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.
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?
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.