Learning from the locals: Cookery holidays with extra bite
Travel to the birthplaces of the world's great dishes to get the low-down on how to make them truly authentic
Time was when, if you wanted to get hold of lemongrass or jungle curry paste, you had to find a Chinese supermarket and do some guesswork on the writing. These days, the ingredients, flavours and textures of the world are well represented on kitchen shelves, and no everyday recipe book is worth its salt without instructions for making fresh ravioli or whipping up a pad Thai.
However, to aptly judge the quality of fish sauce, or gauge just how much salt should go into pasta dough, you really need to be shown in person. There is much to be learnt about a culture through its cuisine – and no one better to teach you than someone who grew up cooking it.
Here are some of the best holidays for aspiring master chefs and foodies around the world.
Mention "Peruvian cuisine" a decade ago and those of us who hadn't yet trekked over Machu Picchu would probably shrug and guess, "yams?" And yet now you can't walk past a respectable seafood restaurant without someone banging on about its ceviches – such is the popularity of this South American country's food. Discover both its landscape and cuisine on an Active Gourmet holiday to Peru, which includes horseback tours of ancient Cusco, adventure biking through the Sacred Valley of the Incas and a raft ride across its golden rivers – plus a gourmet exploration of Lima, where you'll discover 500 years of colonial history through cooking its Spanish-influenced dishes, including how to make that now-famous seafood delicacy before trekking up to that high and ancient mountain civilisation.
Seven-night Peruvian Cooking and Trekking adventure holiday costs from US$2,975, excluding flights; activegourmetholidays.com
Famed for its hearty, rustic food, Tuscany is home to the kind of dinners Mamma used to make. That is, everyday, authentic, slow-cooked and bursting with the essence of the sun-kissed Italian countryside. Flavours Holidays offer a week-long stay at a beautifully restored traditional farmhouse set in 120 acres of olive groves, vineyards and woodlands. Excursions include a visit to the local winery with a private tasting session, a day trip to the nearby town of Siena with its cobbled medieval streets and a morning spent browsing the markets in Florence.
From £1,599 including £100 contribution towards flights; flavoursholidays.co.uk
Characterised by fresh, simple ingredients and idiosyncratic flavours, Japanese cooking can be as basic as a bowl of noodles and as complex as a platter of intricately sliced sushi. Inside Japan has a variety of cooking experiences from across the country, which can be combined in a tailored version of its 13-night Gastronomic Adventure. Try home cooking in Kyoto, learn how to create delicious ramen in an Osaka restaurant, slice up Soba noodles in a traditional noodle shop close to Matsumoto castle and try your hand at Wagashi sweet-making in Kanazawa – then top up your new skills in Tokyo at a Kaiseki cooking class with a Michelin-starred chef.
From £4,300 excluding flights but including 13 nights' accommodation (based on twin share), transport across Japan, daily breakfast and a number of meals; insidejapantours.com
You may have made green curry at home. You might even have had a go at larb, or laksa – but chances are you've never shelled fresh prawns, cooked rice in bamboo and roasted corn wrapped in banana leaves over an open fire in the jungle. Remedy this with a cooking tour of Thailand, where the varied culinary experiences are interspersed with boat trips to hidden lagoons, visits to ancient temples, snorkelling among tropical coral reefs and picking fresh herbs from an organic farm near Chiang Mai. Responsible Travel has a two-week small-group trip that takes you to high-profile cooking schools and authentic home kitchens.
From £2,225, including UK flights, transfers, accommodation and all excursions and cookery lessons; responsibletravel.com