Use food to entice tourists? Certainly

The Baltimore Sun

When I learned that Baltimore officials were using food to lure visitors to the city, my reaction was, duh?

Why else, I wondered, would anybody travel to another town if not to eat?

What marketers call food tourism, I regard as the rules of the road. You go to Chicago to eat the pizza and the Italian beef. You find yourself in Portland, Ore., and you are required to eat the boysenberries and drink the hoppy beer. If you leave the Kansas City area without barbecue sauce on your shirt, you haven't really been there.

Sure, you might have to sandwich these juicy outings around a dull business meeting or a required family get-together. But it is worth the effort? When you are heading back home from a business trip to New Orleans, what luggage do you treasure? That three-ring binder containing 10 tips on how to improve your oeuvre or that brown paper bag carrying a couple of muffuletta sandwiches from the Central Avenue grocery? You can guess what I vote for.

I recognize that some people, even people you are related to, prefer to visit museums and other cultural institutions when they travel. You can work around that. In my family, I like to think we have reached detente between the arts and the eats. For every museum I visit to expand my cultural horizons, I feel I am entitled to visit a joint to expand my culinary horizons.

So a morning spent admiring the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum in London is followed by an afternoon at the Nags Head pub in Knightsbridge, sipping a hand-pumped Adnams bitter. After being impressed by the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript that glows in Dublin's Trinity College, I retreat a few blocks to the quiet of the Old Stand restaurant to enjoy an evening gammon, or ham steak. If my wife and I go to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan for a performance, we also must go to the Carnegie Deli for pastrami on rye.

This policy of detente has worked well for me when I visit almost every city. Washington is an exception. That town has far too many fine museums and not enough indigenous eats for me. I try to stay away, or carry a sandwich when I visit it. The talk about food tourism also made me realize that, like a lot of people in this area, I have already been practicing a form of it. Whenever out-of-town relatives come to visit, I keep them entertained by feeding them the local fare.

In the summertime, that means escorting them up what I call the ladder of crab delights.

With beginners - folks who aren't sure they will like a dish made with a critter that swims and pinches - you start them off with a bowl of red crab soup. It looks safe, and the sight of vegetables is reassuring to the newcomers.

If they like the soup, you move them up to crab cakes, a savory dish that has easily identifiable parts.

If your visitors are still hanging around after the crab cakes, it is time to break out hammers, the canned beer and the steamed crabs. Hammering away at hard crabs is a noisy, peppery, messy undertaking that can not be done with dignity. It deliciously separates the "come-heres" from the locals.

Finally, if you want to get rid of visitors, consider serving them soft-crab sandwiches. This is risky. It could backfire. There is a good chance that the sight of the crab legs dangling over the edge of the sandwich will be too much for the out-of-towners. They might high-tail it back to the hinterlands, muttering to each other, "I can't believe what those people were eating."

On the other hand, if they are brave enough to taste a succulent sauteed crustacean topped with luscious slices of Maryland beefsteak tomato, the visitors may never leave.

The newspaper article also mentioned the possibility of conducting a tour of the city's crab-cake emporiums. This, I think, is a path fraught with danger. Once you have started a tour of the area crab-cake spots, how could you ever stop?

Recently, after I wrote about a trip to three of the area's crab-cake temples - G&M; restaurant, Koco's Pub and Grill and Faidley Seafood - I was flooded with suggestions from readers of other spots to visit. Among them were Box Hill Pizzeria in Abingdon, the Olive Branch in Pikesville, the Olive Tree in Aberdeen, Casa Mia in White Marsh, By the Docks in Middle River, Dellis restaurant in Rosedale, Pappas Restaurant in Parkville and Beef Shakes in Reisterstown. I had a similar outpouring of suggestions several months ago when I wrote about the area's pit-beef emporiums.

If officials want to go forward with the food-tourism proposal, it seems to me that they have to create a Minister of Eats position. It should be manned by someone familiar with the delights of this area. Someone who does not want to leave.

I would be among the first to apply.

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