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Saturday, 01 March 2014 00:00

Selling Culinary Travel to China

Written by  Marian Goldberg

Asia-ChinaSome of the most memorable experiences I have had in China involved food and drink. In X’ian I was wowed by the variety of dumplings at De Fa Chang Restaurant ( We sampled about 25 different kinds of dumplings (there are over 100 to choose from) in a variety of shapes - think avian species; fillings - potato, chicken, walnut; dough flavors - pumpkin, spinach, chocolate; and cooking methods - steamed, pan-fried, baked. What a treat after visiting the tourist sites! In Beijing I fondly remember our over-the-top royal banquet meal with Chinese American friends, who had relatives in the city. And, I’ll never forget those “finishing tea notes” of Great Leap Brewery’s (www.greatleapbrew Yunnan Amber beer - infused for five days in Yunnan’s Dianhong black tea, which I drank in the congenial lobby bar at Beijing’s Orchid Hotel (

Somehow, I can relive my travel experience as I recall the smells and tastes. In Shanghai, the dishes were especially flavorful, with more soy sauce, sugar, rice wine and rice vinegar than other regional specialties. However, I must confess I was just as impressed by the sweet taste and aroma of the Jasmine tea infused vodka martini at the Jazz Bar at the Fairmont Peace Hotel (

Edibles and libations definitely enhance my overall cultural experience of a destination. I had two unforgettable tea experiences with American expat tea connoisseur Tracy Lesh (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), who runs Shanghai and Beyond ( First, I joined her group tea trek. We took the bullet train about one hour to the water town of Hangzhou. We proceeded another 20 minutes by chartered mini-bus to the mountainous village of Meijiawu, along Lake Xihu (West Lake). Here, just as the locals have done for centuries, we picked the highly-prized, “royal” Longjing green tea. It was June, just the right time to pick only the sweet tea buds - no bitter fully matured leaves - and Tracy instructed us to also remove the stems. After filling our tea carry bags, we climbed back down the hillside, where the resident farm family roasted them for us by hand in a large metal wok over a hot fire, and then served us lunch with our self-picked freshly brewed tea! My second experience with Tracy was a tea tasting workshop at a reputable Shanghai tea and tea amenities shop, where I joined a group sampling 12 varieties of green, white, and black teas. I learned their similarities and differences, their respective nutritional properties, and the affects of roasting tea leaves. After the rest of the class left, Tracy and I went to a local place for lunch, where she ordered tea to match our meal.

My personal experiences are not unique. We’ve heard over and over recently about the growing traveler interest in culinary experiences. A 2013 reader survey taken by Conde Nast Traveler revealed that 62% want to enjoy culinary, wine or liquor tastings (up from 51% in 2012) and 52% have planned a trip that centers around food (up from 43% in 2012). Travelers visiting China are no exception. Even China’s new marketing campaign emphasizes travelers’ desires to “expand their personal horizons,” in terms of “culture, culinary, and living like a local.” The question is, how can your clients have this unique and special culinary experience in China?

Commissionable Tours
A number of tour operators offer commissional culinary travel packages. For an extensive list of US Tour operators offering China tours can be found on CNTO’s website at:
One particular tour operator, Intrepid Travel, is offering its Real Food Adventure-China ( according to your client’s own choice of departure date. The trip includes: Peking Duck and the Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing, guan tang baozi (steamed buns with gravy) for breakfast in Xi’an, followed by local snacks in the afternoon, Sichuan hotpot in Chengdu along with a farm village visit, and a fresh fruit and vegetable market in Shanghai. Also on the menu is a northern Chinese cooking class. The 10-day trip starts at $2,035 land-only and is valid through December 31, 2014. Agents receive
15% commission.

Custom Culinary China
SITA World Travel ( offers custom culinary programs. According to Mary Barnett, who has traveled to China over 70 times since it opened in 1979 and is now head of Concierge Sales, the personalized itineraries include all of what the other companies are offering, but also hidden restaurants, a chance to eat in a chef’s home, visiting and eating at an organic farm, and cooking classes in Beijing and Chengdu.

Guides FOR Day Tours
For agents who need to book culinary extensions for clients on business trips or wish to add some gourmet spice to free days on general interest tours. Here are some private guides and guiding companies who will work with you:

In Beijing: Lillian Chou (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.): China food writer, author, consultant and chef, offers all imaginable culinary programs in Beijing - half-day, full-day, and overnight. Custom programs and pricing, depending on your clients’ interests and budget.

In Beijing: Hias Gourmet ( offers group or private culinary walks, tastings, and cooking classes.

In Shanghai: UnTour Shanghai ( founded by food writers Jamie Barys and Kyle Long, who also blog at

Hotel Programs
For agents with upscale clients staying at the Park Hyatt Beijing during select weekend dates at the turn of each season in January, March, June, and September, the hotel offers its special Masters of Food and Wine program. The program taught in both English and Chinese allows both resident and visiting gourmands and oenophiles to gain insight and exposure into the best characteristics of regional cuisine. Program details and pricing for upcoming dates are available by emailing:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information on travel to China contact the China National Tourism Organization in NYC at 212-760-8218 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and LA at 800-670-2228 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; online at

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NOTE: Search uses Airport Codes (ie: ORD vs. CHI). Lookup Airport Codes Here
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