didn’t even know people other than Asians even ate pig’s feet, let alone that there were different ways to prepare it. Too squeamish to try it, I watched in amazement as my host mother polished off the entire dish of baked pig’s feet.

What about foods largely uncommon in the U.S. that don’t have any “mainstream” connections to Asia? My host families served horse meat, rabbit, lamb, and mutton in stews and other dishes. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I was eating until I was told; I just knew it was something different that sometimes tasted funny, although many times flavorful sauces helped to mask other less pleasant flavors.

I think it’s worth mentioning that although uncommon foods come from all around the world, it’s up to foodie travelers to discover each country’s authentic flavors.

Amongst some of the most common “unique” foods of the world, these come to mind: Roasted Guinea Pig (Ecuador & Peru), Haggis (Scotland), Dried Cuttlefish (Asia), Stinky Tofu (Taiwan), and Paneer (India).

Note that while I have listed these as foods that I view as “unique,” others who are more familiar with and who enjoy them would disagree with me.  In my mind, that’s the beauty of culinary diversity:  the fact that every traveler and every foodie can find culinary creations to enjoy no matter where your travels take you!



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This is blog based on the experiences and interests of travel agency owners Adrienne and Agni Mitra. Through our blog entries, we will share our travel experience and expertise. We will also have other entries of interest to inspire your travels.

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