Culinary Touring with Oceania Cruises
Photo by Jason Leppert
How would it sound to taste local flavors both onboard and off and then learn to cook them back at home?
Oceania Cruises is well known for its exceptional cuisine on its ships, and the food journey continues ashore as well with its Culinary Discovery Tours. As an example, the Chef Market Tour, Cannoli, Pasta & Lunch excursion in Taormina, Italy on Sicily is a mouthwatering delight that calls to cruise travelers.
Escorted by the Riviera’s chef instructor Kellie Evans, our tour met in the Culinary Center onboard where the master chef introduced herself. Kellie interestingly served previously as a food editor at “Saveur” magazine as well as executive chef of a catering company that serviced productions in New York like “Blue Bloods” and “30 Rock.”
With a brief historical primer, she first taught us that the locally known cannoli that we would soon be discovering in person are, in fact, of Arabic origin, as the island was and continues to be a centrally Mediterranean confluence.
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Once we disembarked, the small group of only 17 of us hopped on a minibus for some sightseeing described in detail by our additional local guide.
Our first stop was the open-air fish and produce market of Catania where guests can enjoy taking in the sights, sounds and, of course, smells of the regional food scene. Perhaps most striking is just how colorful the local produce (pictured above) is grown from the mineral rich land at the base of Mount Etna.
Particularly impressive — and a nice touch that I’ve never seen before on a shore excursion — was how our chef gave each of us 5 euros to spend locally in the market to truly experience the flavors, including the fresh green grapes that we enjoyed and limoncello later purchased.
After a brief walk, a small shop beckoned us to try the local cannoli – which was only briefly a demonstration on making them – as fillings of sweet and rich ricotta, lemon custard, pistachio and more were bag-inserted into the ends of the already prepared plain or chocolate fried pastry tubes.
We all tried one of the fistfuls each, and for mine I chose a recommended hybrid. Pick two flavors, and each end will be filled with a different one accordingly to try more. The liquor tastings were also tasty here including the aforementioned limoncello available to buy as well as cinnamon, cactus, orange and other flavors.
Of course, the highlight of this tour is the lunch at the dramatic cliffside Taormina that comes afterwards for a complete Sicilian meal. Ours was at the Michelin-starred Osteria Nero D’Avola where the house chef put out a spread of local produce, delicious tomatoes and olives included, to try as the cooks crafted Eggplant Parmesan before we had the chance to dine on the expertly prepared dish, layered like a delicious vegetarian lasagna.
Accompanying the meal were Benanti wines, from grapes also uniquely harvested from the volcanic foothills of Mount Etna, that were saltier and had more bite than is typical for the white and red varietals we sampled. After the eggplant, a well-balanced al dente anchovy pasta delighted our taste buds before they were refreshed by an unexpectedly good orange and olive salad. And to finish, a traditional raspberry panna cotta was a perfect crescendo.
Even though I had expected more of a hands-on experience in regards to the cooking demos ashore since that’s what Oceania Cruises offers onboard, the excursion was an excellent option for foodies nonetheless, and one that is sure to inspire your own culinary endeavors.
More by Jason Leppert
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