When it came time for planning my end of summer trip to Boston, I knew that I definitely wanted to go on a food tour while there. Food tours have become one of my favorite activities when visiting a new city since for starters you get fed some awesome eats but you are also given a history of the city and in some cases the neighborhood you’re visiting.
From the research I did, it seemed that Boston Food Tours was the way to go and so I made reservations for their North End tour. If you’re ever in doubt about food tour organizers not being “real” foodies, take one look at Boston Food Tours founder Michele Topor’s impressive culinary background and you will be amazed (I know I was). It includes everything from numerous trips to Italy where she studied Italian cuisine and culture, to catering, consulting on Italian food for more than 30 years, and teaching cooking.
Boston Food Tours offers two types-one in the city’s North End, otherwise known as the Little Italy neighborhood, and one in Chinatown. Although they both sounded fantastic, I ended up going with the North End one since the neighborhood sounded like an extremely intriguing place (its origins date back to colonial times but at the turn of the 20th century it became home to a huge Italian immigrant population). As for Chinatown, thankfully we ended up having lunch at an authentic spot our first day there.
Our tour guide was Beth and she was simply a treat. She is a retired teacher and her educational background definitely came across as she was a captivating speaker, not to mention extremely passionate about what she was sharing with our group. Throughout the tour she offered up short and simple verbal recitations of recipes which I greatly appreciated being an avid cooking fiend myself. Clearly, anyone can memorize content to recite to others but it’s another thing to have that love of it come through.
I’ve now done a total of five food tours and this one was definitely the most food background heavy. We didn’t just go from place to place trying a food and then moving on to the next one-we truly got a background on just about everything from different types of olive oils to the differences between authentic Italian cuisine and Italian-American fare to hearing that one should never buy a cannoli with the filling already in it-it’s a sign that it’s not fresh. Everyone was given handouts which included Michelle’s own dining recommendations for the neighborhood (she’s been a resident for decades), a brief background on all of the places we visited on the tour and some recipes I can’t wait to try out.
Compared to other food tours I’ve been on, this was not one where you’re left feeling full by the end of it. Although we made about half a dozen stops, some of them included several samplings (for instance, our second stop at Bricco Salumeria and Pasta shop included trying things like different types of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette). We also got to sample two types of pine nuts (the Asian and European variety-I had never known this was a difference between the two) and a type of hard candy at an old world style grocery store (Polcari’s Coffee).
My favorite stop was Maria’s Pastry Shop. It smelled simply divine upon first walking in and seeing all the items that are handmade was just amazing. We got to try a variety of treats here but my favorite was the cannoli. Long after the tour we ended up buying some cookies to go.
Outside of a food context, another reason I loved the tour was just hearing about and seeing this beautiful and intriguing neighborhood firsthand. It oozes history at every corner and just had so many places I could have spent all weekend exploring and trying. It was also nice to learn about those businesses that are still in operation decades after they first opened. Small businesses are a wonderful thing and the many we visited on the tour are a perfect reason why you should too.
The North End is an incredible place to visit and I’m glad my first time here was on a tour that allowed me to get a great background and culinary insight on this very unique spot of Boston. You can bet that when I return to Beantown, dining here is definitely on the to-do list.
Boston has centuries of fascinating history but it also has amazing food, so be sure you add a food tour to the itinerary.
Note: I was given a complimentary tour in exchange for a review but as always all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.