MIAMI - If the way to man’s heart is through his stomach, then maybe the path to a city’s soul is through its cuisine. A food tour through Miami’s famed South Beach district might just answer that question.
South Beach might conjure up images of scantily-clad women and a rocking night life (accurate images, by the way), but it has also become a mecca for foodies.
“In the last year, Nuevo Latino cuisine has been growing at a great rate, exposing foodies to a new type of Latin cuisine,” says Grace Della, founder of Miami Culinary Tours.
“We see young, talented chefs creating dishes that mix Latin ingredients from different Central and South American countries and more mom and pop places opening their doors to offer traditional dishes.”
Above: Iconic South Beach has its own unique food scene.
Della’s company offers two walking tours and I’ve been warned to pack my appetite because there are lots of stops. My taste buds are up for the challenge, but I’m not sure my waistline is.
Well, at least the walk might help.
The journey starts at the Anglers Resort, a boutique property where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out, where our guide Mirka Roch Harris introduces us to yucca fries, a Miami staple that are better than any potato fry I’ve had.
At Bolivar, our next stop, I step out of my culinary bounds. The restaurant serves Colombian fare, including a popular cocktail called a refajo, a mix of a Colombian beer called Aguila and a soft drink called Colombiana. The result is a drink that tastes a bit like cream soda with a little extra punch. It’s also supposed to be a remedy for hangovers.
Along with the drinks, we’re served plantain and empanadas (mine’s a vegetarian version).
“Miamians are so crazy about their empanadas that even the 7-Elevens serve them,” Mirka says.
There are variations on the theme from culture to culture, though. Colombian empanadas are made with corn and fried, while in Argentina they’re made of wheat and baked.
No food tour of South Beach would be complete without a stop at David’s Café, a local hangout, for Cuban coffee.
“For Miami Beach cops, this is like their Dunkin Donuts,” Mirka says. A cup of coffee costs less than $2, but watch out, unlike its American counterpart, Cuban coffee is so sweet it’s like drinking liquid sugar.
Left: The beer of South Beach has that Latin American flavour. Right: Food tours let visitors sample some spicy South Beach culinary treats.
Speaking of coffee, Mirka suggests we try Café Bustelo, another Miami tradition.
“Almost 70 per cent of coffee consumed by Miamians is Bustelo,” she says, adding that she drinks it every day and makes it at home with a French press. (Later, I swing by a grocery store to buy it for a few bucks, and I’m now hooked on the stuff.)
My belly is filling up fast, but the walking feels good. Along the way, Mirka educates us about the history and Art Deco buildings of South Beach. And we stroll by the Versace Mansion, where fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed in 1997 and which is rumored to be the third most photographed house in the United States.
At Charlotte Bakery we sample an Argentinian empanada, which I like better than the Colombian version. It’s stuffed with spinach and ricotta and, since it’s baked, there’s little grease.
The last stop is Milani Gelateria on Espanola Way. I’ve tried gelato all over the world, and I can honestly say this is some of the best outside of Italy.
The gelateria, founded by an Italian named Francesco Pasqua, makes its 12 flavours fresh daily. My husband chooses hazelnut and bacio (like Nutella), while I opt for pistachio and lemon. The combination is out of this world; the lemon’s tang explodes in my mouth.
I’m stuffed beyond belief, but it was worth every delicious calorie. Talk about a new take on the South Beach Diet.
Can’t decide where to go on your next vacation? Let your stomach guide you. A whopping 51 per cent of people travel to learn about or enjoy unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences, according to a survey sponsored by the World Food Travel Association and other tourism organizations. Here are three food tours in cities that won’t disappoint: Chicago: Chicago Food Planet Tours (www.chicagofoodplanet.com) offers three walking tours – like the Gold Coast & Old Town tour which includes a stop at the famous Lou Malnati’s Pizza - that introduce you to Chicago’s neighbourhoods. / Seattle: Take a walk on the gourmet side of Seattle with the Gourmet Seattle Food & Cultural Tour, a popular tour from Savor Seattle (www.savorseeattletours.com). / New York City: Why see the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty when you can take one of five food tours through Foods of New York Tours (www.foodsofny.com)? Consider the Nolita/NoHo tour where you learn about mafia history and see The Godfather film locations.