Gastronomy Tour in Marana, Arizona

In 2015, UNESCO named Tucson, Arizona a “City of Gastronomy.” Tucson was the first city in the U.S. to earn these bragging rights, although San Antonio just joined the list in 2017, along with cities like Parma, Italy and Chengdu, China. Tucson received this honor for having the longest agricultural history of any city in the U.S and a thriving culinary culture. While Tucson’s vineyards, orchards and livestock ranching go back 300 years, there is human history and agricultural evidence here dating back thousands of years. To showcase the UNESCO designation, the town of Marana, in conjunction with Gray Line Arizona, has put together the most unique Arizona food tour you will find, which also happens to be the first tour approved by UNESCO.

The Marana Gastronomy Tour is “an epicurean journey illuminated by 4,000 years of Agriculture.”

This Arizona food tour and history lesson is offered just a few Friday’s each month, so whether you are a Tucson native or visitor, you’ll want to make a reservation for this tour as soon as you can! For $109, you will be escorted on a 6-hour gastronomy journey around the town of Marana, concluding with an exquisite sampling of local foods at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. What is truly unique about this tour is that is it led by Dr. Suzanne Fish,University of Arizona Emerita Professor and Arizona State Museum Curator and one of the world’s experts on Hohokam foodways.

The Marana Gastronomy Tour includes 4 stops in and around the town of Marana. The entire presentation is built around 3 kinds of food: ancient wild foods, ancient farm foods and food brought by the Europeans.

Gastronomy Stop #1: Los Morteros Conservation Area

Our first stop is Los Morteros, named after the mortar holes found here, which you can see in the photo above. This is where Hohokam women would gather to grind mesquite pods into flour. This area is also rich with artifacts such as pottery sherds. (Yes, sherds, not shards – it was news to me as well!) Anytime we found something, we excitedly brought it to Dr. Fish to tell us what we’d found, hoping for a groundbreaking discovery! This is also the site of an ancient ball court, which you can still walk the perimeter of today.

(Above: Dr. Fish shows the Mayor of Marana examples of painted pottery)

Gastronomy Stop #2: Catalina Brewing Company

After walking around the desert site, we had worked up a thirst and an appetite! Luckily, our next stop was Catalina Brewing Company.

Catalina Brewing Company manufactures and distributes a variety of craft beers designed and created from local materials with the southern Arizona market in mind

Our five beer tastings included Monkey Brew, made with white Sonoran wheat, the same strain that Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary, brought to the region in the 1700’s. There is also a prickly pear ale, a mesquite porter and a mesquite agave brew.

While Catalina Brewing Company doesn’t prepare food, this stop also included a sampling of Bean Tree Farm foods, such as salsa with barrel cactus and prickly pear, desert chutney, and mesquite chocolate chile sauce.

Gastronomy Stop #3: Agave Farm

After refueling at the brewery, it was time to get back in the bus for our next stop at the Hohokam agave fields historical site. Dating back to 1100-1300 AD, nearly 20,000 acres of former agave fields have been discovered between Tucson and Phoenix. The farm system here was extensive with rock beds built to capitalize on the water flow and roasting pits also uncovered in this area. Agave has many uses for food, drink and textiles.

Gastronomy Stop #4: Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain

By late afternoon, it was time to head to our final stop at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, which was the perfect cap to this unique food tour. As you can imagine, the resort is in the most gorgeous setting (nearby hiking trails have become my new favorite) and they also had a life-size dine-in gingerbread house which can be reserved for a private dining experience. Our tasting was specially created by Executive Chef David Serus, and featured an assortment of the ancient and wild flavors of the region. The menu changes with the seasons, so no two tours are the same!

We started with a Heritage Grain Salad made with white Sonoran wheat berries, pecans, pistachios, tomatoes, dates and bee pollen.

Marana Gastronomy TourRitz Carlton Dove MountainHeritage Grain Salad

Followed by a green corn tamale made with poblano pepper, asadero and heirloom corn masa.

Our third course is a White Sonora Cavatelli, again made with the Sonoran wheat, porchetta, pistachio and onion, followed by a White Sonora Bunuelo for dessert, drizzled with saguaro syrup.

To accompany these delicious plates, we also had red wine from Arizona’s Burning Tree Cellars and a special cocktail made from Tucson’s Del Bac whiskey.  Each course was presented by the chef, with background story on how and why the ingredients were selected.

I’ve taken several food tours, but this tour was such a unique combination of food and history. As someone intrigued by Native American history and culture, I loved the format of this tour and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Tucson area. It’s not everyday you get to dine at the Ritz Carlton with a world-renowned anthropologist! There is quite a bit of walking through dusty fields, so keep this in mind when choosing your footwear, and you will be out in the sun, so sunscreen and a hat are a good idea!

Do you love food tours as much as I do? What’s been your favorite?

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I was a guest of Discover Marana for this tour. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

Tucson Food Tour: Taste of Tucson Downtown

You all know by now that food tours are my favorite thing to do! I’ve enjoyed food tours in New York, Siem Reap, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mexico City and Reykjavik! Naturally, when I landed in Tucson, the first thing I looked for was a food tour! Thanks to the Google, I stumbled upon the lovely ladies of Taste of Tucson Downtown and immediately signed up for the Historic Downtown Tour. With so many places to eat in Tucson, this is a great intro to the best downtown Tucson restaurants. The tour is offered every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 1-5pm. Taste of Tucson Downtown also offers a Downtown & 4th Avenue tour every Thursday from 1-5pm.

The historic tour meets at Mercado San Augustin, a cool space that incorporates several eating spaces, a central courtyard and a even a community kitchen. Located in the heart of Tucson’s west side, free parking and easy access to the street car make this an ideal starting point.

Taste of Tucson Downtown

Sherry and Lysa are cousins who decided to start a food tour company after experiencing food tours in their travels. Both former teachers, they also make sure to incorporate lots of local knowledge in between food stops. They work closely with the restaurant community to feature a rotating selection of Tucson’s best restaurants.

Augustin Kitchen

Our first food stop is Augustin Kitchen, nestled in the corner of the Mercado. The space is open and light, with vintage decor set against the white tile. The chef gave us an overview of the kitchen’s philosophy, which focuses heavily on sustainability and locality. Our samples here included a goat cheese brulee with mulberries and a cheese & fruit plate. According to those in the know, the calamari is a must-try, but was not available when we visited. (I’ve since returned and can confirm – the calamari is ah-mazing!)

From here, we jump on the streetcar (24-hour pass included in your $65 food tour ticket) and head over to the downtown area. Between food stops, we learned a lot about the history of Tucson and were given insider tours of the Congress Hotel and the art deco Fox Theater.

Caffe Milano

Our second food stop is La Fufi Caffe Milano, a cozy Italian joint in the heart of downtown. The Chef, La Fufi, served us a penne pasta dish. Penne Arrabiata looks like your average pasta with red sauce…ho, hum…but this sauce had a spicy kick to it that was super unique and delicious! I knew I shouldn’t eat all the pasta with 3 more food stops, but I just couldn’t help myself!

tucson italian restaurant

The Caffe also offers cooking classes on Monday evenings, which include a visit from La Fufi’s husband, the sommelier! Sounds like I need to sign up for one of those!

Elliott’s On Congress

Our third food stop is Elliott’s on Congress, a family restaurant serving American fare and the largest selection of infused vodka flavors in Tucson. There are over 30 vodka flavors, but since this is a food tour, not a drinking tour, vodka tasting will have to wait for my next visit. At Elliott’s, we had duck sliders and jicama cole slaw. The duck sliders (delicious!) had crunchy fried onions that really added to the texture of the slider. Definitely want to come back here for a full meal!

Charro Steak

Food stop #4 is Charro Steak, upscale cousin of the El Charro chain of Mexican restaurants. Charro Steak focuses on ranch to table cuisine, and the chef here is very passionate about the quality of his food! At Charro Steak, we were served a trio of deliciousness that included a shredded beef chimichanga (El Charro is the supposed inventor of the chimichanga), a stuffed mushroom and a BBQ meatball. All delicious! This spot is definitely going on my return list of Tucson restaurants.

The Screamery

Continuing our grass-fed theme, we ended our tour at The Screamery for a sweet end to a savory afternoon. We were given the chance to sample many of their unique flavors such as Bacon & Bourbon, Cowboy Cookie and Sweet Cream Honeycomb.  I opted for Pumpkin Pie, which did not disappoint with chunks of graham cracker crust hidden in the creamy pumpkin flavor. Someday, I’ll return and try the Ice Cream Nachos or a flight of ice cream!

Ready to book your Tucson Food Tour? Check their Facebook page for the latest updates and special offers!

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Want to craft your own Tucson food tour based on your taste and schedule? Check out The Food Lover’s Guide to Tucson.

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I was a guest of Taste of Tucson Downtown. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

Reykjavik Food Walk

I wanted to make the most of a 24-hour layover in Reykjavik, so naturally I looked for a food tour to join! I found Wake Up Reykjavik and signed up for the Reykjavik Food Tour. This 3-4 hour tour will take you to 6 Reykjavik restaurants. As soon as I signed up, I received the friendliest emails ever, giving me more details about the tour and the meeting point. We met our guide, Juliana, at the Harpa Concert Hall at 10am. (Great place to meet – you can’t miss it, but even still I received detailed directions including a photo!)

Julia & Julia

After a brief stroll from the Harpa Concert Hall, our first Reykjavik restaurant stop is the new cafe Julia & Julia, located in the Culture House. Our mission here is to sample Skyr, or Icelandic yoghurt. The Skyr was served with cream and sugar, so we could doctor it up according to our tastes. It was really thick, but the cream worked well to lighten it up a bit. I loved the vintage dishes and decor here, too!

Julia & Julie at Culture HouseSkyr Tasting

Someone in our group was celebrating a birthday, so we got a bonus tasting here! We each received our own little skillet cookie with melted butter on top. Butter on top of a cookie?! OMG! Delicious!

Julia & Julie at Culture HouseChocolate Chip Cookie

Ostabúðin

Our next stop is Ostabudin, a deli with an interesting array of meats and cheeses. Here, a sample of 3 meats and 3 cheeses were waiting for our arrival. We learned that Iceland doesn’t really have it’s own cheese, so they’ve taken cheese from other cultures and adapted them to their own dairy products. We started with the cheese – black gouda, white mould cheese and then blue mould cheese. The gouda was my favorite, but they were all good! Then for the meats: first, a cured sheep filet, followed by cured horse filet and finally smoked goose-breast topped with a tangy fruit jam. Our guide seemed surprised that everyone in our group tried the horse. I can see how some people might object, but when in Iceland…

These were all good, too. The horse was a bit chewy, but I was surprised how much I liked the goosebreast, which I expected to be gamey, but wasn’t at all!

Café Loki

Continuing our food walk, past Hallgrimskirkja (the iconic church dominating the Reykjavik skyline) brings us to Café Loki. In addition to a fascinating mural which Juliana narrated for us (click on their website and scroll to the bottom) we sampled 3 rye bread specialties at Cafe Loki. Rye bread is very common here, but different than the rye bread we have in the States. It is sweeter, which explains why I liked it! We had a bit of fish stew on rye, smoked trout on rye and best of all, rye bread ice cream, which of course was my favorite! The bread is mixed into the ice cream and adds just a sweet little fun crunch and texture. Definitely try rye bread ice cream when in Reykjavik!

Rye Bread samples at Cafe Loki

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Our 4th destination is the famous hot dog stand, where we lined up to sample Iceland’s infamous hot dogs! Despite spending most of my adult life in Chicago, I’m no hot dog connoisseur. I don’t dislike them, but I just don’t get all the hype. To me, they are something we boiled up on the stove at home. However, if you read about Icelandic food, you will inevitably hear about Icelandic hot dogs, so of course I had to see what the hype was all about! Icelandic hot dogs are made mostly of lamb, along with pork and beef. Traditional style is served with mustard, remoulade, raw onions and crunchy fried onions. It was good! With all of the toppings, it’s hard for me to really tell the difference between any other hot dog, but the crunchy onions were a nice addition! As we left, there was a pretty long line as it was lunch time. Not sure I would line up for one, but you kinda gotta try one when you’re in Iceland!

Unfortunately for me, this was my last stop on the food tour as I had to rush to the airport to catch a flight. If you are better at time management than I am, you’ll get two more stops on this food tour, which lasts up to 4 hours. The guides are also happy to give recommendations on Reykjavik restaurants and did so throughout the day, which pained me to hear as I had to fly home that day!

Reykjavik Tidbits

In addition to all the great food we tasted, Juliana gave us some fun facts about Iceland as we walked around downtown Reykjavik. She injected lots of humor into the stories and was super good-natured under the constant ribbing from a Brit in our group who liked to heckle her!

I loved hearing about the various Icelandic beliefs such as trolls and fairies. All over town, there are mischievous signs of these pranksters. I might have never noticed the tiny figures perched up high all over the city. (Can you spot 2 of them in the photo on the left?) The whimsical surprises combined with the colorful buildings make Reykjavik a really fun city to walk around and photograph! I can’t wait to come back and spend more time here!

Prior to my trip, I had not heard great things about the food in Iceland. I heard it was bland and that there is no fresh food, but I’m so glad that I took this tour and learned otherwise! And, shocker, there was no fermented shark served on this tour…yay!

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Would you try a food tour in Iceland? Maybe a beer tour or a bar crawl is more your speed?

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Reykjavik Restaurant Walk