Asia

A Culinary Journey

written by | Posted on August 1st, 2009

From Osaka, the so-called “kitchen of Japan,” to “the place for flavor” – China’s Sichuan Province – Asia’s decadent feast is a hot item on any travel menu.

china There’s probably no other cuisine—be it Asian or otherwise—that’s more international than Chinese food. Go to any major city in the world from Los Angeles and San Francisco or Chicago and New York; London to Dubai or Cape Town to Cairo—you’ll find the best and sometimes the worst of Chinese fare. But there’s no better place to find the most unique and special of the Chinese culinary arts than in the beautiful and mystical Sichuan Province in China, because, as a Chinese proverb says, “China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavor.”

The good news is, Taylor Holliday, founder and president of the culinary travel company, Lotus Culinary Travel, has developed unique, custom culinary travel programs to the province, headquartering those programs in the bustling and delightful city of Chengdu, the region’s political and culinary capital (see our December 2008 coverage on Chengdu in our Recommend.com archives) and just a 3-hour flight from Beijing or Shanghai, or a 1-hour flight from Xi’an.

Holliday, who spent a decade as an arts, culture and food editor at The Wall Street Journal in New York City, is currently a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and spends several months of the year seeking out authentic and enlightening food experiences in Asia with her local managers and partners.

Holliday says the custom programs are geared to “…various kinds of cooking classes from hands-on to demos and, of course, Sichuan has a giant range of different kinds of dining and unique dining styles and different classes of foods—it’s a full range of that and understanding those differences,” she explains. In addition, she says, the programs include “…visits to the farmer’s markets and these sort of mega-markets, which are very interesting in China. There are also farm visits and we’ll also visit an organic farm, which is rare in China, but there’s a very nice one close to Chengdu. We also visit artisan producers of specifically Sichuan products like the doban, which is the chili bean paste that’s used in a lot of products and Sichuan dishes. So it’s a full range of culinary activities I can customize, depending on how long the people want to stay there and how intense their food interest may be.”

In addition, clients will also get the rare opportunity to visit the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, which, Holliday says, is one of the most respected professional cooking schools in China, training the country’s and the world’s greatest Sichuan chefs, as well as visitors from abroad, including students from the Culinary Institute of America and top French culinary academies. The school has designed a demonstration and hands-on cooking class specifically and exclusively for Lotus Culinary Travel’s English-speaking travelers, hosted by Li Zhenqing, the institute’s Sichuan chef-instructor.

There will also be an opportunity to visit the Museum of Sichuan Cuisine with its collection of local cooking equipment and tableware that spans 2,000 years, a traditional tea house, a temple to the Kitchen God, several grand banquet rooms and a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen. In an exclusive arrangement with Lotus Culinary Travel, the museum’s cuisine masters will also lead guests in preparing classic Sichuan dishes.

Tours are available most dates on request from March through November for bookings of four or more people. The company’s customized culinary immersions in Sichuan last from two to seven nights and start at $600.

japan Osaka is a sprawling metropolis crowned by a majestic castle atop a hill on the banks of a snaking river. Aside from its efficiency and urban pulchritude, it’s also considered the capital of Japanese cuisine, often referred to as the “kitchen of Japan.”

Its culinary reputation is legendary. If San Francisco and New Orleans—the two U.S. Meccas for gourmands—would miraculously merge and be transplanted across the Pacific, the mouth-watering delights of both wouldn’t rival Osaka.

Osaka’s reputation dates back to centuries ago when an adage—still in use—hinted that to reach bankruptcy buying beautiful silk kimonos, one should travel to Kyoto; if one wanted to break the bank from sampling great food, then Osaka was the place to go.