Authenticity is hard to replicate, people must travel to get “real taste”

PISA: Erik Wolf is the visionary founder of the world’s food tourism industry and of the World Food Travel Association. His articles, research and books have been translated into dozens of languages. Here is what Wolf tells about food and travel.

“After a long day of stunning sights, unusual sounds, interesting smells, and at least 100 certainly never-before snapped pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we ended up for a late lunch at a café just off the Corso Italia, in Pisa. I ordered Pici Cacio e Pepe, a pasta dish renowned throughout central Italy. I swirled the creamy, peppery goodness around my fork and placed the parcel in my salivating mouth. I could hardly wait. Heaven. It tasted just like I imagined. The fat pasta was unique to us, meaning that we probably couldn’t find it at home, so we bought some to take back with us. Once home, we replicated the dish as best we could, using an authentic Italian recipe and the Italian pasta. It just didn’t taste the same. We had taken such pain to ensure authentic replication, yet the taste didn’t come close to what we remembered. We wondered why, and then we realized, it’s because the sense of place was missing.

I thought back to other similar situations I experienced with food and drink. The same thing happened with a bottle of Megas Oenos wine that we enjoyed at a lovely outdoor restaurant on the Greek island of Mykonos. I found the same wine on a menu at a restaurant in New York City. We weren’t impressed. The same thing with fresh strawberry juice blended at a juice stand on the streets of Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro. The version we made at home didn’t begin to taste like its Brazilian cousin.

A sense of place simply cannot be replicated. Reasons why the pasta dish above didn’t taste the same at home is because several items were missing from the equation, namely the Tuscan temperature, humidity, pollen and breeze; local water the pasta was boiled in; historic architecture surrounding us; and the Italian language and music we heard all around us. Such is the experience in situ – where these things are experienced natively. A winemaker refers to the terroir of grapes; in many ways, we’re talking about the terroir for food. Winemakers use terroir in producing and promoting their wines. Destination marketers should be doing something similar with their local foods and beverages, and food/drink business owners should take note as well.

The good news for destination marketers and food/drink business owners is that authenticity is extremely hard to replicate, meaning people must travel to get a “real taste” of something. Consider the quaint Austrian village of Hallstatt. A version was replicated in the town Luoyang, Boluo County, in China. While the Chinese version is purportedly quite well done, it’s just not the same. For starters, the villagers in Luoyang won’t be speaking the Austrian dialect of German”, Erik Wolf says.

Food Tourism. I have seen many definitions from around the world, but for me, the definition is as simple as this, “The pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near.” We say “food tourism”, but drinking beverages is an implied and associated activity. In addition to traveling across country or the world to eat or drink, we can also be food travellers in our own regions, cities and neighbourhoods.

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