To many people, food is so much more than one of life’s necessities. Food can help to define a culture’s identity and allow people to tell their own stories. Humans form emotional connections with food in ways that don’t always hinge on the act of eating — like sharing food as a way to connect (via Global Gastros). As Chef Afreen, executive chef and owner of Cuisine Afreen, explained in an interview with Impakter, "As human beings, we’re all one. When food is in front of us, we know what to do; we eat it. Catering to all our senses, we take a journey that explores new horizons and recalls fond memories."
Even if you don’t consider yourself an ultimate foodie, you probably have your own unique connection to food. One of the best ways to tap into that special relationship is through one-of-a-kind food experiences. From trying the weirdest ice cream flavors on the menu to taking a masterclass with a world-renowned chef, you won’t want to skip adding these incredible food experiences to your bucket list.
Visit edible museums and exhibits
It’s important for people to to open their minds to trying new foods in order to build a healthy relationship with eating, according to registered dietician Sondra Kronberg (via the National Eating Disorders Association). One of the best ways to learn about new foods is to visit a dedicated food museum or exhibit. Some museums provide more of a sensory experience than the traditional museum walk-through experience, allowing you to incorporate the smells and tastes of real food into your learning.
Ready to check out some museums that let you become part of the food action? The CUPNOODLES Museum in Japan is a popular tourist attraction with noodle vending machines, a tasting room, and a museum shop where you can find one-of-a-kind gear and food you can’t buy anywhere else. There’s also the Dr. Pepper Museum in Texas, which lets you make and taste your own soda creations and label your bottles. Patrons get a free soda at the end of their trip, too — or, they can pay a little extra to try a premium flavor (per TripAdvisor).
Participate in a food eating contest
Around the world, food eating contests are a popular summer pastime for many. Indeed, many of them offer exciting prizes, including cash. Sporting News noted that the 2022 first-place winners of Coney Island’s annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest were awarded $10,000. While that particular competition might offer one of the highest amounts, there are others that still give hefty sums to their contest champs, like the Thunder World Famous Case’s Pork Roll Eating Championship in Trenton, New Jersey, which pays $2,000 for placing first (via Major League Eating).
Many competitive eaters insist that it’s not just the good food or winning prize that convince them to take on these challenges. Apparently, pushing their bodies’ limits and discovering that they can do more than they thought is a big part of it, too. Famous competitive eater Joey Chestnut tells SJ Today, "I put a lot of thought and work into figuring out my body and learning how to push it to its limits. There’s a huge mental aspect of convincing my body that it can do it — that I’ve done this before and I can do it again — and then, through practice, finding that perfect rhythm and getting it down."
Another competitive eater named Miki Sudo adds, "Each food is uniquely fun because they test different skill sets" (via Fansided). So, if challenging yourself is your thing, competitive eating might be the way to do it.
Judge a food competition
While food-eating competitions might be the perfect challenge for some, others might just want to get involved in an activity that allows them to try some good food. The latter group might enjoy judging for a food competition, which, for many local competitions, doesn’t require a huge list of requirements other than loving food and not being a picky eater.
You could also venture into larger festivals and competitions if you have a background in culinary education. Food and travel writer Pamela Vachon, who’s also a culinary education graduate, documented her experience as a food festival judge on the Institute of Culinary Education’s blog. Vachon tasted and scored 45 dishes during the first two days of the festival. Her biggest struggle during her judging time? Trying to avoid eating more than a couple of bites of dishes she found to be delish.
You can also set your sights on becoming a judge for the World Food Championships, the largest global food sport competition that attracts chefs from all over the world each year. To do it, you’ll need to get trained on the organization’s E.A.T. methodology through an in-person or online course that results in certification. It could be just one more feather in your cap to set you apart from others.
Take a master class taught by a professional chef
Have you ever wondered how Gordon Ramsay makes some of his signature dishes? Or how Roy Choi creates the sauces that elevate his meals to a higher level? Thanks to the power of the internet, you can find out — all in the comfort of your own kitchen. Whether you’re an aspiring chef or a home cook who wants to learn from some of the best out there, taking a course taught by a culinary expert can help push you towards finishing your goals.
One popular option for accessible lessons in the culinary arts is the platform Masterclass, a video-based subscription service that gives you access to all classes for a monthly or annual fee. Specifically, one of the perks of taking a Masterclass course is the ability to complete it at your own pace, so you don’t have to stress about fitting it into a busy schedule. There’s also Cheflix, which is similar to Masterclass but exclusively offers cooking-related classes. Cheflix subscribers can learn everything from cooking modern French cuisine to creating plant-focused meals with Dutch celebrity chef Hans van Wolde. No matter how in-depth you want to go with your classes, you’ll surely learn some new cooking techniques to impress your guests with.
Go on a walking food tour
What better way to experience the best foods and sights in a new city or town than exploring it on foot? Therein lies the beauty of the walking food tour, which combines the (arguably) two best reasons to travel: food and sightseeing. Depending on preferences for how in-depth a solo traveler or group wants to get, walking food tours can vary in length, price, and walking distance. They might also vary by theme, giving participants a well-rounded mix of food in the area or catering to specific types of dishes or drinks (via Thrillist). You can expect them to last at least a couple of hours to give everyone plenty of time to try the foods on their lists.
Most major cities worldwide feature food tours for both locals and tourists alike. For example, San Francisco’s walking food tours take people through popular districts like Chinatown and North Beach. You can also take in gumbo, beignets, and muffuletta sandwiches with a New Orleans food tour. Munch on macaroons and delicious pastries during a French walking food tour, or spend two weeks discovering the best food in India on the India Real Food Adventure. There are even accessible food tours, like this one in Italy that includes five wheelchair-accessible routes.
Pick your own fruit
Fresh fruit from store produce aisles can harbor a surprising amount of bacteria, thanks to everything that comes in contact with them during the shipping and storing process (via Texas Cooperative Extension). Think about it: A customer picks up a peach to look at it and decides not to buy it, so they place it back in the bin, germs and all. One 2017 study reported that diverse communities of bacteria exist on fresh produce, including those that can be harmful when ingested, like E. coli and salmonella (via PLoS One).
If you need a reason to skip all the shipping and storage and procure less-contaminated produce, try a pick-your-own-fruit farm. According to Michigan State University, these fruits are grown and picked straight from the farm, so the fruit comes into less contact with potential contaminants than those on store shelves. Additionally, picking your own fruit is better for the environment because it doesn’t rely on big business agricultural processes. You’ll also get lots of fun, Instagram-worthy photos to document your adventure. If you’re game to go on a fruit-picking adventure, websites like PickYourOwn.org can be helpful in locating farms near you.
Have a cruise ship buffet
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly hit the cruise industry hard. The once-filled buffet tables of the cruise ship MS Zandaam made way for more modest meals due to a lack of kitchen help as COVID ripped through the ship’s staff (via Bloomberg). The situation aboard the MS Zandaam was just one of many similar cases, with 54 cruise ships infected with COVID-19 between January and April 2020 alone (via Science Direct).
Fortunately, the industry has picked back up, and is now beginning to thrive again (per Chicago Tribune). According to the CDC, cruise ships should have set quarantine policies and testing protocols in place, but they’re otherwise allowed to continue operations almost as usual.
With that comes the reopening of cruise ship buffets, which are surely experiences not to pass up. Many cruise ship buffets are back to fully self-serve or crew-served formats. Cruise ship buffets usually provide a good variety of foods, making room for even the pickiest travelers to find something they love. Some even stay open long hours, allowing passengers to dine whenever they please on their vacation. For example, the Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer Cafe is open most hours of the day and features an assortment of food from around the world.
Try an immersive dining experience
A dinner theater might sound like something from your grandparents’ date nights, but you might be surprised by how entertaining they are. These types of meals are known as immersive dining experiences, which can run the gamut from murder-mystery dinners to traveling dining shows to sit-down-and-watch-while-dining events. As noted in a 2013 paper on immersive dining, the atmosphere of a restaurant can directly relate to customer satisfaction, and immersive environments offer one-of-a-kind interactivity that creates positive memories.
These unique experiences can be as interactive as you’d like them to be to make your experience fit your interests. For example, Medieval Times has become well-known for its audience participation as patrons cheer on their knights while eating a multi-course dinner. Laurie Raphael in Québec, Canada, features sit-down dining that immerses diners in Québec’s culture through gourmet meals that showcases the region’s history and heritage (via Afar). Immersive dining can also be a full-on sensory experience, like what you’ll experience at Sublimotion in Spain. The restaurant uses lights, sound, performance art, technology, and innovative eating experiences to help patrons enjoy their food in new, innovative ways. For instance, entrance tickets are edible, and guests can take scenic tours of the world using VR headsets while they dine (via News.com.au).
Dine at an underwater restaurant
If you love the ocean and are fascinated by underwater creatures, then don’t skip this next food experience: dining at an aquatic restaurant. While some of these unique restaurants are situated strategically inside aquariums, others are literally under the sea. Either option gives you up-close views of fish, sharks, sting rays, and other undersea animals you might not be able to see unless you embark on a snorkeling excursion. For those who prefer experiencing the ocean with slightly more distance, this could be an excellent option.
A popular option for getting up-close-and-personal with the ocean’s finest creatures as you dine is the Submarine Restaurant inside Oceanogràfic València, an underground (and underwater) aquarium located in Valencia, Spain. The restaurant sits inside a circular area of the aquarium and features views of the water from wherever you sit. One Google reviewer gushed, "The atmosphere of this restaurant is amazing. There is no other restaurant like it. You are surrounded by a single 360 degree fish tank and the fish continually swim by as you dine. It is serene. The food was very nice. This is fine dining."
A restaurant in the Maldives known as Ithaa Undersea Restaurant offers a more authentic under-the-sea experience as diners enjoy their meals five meters under the ocean’s surface. A TripAdvisor reviewer calls the restaurant "absolutely unmissable," adding that the "food is incredible and it is an experience like nothing else ever, seeing the fish and sharks swim past as you enjoy a Michelin-quality meal."
Fondue with friends
Fondue has origins in Swiss culture, originally used as a way to ration bread and leftover cheese during the cold winter months (via BBC Travel). Although it began as more of an intimate family dining experience, fondue has evolved into a more communal experience as time went on, making it an ideal addition to an at-home game or movie night with your favorite people. Cooking class instructor Rachel Muenster told the Argus Leader, "It’s such a fun, simple way to entertain. You get the ingredients together, and then you put your guests to work preparing their own meal."
You can get even more social by hitting a fondue spot in a nearby city or town with your closest friends. For example, Melting Pot restaurants have made their way across several states to allow diners to enjoy gourmet cheeses, entrees, and desserts through an interactive social experience that invites small to large groups to enjoy all of its offerings together. One Google Local Guide for the Columbus, Ohio area shares their Melting Pot experience: "This was an absolutely one of a kind unique experience, if you have not been to a restaurant like this. Overall, I don’t know for the price that I’d come again but I have ZERO regrets getting to try this experience at least once."
Try wacky ice cream flavors
Trying a new food or flavor can be scary for some, especially people who tend to lean on the pickier side of things. However, trying new flavors can be healthy — even when they’re a little odd. Expanding your tolerance for more foods and flavors can lead to a more varied diet, which has been connected to a longer lifespan, better overall health, and new brain cell generation (via A Healthier Michigan).
Ice cream may not be the healthiest option for your diet, but having it in moderation is okay. And, if you’re willing to experiment with some occasional off-the-wall flavors, you could reap some of the benefits we mentioned. Plus, it could be fun to see who out of your friend group is willing to try the craziest ice cream offerings.
So, how about taste-testing Salt & Straw’s Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero? Or, perhaps Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium’s lobster ice cream might hit the spot. And then there’s Van Leeuwen’s Kraft Mac & Cheese ice cream – a must-try if you can stomach the idea of it. Amy McCarthy, staff writer at Eater, was surprised at how much she enjoyed the Kraft Mac & Cheese treat. "Upon taking the first bite, I was hooked. Half of the pint had disappeared by the time I looked up, and I have no regrets," she says. "It’s one of those foods that’s so uniquely compelling that you’re going to be confused while eating it, but definitely won’t want to stop."
Have a meal in the sky
Sightseeing and dining often go hand-in-hand when traveling, so why not kill two birds with one stone? You can do just that by taking part in sky-high meals, like those offered by Dinner In the Sky. The company arranges sky restaurants in some of the world’s most popular cities, like Las Vegas and Monaco. Diners strap in as their tables move up, up, and away into the sky. Dinner In the Sky continuously brings its traveling events to different cities, so you can book one in your next travel destination. One Dubai traveler reviewed their experience on TripAdvisor, stating, "When I say this was a bucket list experience, I mean just that. I had an amazing time eating dinner 450 feet in the air. We ate and sang while we saw all the beautiful skyscrapers in Dubai!!!"
Other places have more stationary restaurants that give sky-high views of the cities down below, still offering exquisite sights and a one-of-a-kind dining experience. One such spot is New York City’s Bar 54, which sits 54 stories above Times Square. Or, enjoy your breakfast in the sky in Wildwood, New Jersey, as you dine in a Ferris wheel over 150 feet off the ground (via The Travel). A Wildwood visitor said of their experience: "This is a truly remarkable experience that we plan to make an annual event when visiting the Jersey Shore each year. The food was wonderful, and the view was breathtaking" (via TripAdvisor).
Find interactive food experiences while traveling
It’s no secret that traveling can boost your mental health and happiness while helping you to discover new things about yourself. "If you allow it, travel has the ability to expand your mind in a way you never realized was possible," solo travel expert Valerie Wilson explained to Forbes.
One of the best ways to make the most out of your travel experience is to immerse yourself in a location’s culture. Trying local cuisine is an excellent way to expand your horizons and really dig into your travel destination. That’s why the sole purpose of Eatwith is to connect travelers with one-of-a-kind dining experiences, no matter where in the world they want to travel. Plug in your destination, and Eatwith will find you an experience you won’t want to pass up.
For example, you might try evening Turkish coffee and fortune telling in New York. Or, visit a private Miami home for a fine-dining fusion dinner with professional chef Marina. You can even visit an Italian family’s home for a traditional farm-to-table dinner with wine. One reviewer exclaimed, "What an amazing experience!" of their authentic Italian dining adventure. "In addition to getting to create and eat a delicious dinner, we gained a lot of appreciation for Italian food and culture. We left excited to continue exploring the beauty of this country."