Culinary Cities: What are they made of?

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Culinary Cities is a term, which isn’t easy to capture. Why? Well. First when we split it up to the words “culinary” and “city” and think about those, everyone will connect both of them with things that stand for those two words – but totally individual.
You won’t get the same answers on the question „What makes something culinary?“ and „What is the right city?“ when you ask 1, 5, 15 or 100 people. Probably you will get new questions as an answer like „The right city for what?“ or „You just talking about food?“.

Thinking about culinary cities in Barcelona

I started thinking about this topic already some time ago in 2017 back in Barcelona. To me, this city has it all – the whole range. I have similar thoughts to this about Paris, which I really love, too. But thinking more deeply about it, I think that this topic is highly individual.
Whether a city is a culinary city is the same question as „Do you prefer white or red wine?“. Even I always answer „Depends“, this is a really tough one. For most people, the home city won’t be a highly culinary city. It’s all day the same and to realize that there is a great culinary culture in the hometown needs a really open mind and view, whereas cities you travel to or visit during holidays are different, even if they aren’t. You are ready to receive the vibes, the flair, the culture.
Trying to break it down into categories, I listed up aspects which are – to me – relevant to make a city a culinary hotspot. As I am a huge fan of wine, my point of view is always a bit focused on this topic, but still having two eyes on the full package. A „foodie“ would put his focus more on the food-site – of course – but that’s okay and what makes it that interesting.

Culinary Aspects to me are:

  1. Food & Wine Places
  2. Markets & Others
  3. Domestic Products
  4. Innovation & Inspiration
  5. Pricing

So let’s get into the list. Of course, it is possible to extend this list to loads of aspects, but I try to focus on the key-points, which compass many other variables of culinary hot spots.

1. Food & Wine Places

Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it?! To me it has to be called „Wine & Food Places“ as I skip restaurants when they don’t have a good or a wine list at all. I am really happy that most restaurants keep on improving their wine list these days, because that’s what it is about. Having good food with delicious wines. Isn’t it? Talking about food and wine places means to me that there is a great number of these spots, but not just a huge amount of those. It is about the variety of food places. From the smallest street kitchen in Vietnam, which serves meat off a hand truck, to a mobile sausage spot in Australia, to the local deli, restaurant and fine dining restaurant. There are loads of other sized and shaped types of food places. It’s getting even better when there is another differentiation within this great amount of different types of food places. If it is for to go, to stay, warm, cold, Chinese, Japanese, german, french, Spanish, Italian and and and – you name it. These variables multiply the amount of options to get food – different food. Of course, there are places serving better food than others, but this fact also is part of the process to explore the culinary factor of a city.

And yes, the topic wine list is a highly discussed one all around the world. What does it need to have a good wine list? What kind of restaurant needs one? To cut the long story short: usually wine makes people happy. Restaurants want happy guests. There you go.

To me, wine places are restaurants, winebars or shops to buy wine. Some cities have loads of those, if it is Barcelona, London, Paris or Beijing. Other cities don’t have. But not every city can be a culinary hotspot, so you have to pick the raisins for delicious trips.

2. Markets & Others

Of course you can eat at a local market, too. But here I mean the places you can get ingredients to do something by yourself! Small booths on the corner in Paris where you can buy oysters, street markets around the globe or places like “La Boqueria” in Barcelona. Food markets in China are really special as they slaughter in front of the people and stuff like that, but however this places are inspiring me and show off what great range of things mother nature offers.

And even if you don’t need anything because you are just having a look, this places gives you this kind of feeling. A feeling of creativity and purity. Walking through rows and rows full of spices, different types of oysters and seafood, mounts of cheese, ham, meat and sweets. Priceless! Not to forget: Beside traditional food markets are some stores. I call them Boutiques. These places like Dallmayr in Munich, where you can find the best products, presented amazingly. A totally different style to the markets, but just great!

3. Domestic “Products”

This is something you can combine perfectly with 1. and 2. and even with the culture of a place. If you are a sports fan, you will prefer watching the Cleveland Cavaliers at the “Q” in Cleveland instead of watching it in front of your screen at home, right? That’s what I mean. Cities, areas, regions are popular for any kind of “product”.
If it is Jamon in Spain, oysters from Normandie (France), Schwarzwälder Schinken from Schwarzwald (Germany), Pasta from Italy, afternoon tea in the UK or sharing food in Asia. These are the things you link to a place, you keep them in mind and want to experience them that way.

Many times others want to “duplicate” these experiences and make them accessible to their customers around the world, but how often did you hear people say: “The mussels were much better sitting in the harbour of this tiny town in Provence!” or “I can’t help myself, but the burrito I had in Mexico City is better than this one in Cologne.” So whenever you are somewhere out there, keep on trying new things again and again.

4. Innovation and Inspiration

Innovation should be everywhere. That’s what they say. Inspiration anyway. And I think it’s true.

Without innovation we would still sit in caves, make fire and paint on the walls. Trying out new things and reinventing old ones is something really important to me. Just in this branch of food, cooking, wine and stuff like that. And if we think about it – what is it that reinvents things? That goes new paths?
The human.
And in this case the winemaker. The Chef. The producer. With their intrinsic motivation to create something, create something new, create something better, they start a process of innovation, based on their own inspiration. They are inspired by doing things in a new way, an own way. And that’s a great and major thing.
That is why we have so many styles of food, of restaurants and of wine, even if the parcels are side by side. The good thing is – I am pretty sure about this – that this process of innovation and inspiration won’t come to an end, because the running process is the purpose.

5. Pricing

At the end of the day, size matters. And here it is the size if the price. Sure, it is great if your city offers nearly everything you can imagine of: wines, fresh food to buy and delicious food places. But, what to do with all of these options, if the calculation isn’t reasonable, isn’t fair, is nothing you can work with.

That does not mean that things need to be cheap. Definitely everything should have the price it is worth, but why put a lot of distributors, restaurants, bars utopistic price tags on things?! Again, mostly everyone in the branch wants his guest or client to be happy. Then, why buy a bottle of wine for 25€ and sell it for 140€ to the guest? I can tell you from my own point of view – this just does not make fun. You don’t want to pull corks if restaurants or wine bars price like that. Same with food.

It is important that the customers willingness to pay for good products rises – but it needs to be fair. So, the same as a culinary city is a city with a wide range of products and offers, it should serve all price categories. Getting a sandwich for some bucks shouldn’t be a problem, as well as getting a glass of white wine for a reasonable price. Of course, up to the top level. But in general, nobody wants to get played!

What do you think on culinary cities?

These were my thoughts on indicators that make a city a culinary hotspot that is worth a ride!

To me, every indicator is linked to the other and depends on the other. Sure, cities would be lovely too without one or two of those, but for me this combination is some kind of a warrantor to have delicious times. I already dropped some city names, some places and specialties, but will go deeper into that in other blogs coming up, like I did with Hedonism Wines in London.

What are your favorite places, cities and “products”?
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