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Off the eaten track: Behind the scenes on a food tour

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For many of us, food plays a huge part in why we visit certain destinations.

Sure, the chance to amble through the Louvre or walk a stretch of the Great Wall of China are always deciding factors, but tearing into a fresh-baked baguette and hunk of fromage on the banks of the Seine, or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a hutong, navigating slippery dumplings with a pair of unwieldy chopsticks can, very often, seal the destination deal.

In 2015, we launched our range of Gourmet Explorer tours, to get travelling food-lovers to the very guts of a destination (pardon the pun). We recently sat down with Food Brand Manager Erica Kritikides to find out exactly what goes into creating a food-based itinerary, our newest gastronomic adventure to Vietnam, and what travellers can expect on a Gourmet Explorer tour with Peregrine.

PEREGRINE Gourmet Explorer Vietnam crab

First things first: what’s your role at Peregrine?

My role here at Peregrine is to design and manage operations of all our itineraries focus on gastronomy – in other words, tours that revolve around eating, drinking and cooking. Is this job as good as it sounds? YES!

How long have you been curating food-based travel itineraries?

I’ve worked in culinary travel for close to five years and have been lucky enough to design itineraries across Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. Prior to working for Peregrine Adventures, I was Program Manager at Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, so food, drink and travel have long been my passion and my profession.

Cuisine provides a wonderful prism through which to understand geography, history, patterns of migration and local customs. It’s also a great way to interact with locals – from ordering a meal to buying produce in a market.

What we find is that most travellers are pretty good at booking restaurants, consulting websites and blogs to find out where other travellers have been and liked. What they struggle to access are genuinely local food experiences – street food, home-cooked meals, rustic local gems serving the best fare in town. That’s where we come in. Our role is to facilitate food experiences that travellers would be hard-pressed to arrange – or even find – on their own. A behind-the-scenes food pass, if you like. Oh, and I have one rule on all my food tours: strictly NO tourist restaurants allowed.

PEREGRINE Gourmet Explorer Vietnam boat

What goes into creating a Gourmet Explorer tour? How much travelling (and eating) is involved?

We agonise over every day of a Gourmet Explorer itinerary. We’re conscious that travellers have a limit to how much food they can actually eat in a day, so we want to make sure that every meal delivers a new flavour or experience.

For every Gourmet Explorer tour, we conduct extensive research into the core ingredients, regional variations, signature dishes – and yes, a lot of that research involves eating, drinking and travelling.

In addition to our own research, we also have incredible local networks in the destinations where we travel, who are instrumental in helping to get our travellers ‘off the eaten track’.

A delicious destination in our Gourmet Explorer range is Vietnam. What are some of the differences in Vietnamese cuisine between the north and the south?

In addition to being the birthplace of pho, arguably Vietnam’s most famous food export, northern Vietnamese cuisine is characterised by less spicy flavours and a level of influence from China which it borders to the north.

In the south, the warmer weather provides perfect conditions for growing a wide range of fruits and vegetables, which are a staple of southern dishes. Flavours are lively, with liberal use of garlic, shallots, fresh herbs, sugar and coconut milk; there’s also ready access to some terrific seafood. The world’s best fish sauce is produced on an island in the far south of Vietnam called Pho Cuoc.

PEREGRINE Gourmet Explorer Vietnam spices

What’s your favourite Vietnamese dish?

I absolutely love banh xeo – a huge crispy pancake stuffed with pork, bean sprouts, spring onions and other goodies. The dish is named for the sound of the sizzle as the batter hits the hot skillet.

And your least favourite?

I do still struggle with partially fertilised eggs…

What are some unusual ingredients people might expect to see/eat in Vietnam?

It may surprise people to learn that coffee is huge in Vietnam – and Hanoi is the undisputed coffee capital of the country. Coffee is most commonly made using a filter process and served with condensed milk, however you’re also likely to see it served with yoghurt – even whipped egg yolk! All versions are worth a try.

We always encourage our travellers to come with an open mind and an open mouth!

PEREGRINE Gourmet Explorer Vietnam soup

What can passengers expect in a Peregrine cooking class?

Lots of chopping, sizzling, flipping and rolling. Be prepared to get hands on! The cooking teachers on Gourmet Explorer Vietnam are some of the best in the country and travellers will definitely go home with some new dishes to impress friends and family.

Talk us through a typical day on a Peregrine Gourmet Explorer tour.

There are no typical days on a Gourmet Explorer tour – we want to give our travellers new experiences, new flavours and new adventures every day. The only thing we guarantee is fantastic food, exceptional leaders and cooking teachers, and a truly unforgettable trip!

PEREGRINE Gourmet Explorer Vietnam street stall

Ready to dig in to a Peregrine Gourmet Food Tour? Whet your appetite here. 

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