Culinary tourism answers the crucial 'what to do' question

Last month, the Financial Times published a travel story where they asked readers to submit their travel recommendations on where to go, what to do, worst experiences, books to read when travelling and so much more. Being a travel enthusiast, I went through the story and one line caught my eye.

Last month, the Financial Times published a travel story where they asked readers to submit their travel recommendations on where to go, what to do, worst experiences, books to read when travelling and so much more. Being a travel enthusiast, I went through the story and one line caught my eye.

A one Stephen Ford from London advised, “Eat adventurously and trust the locals” when asked for his top travel tip. It was a brief statement but pregnant with so much truth. Indeed to eat adventurously one has to trust the locals given the fact that many travel guide books tourists read are not so keen on talking about local cuisines.

 

East Africa is a big tourism spot but most times our tourism marketing is focused simply on what to see - the big five, mountain gorillas, lakes and rivers and that’s it. We tend to forget that tourism is essentially an experience and one of the lasting experiences that one can take with them is what got to their tongue and continued through the throat to the stomach. 

 

The other day Facebook’s billionaire owner, Mark Zuckerberg helped Kenyans to nail a culinary tourism jackpot when he posted on his Facebook page that he had, “enjoyed Ugali and whole fried Tilapia fish for the first time and loved them both.” He added that this was at Mama Oliech Restaurant a place recommended by everyone and that he enjoys trying out the [local] food whenever in a new country.

 

To put this into perspective, Zuckerberg has more than 79 million followers on Facebook and his post was shared over 15,000 times and got 12,000 comments. Anyone in the digital advertising industry will tell you that it would cost you millions of dollars to achieve this much in reach and engagement and would most likely not guarantee that you would. 

In some of the comments other, Kenyans could be seen recommending that he should also try out other Kenyan foods like Mukimo, Mursik, or pilau. It was at this point that Ugandans wished their Rolex (chapati and omelette roll) Festival had received such mileage as the Kenyans got from that moment at Mama Oliech’s place.

In other words East Africans were finally waking up to the reality and immense value of culinary tourism which is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences. To all the places I have been to there is always something about the food that anchors my memory of the place. I fell in love with coconut flavoured rice pilau while in Moshi, Tanzania where I also got to learn that a goat can be roasted whole and served as ‘cake’ at a party!

The Kenyans spoilt me with a treat at the famous Carnivore Restaurant in Langata where you get to eat beef, chicken, mutton, crocodile meat, and so many other meats that you will not remember as your body systems slow down to allow you digest the meal. When I had just come to Rwanda, a friend took me out and we devoured Ikidali and Zingaro as we chatted.

Bujumbura’s famed Mukeke found me at a Rwandan restaurant although I still want to have it in the right place – at the shores of Lake Tanganyika. From home in Uganda, Luwombo is always up there on my list. There is also Eshabwe which almost made me lose my friends for not having introduced me to the delicacy much earlier.

Drinks are also part of this culinary tourism game plan. Beers are a good place to start. Kenyans will tell you about Tusker, Tanzanians may give you Kilimanjaro or Konyagi in case Ugandans haven’t yet sold your liver to Uganda Waragi. Rwanda, Burundi and DRC will offer you Primus and Mutzig to choose from.

I remember some years back before social media became a thing, one of the newspapers in Uganda reported that UK’s Prince William had been sighted on vacation in Jinja enjoying a cold bottle of Nile Special beer.

Culinary tourism is a subset of cultural tourism and is a growing trend. This is why we see more food blogs and websites as well as wine, beer and food festivals. Culinary tourists share millions of photos daily on platforms like Instagram. Next time someone is visiting your country and asks you what they should do while here, do not hesitate to recommend something they should taste when they come. They will talk about it long after they are gone.

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