By publishing the stories of our local heroes, visiting them on culinary tours, or directly fundraising for them when they are in need, we attempt to honor their work and their essential role in maintaining the fabric of the city. Our purpose is twofold. Yes, we want to get travelers to some good places to eat. But we also want to make sure that some of these spots and the artisans making food there find a new audience and get the recognition and support they deserve. They are holding back the tide of globalized sameness, which is not easy work – even if it’s done unknowingly. But we believe that every meal counts and, with the help of our audience, they will add up. We are committed to their perseverance and hope that our modest efforts encourage them to keep at it.
Our work is also guided by a belief in:
Honest Tourism: The places where we eat and craftsmen that we feature on our culinary tours are all selected with this purpose in mind. We’d never accept a free lunch or consider a discount for our tour groups, because that would contradict our central goal, to support them. Nor do our guides receive any commissions from shopkeepers.
Honest Journalism: The same principal is applied to the publishing of stories. There are no sponsored posts or even advertising on CB. The writers and photographers are paid fairly for their work on stories that we all believe in.
The cities we are drawn to all have a culinary tradition of untold richness as well as a certain tension, be it political instability, the tug between East and West, the clash between modern and ancient identities, migration, rapid gentrification, bankruptcy, or a post-colonial hangover. Our decision to get started in a city is always the result of a trip filled with many meals where we are given in intimate view of that tension, right there on the table. By getting lost in this warren of independent food purveyors struggling to preserve or adapt tradition in fast-paced urban life, we start to discover the deep complexity and true flavor of the city. At present, you’ll find our regular dispatches from Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, Marseille, Mexico City, Naples, Porto, Queens (NY), Shanghai, Tbilisi and Tokyo.
As travel to most of the cities where we work has resumed, Culinary Backstreets is working with a new set of safety guidelines designed for the physical well-being of our guests, guides and members of the local community that we encounter. These guidelines have been developed in line with the best practices published by governments and health officials in the countries where CB works with regard to restaurant and tour and trip operation. With these procedures in place, our guests — led by our team of professional guides, who are being trained accordingly — can explore with peace of mind. The new procedures we are instituting include:
Disinfection: Our guides carry hand sanitizer and provide it to guests frequently while also encouraging them to wash hands whenever a sink is available. Our guides also carry disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces during the tour or trip.
Maintaining social distancing requirements: Our guides maintain social distancing during tours and trips, according to regulations issued by local health authorities.
Wearing masks: Our guides and guests wear masks wherever required by local regulations. We request that guests come to the tour with their own mask, although our guides will provide masks to those who do not have one.
Visiting restaurants safely: Our tours and trips only visit restaurants and shops that are adhering to official safety standards and regulations and, where applicable, have been certified as such. We also avoid visiting restaurants during peak times so that they are less crowded and in order to not displace hungry locals. In restaurants and shops, our guides make sure that guests adhere to the establishments’ social distancing rules and ascertain whether the rules are being followed by other diners.
Tasting food safely: Our guides make sure that food is sampled and distributed safely and according to local health regulations.
Vaccinated guides: Most Culinary Backstreets guides have been vaccinated, and the few remaining are testing themselves regularly while they wait for the jab.
Culinary Backstreets’ mission has always been to preserve, protect and celebrate local culinary traditions and the unsung heroes of the kitchen. Now, more than ever, we remain focused on this goal. These days, we are paying close attention to the physical, economic and psychological well-being of the local communities and the people who keep them fed. We view this as an opportunity for cities to develop a tourism model that makes sense for them and that avoids the mistakes of the past, and for companies like Culinary Backstreets to be part of that process by renewing our commitment to a more sustainable way of traveling and working. By joining our tours and trips, you are contributing to this effort, which includes:
Going local: Our food tours and culinary trips continue to feature independent, family-run businesses and spotlight local products and small producers.
Respecting local needs: Since new regulations require restaurants to limit their seating, we will make sure that our tours and trips don’t displace local patrons.
Honoring tradition: We continue to honor the traditions of the communities we work with by promoting their cultural and culinary heritage.
Preserving community memory: By telling the stories of the unsung culinary heroes of these communities, we continue to help preserve community memory and keep the unique spirit of neighborhoods and their local businesses alive.
Expressing appreciation: Human contact with the local community is one of the joys of our tours and trips and the reason many of us travel. Despite the requirements of social distancing, we continue to safely express our appreciation of all the culinary masters we meet along the way.
Supporting independent businesses: Small, independent businesses are what make our cities and their culinary landscape so spectacular. These businesses — from neighborhood bodega in Barcelona to grill joints in Tokyo — are highly vulnerable these days and it is particularly challenging for them to adapt to the new conditions. Our support, now more than ever, is particularly important.
Reducing ground transportation: Conscious of the carbon footprint of our tours and trips, we are redoubling our effort to keep our tours and trips, as much as possible, on foot.
Reducing single-use plastic: We are working to reduce single-use plastics on all of our tours and trips, most significantly water bottles. We encourage guests to bring their own water bottle which we can refill throughout the day. We’re also persuading restaurants to offer filtered water as an alternative to plastic bottles.
Book with Confidence
Culinary Backstreets is offering maximum flexibility for our guests, as we realize that travel this summer and fall might involve unexpected cancellations or postponements. So that our guests can book with confidence, we are putting in place the following cancelation policies:
Culinary Tours: 100% refund if cancelled up to 7 days prior to the tour date.
Multi-Day Trips: 100% refund if cancelled up to 30 days prior to the trip date.
In addition to the policies above, any last minute cancellation will be given a 100% credit for future Culinary Backstreets activities.
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CB’s work was started in 2009 by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer as a humble food blog called Istanbul Eats. The following year we published a book of our reviews, now in its fifth edition. That year we also launched our first culinary walk in Istanbul, a route we are still using today.
In 2012, we realized that what we built in Istanbul was needed in other cities we knew and loved. We started CB that year with Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai as pioneering members of our network.
In 2013, we added Rio and also launched our iPhone application in Istanbul.
In 2015, Tokyo and Tbilisi came into the fold. That year we published mini-guides to Barcelona and Athens and also launched an iPhone application in those cities. Our Eatinerary service, which provides travelers with tailor-made culinary travel itineraries, was also launched in 2015.
In 2016, Lisbon – the latest city to kindle our curiosity – joined the CB network.
In 2017 we added Naples and Queens, NY – two places with very compelling stories to tell – to our roster and also published full-size eating guides to Athens and Barcelona.
In 2018, Porto joined the list of cities we cover.