By Danielle Spano

Every region has its own climate, architecture, language, history, unique style and flora and fauna. These characteristics help to shape how a society lives, but nothing can give you a true taste of a region’s culture like its local cuisine.

The concept of food tourism was introduced in 1996 by Dr. Lucy Long, folklorist and founder of the Center for Food and Culture. Known as gastronomic tourism, tasting tourism or culinary tourism, food tourism is travel for the sake of experiencing the distinct dishes of a destination. The Oxford Handbook of Food History defines this form of tourism as the exploration of other cultures through adventurous or curious eating. As we have more access to see cultures of the world, we strive to experience them for ourselves.

With the expanding television-programming lineup bringing more cooking and food shows and the advent of information sharing via the internet and social media, we are more exposed than ever to foreign cuisine. A joint journal article (“A Flash of Culinary Tourism”) from the University of Florida and Clemson University states that shared food images play a role in travel decisions. We not only see pictures of our friends at famous landmarks and beautiful beaches, but now they have our mouths watering with pictures of their plates!

Recognizing the economic benefit of food tourism growth, visitor bureaus are featuring more food images and travel companies are providing more food-focused activities. Many river cruises have food and wine (even beer)-themed cruises that offer destination specific cuisine onboard and take guests to local food markets with the head chef when in port. Oceania Cruises even has hands-on teaching kitchens onboard their ships. Exploring cultures through food is easier than ever. Whether by land or sea, creating a food-focused vacation for you is an incredible way to see the world and all it has to offer. You can tailor your trip with tours and activities that feature the destination’s delicacies. Taste tapas in Spain, make fresh pasta in Italy or sip wine in France. Wherever you go, seek authentic cuisine. “The best way to identify the culture is to try the food that represents that country — what the moms and the grandmas used to eat back in the day,” said Cuban-born Chef Valero Alises (formerly of Saboré). “Try the tradition and what is indicative of that country.”

All you need is the thirst for new food experiences. “We often remember a destination based on the meals we enjoyed there,” said Vicky Garcia, Chief Operating Officer of Cruise Planners and avid food traveler reveals. “I never go to an American restaurant when abroad and always challenge myself to eat local.” Garcia sometimes chooses a destination just for the food; one example being to sample Chicago’s famous restaurant Aline’s. Even if you cannot travel far, you can still be a food traveler and explore different customs of nearby regions, whether it is across town or in a neighboring state. If you visit a craft brewery, take a cooking class to learn a local specialty or even visit a restaurant that a town is known for, the World Food Association considers you a food traveler. Of course, it is always more exotic to experience cultures more diverse and distant than your own, so grab a suitcase and a fork and get a taste of the world!

You do not have to be considered a “foodie” to be a food traveler. In fact, the 2016 Food Travel Monitor reports gourmet food to be the primary interest in only 18 percent of food travelers. No matter where you go, be it on another continent or right in your town, make a point of trying a new food or drink experience that defines the destination you are in!

Here are just a few places you can go to find fabulous foods!

International
Savor the different cuisines from Northern Italy all the way down to the bottom of her boot. From risotto in Milan to pizza in Naples and cannolis in Sicily, each region has its trademark tastes.

Domestic
With some Cajun spice and French flair, New Orleans cuisine is mouth-watering and a definite reason for a road trip! Must-eats include gumbo, jambalaya, muffulettas, po-boys and, of course, beignets.

Statewide
Florida is a melting pot with transplants from other states and cultures, making the food diverse. For a true taste of the sunshine state, head down to Key West for a slice of Key Lime Pie.

Local
If you want local culinary creations, grab a Gatorade and stop in to Sonny’s BBQ (both created right here in Gainesville)! For something a little less mainstream, head to one of Gainesville’s many craft breweries.