As we kick off our 2018 season, proudly entering our fourth year in business there is a lot of fondly looking back, hand horizontally perched on the eyebrow ridge, thinking about how far we have come.
I’d like to think I knew what we were doing in year one, and I’m sure I believed me. But as we have matured, my team and I have continually refined and fine tuned this thing we call a food tour.
And while I hope it has taught many people many things about DC, food and community;
The tours have taught me a lot too.
People often ask on the tours- how do you choose the restaurants? They think it is a grand adventure in gastronomy to develop an ideal route, and while they’re not wrong, that is merely one aspect of the perfect food tour journey.
So before you all set out on your epic food tours this year, I wanted to offer a little insight into what I have learned over the years makes a stellar food tour-
Here is my peak behind the curtain on the 5 principles of fantastic food tours:
1. Locally Owned. When choosing locations it is vital they are locally owned. Food tours are glimpses into cities, communities and neighborhoods, so to not visit locally owned establishments completely misses the point. Additionally, as a principle, since it is the neighborhood that is being showcased, it is only fair that the money is going back into the community- which is why this is numero uno.
2. All. Five. Senses. I remember one of the biggest things that jumped out at me when developing our first tour was the juxtaposition (ahem) between the home of the Half Smoke and our next stop, an eclectic establishment complete with colorful murals and glorious chandeliers. It was this transition that made me realize the importance of engaging all five senses and why its become such a staple of our tour curation process. From high end to hole in the wall, from half smoke to herbal tea you should be taken on an adventure of sight, smell, sound, touch as well as taste.
3. The Power of Story. It’s one thing to tell you that the tea you’re drinking is infused with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves; it’s quite another to tell you the recipe you’re enjoying is created by the owner’s Syrian grandmother, who lived in Jamaica and passed the recipe to her granddaughter, now the fifth generation in a long line of herbalists. The power of the story enhances your appreciation, let’s you see that it’s not just the hands that created it today that you should appreciate, but the hands of many generations that brought you those flavors.
Every taste becomes richer, every bite more intense because when you know what’s behind the dish, you begin to savor the story.
4. Diversity. Now this one is more a matter of opinion, of which you’ll find many among the food tours owners of the world- but I find that diversity is key to any great food tour. For us, the creation and curation of a food tour is dictated by the neighborhoods. And so we try to include all the rich cuisines present in the area. They grew up together and compliment each other in history as well as flavor. To get a feel for the culture at large, it’s important the locations represent the overall community rather than one cuisine. That is why our motto is to tell the story of the neighborhood through food.
5.Where it’s been and where it’s going. “In this bright future, you can’t forget your past.” Wise words from the wise Bob Marley, and very fitting for any food tour curator. You must know where the food scene has been to understand the rich traditions the newest flavors stemmed from (refer to principle #3). Equally, taking a food tour only steeped in legends of old without learning where things are going is like following the yellow brick road and never finding the Emerald City. Each are necessary to understand the food scene, the trends of the community and where they’re going.
So now you know. The guiding principles of any great food tour revealed. I hope this helps you on your gastronomic discoveries and has shown you a peak into what I’ve learned over these last 3 years. Food is anything but just food.