Mike Sorsyth and his wife Rachel are learning the art of cooking 'aloo jeera' at the Dwarka house of Rajeev Goyal, their cooking instructor.
Goyal guides the couple as they struggle with the amount of turmeric to be used. The next lesson, due in half an hour, is in the preparation of bhindi (ladies' finger).
The Sorsyths are part of a group of foreign tourists who are at Goyals's house to learn traditional Indian cooking. "We have always considered India as a culinary heaven and relished Indian dishes. We wanted to learn how food is cooked at Indian homes," said Mike. "Learning to cook traditional Indian dishes was an important part of our India trip. We are going back with lots of spices so that we try out Indian dishes back home," said Rachel, his wife.
The group visited a local market in Dwarka to buy spices before the class began at 11am.
Likewise, every other day, Rita Shinde sees a stream of visitors at around 9.30am -- foreign tourists eager to learn the art of making various authentic Goan dishes.
Like Goyal's, her classes too begin with a tour of the local vegetable and spice market. Her 'students' include names like well-known culinary writer John Gregory Smith and celebrity chef Nici Wickes.
"Most of them come to learn Goan dishes such as Fish Recheado , Chicken Xacuti and Vindaloo. In fact, a lot of foreigners, especially from Japan and UK, come to Goa just to attend my classes," claimed Shinde who runs Rita's Gourmet in Dabolim, Goa.
An increasing number of foreign tourists have been making their way to India to explore its culinary culture, giving a fillip to culinary tourism. In fact, many travel companies now offer customized tours with primary focus on food.
Not just food familiarisation and cooking classes, travel companies in India now offer products such as 'travel with a chef', 'tea-tasting' and food walks for tourists. Many hotels, especially in Goa and Kerala, organise cooking classes and food walks for their guests. The growing number of food festivals held in the country are also helping the growth of India's culinary tourism. In fact, in 2012, the Cuisine India Society launched 'Incredible Tiffin' project, an initiative that primarily aims to promote culinary tourism in the country.
"Food tourism is fast picking up in India, and Delhi is at the centre of it. There are many foreign travelers who, instead of visiting museums and forts, want to explore the food culture of the country. After all, this is the only country where you get a new food flavour every 200 kilometres. I get about 50 tourists every week and a lot of them not only want to go on food walks but also want to learn how to cook traditional Indian dishes. All my clients are foreigners and most of them often keep in touch with me over WhatsApp and Skype after returning to their country," said Rajeev Goyal, who founded India Food Tours, a New Delhi-based food-focused travel company.
"There is a growing interest in culinary classes among foreign tourists. We organise cooking classes as part of culinary tours in cities such as Agra, Jaipur and Delhi," stated Dipali Debnath of Delhi-based Indian Holiday, a travel company that offers tours such as a 7-night Kerala culinary tour and Golden Triangle culinary tour, among others.
Many companies organise what they call 'Travel with a Chef', where a chef travels with tourists to guide them with all culinary activities, including food walks, spice trail and kitchen tours. "The idea is to offer tourists the best of Indian cuisines, activities and sights in a single travel package with the culinary expertise of a chef," said Goyal.
When Delhi-based Anubhav Sapra started Delhi Food Tour three years back, most of his clients were local foodies. But now, he said, his clients mostly include foreigners. "I conduct about four food walks in a week these days and 70 per cent of my clients are foreign tourists, who travel to explore the food cultures of a country. Most of them have already been on food tours in places such as Istanbul, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam," said Sapra, who organises tours such as Breakfast Break, Lunch Tour and Old Delhi Food walk. He takes tourists on a culinary journey through Chandni Chowk, Connaught Place, Kamla Nagar, Chittaranjan Park, among other places. Chandni Chowk in Delhi is a must-go destination for most culinary travelers of the country. A typical food tour in Delhi starts at Gurdwara Sis Ganj with an introduction to the community kitchen.
Many of Delhi's famous eateries such as Karim's at Jama Masjid also testify to the growing number of tourists out on a culinary discovery of India. "Today 40 percent of our clients are from countries such as Australia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Of late, we have had a lot of tourists from countries such as Japan and China too. Their favourite dishes are seekh kebabs and mutton burra," sids Zaeemuddin Ahmed, director Karim's, Jama Masjid.
Mumbai-based well-known food writer, chef and food stylist Michael Swamy too believes that culinary tourism is growing in the country and the sector has a lot of potential. "For culinary tourism to grow fast, it is essential to put the spotlight on regional kitchens, ingredients and techniques and present them in a way that is relatable to the global consumer," he said.
Swamy felt that that the government should give chefs a higher role to play in the culture and quality of food in the country. "The tourism ministry should interact more often with chefs and promote the country's lost cuisines by way of various social media forms available today," Swamy said.