You don’t have to travel abroad to taste the best international cuisine. Maeve O’Meara says the world’s best-kept food secrets can be tasted down under.
“Our range of cuisines and exceptional produce – and world-class wine – what a combination!”
The TV Presenter, best-selling author and culinary queen says that shouldn’t stop you from tasting your way around the world.
Fresh out of university at age 20, Maeve flew to Rome. A few weeks later, she found herself living in a camel hair tent in the Tunisian sand dunes. Ever since Maeve has made a career out of travelling to exotic destinations.
Maeve recently returned from Vietnam after hosting a Gourmet Safari with Peter Nguyen. Returning often twice a year for the past 18 years, Maeve cites “the warm welcomes and the incredible regional food and markets” as a huge part of the reason she keeps going back.
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Making the famous white rose dumplings of Hoi An.. the delicacy of each one, handmade by this extended family .. they make 6000 a day. They’re steamed and served with a light golden dipping sauce and sweet fried eschallots. Very delicious.. theres a vegetable version as well as prawn and pork mix. #gourmetsafarisvietnam #gourmetsafaris #dumplings #hoian
Maeve’s extensive resume revolves entirely around food and travel. She’s an award-winning TV presenter on Food Safaris and Better Homes and Gardens and the author of the Food Lover’s Guide to Australia. She’s written multiple cookbooks and is an ambassador for food rescue charity, OzHarvest.
But the project she is most passionate about is the venture that started it all.
“In 1998, my mothers’ group asked me to take them to a Lebanese restaurant they had heard me talking about on radio,” Maeve says.
“I loved the experience of opening up a new flavour frontier for them and giving the chefs a voice.”
Since then, Maeve has built a global portfolio of culinary adventures, aptly named Gourmet Safaris.
Gourmet Safaris close to home
Maeve traces her love of international cuisine back to her roots.
“I grew up in the white-bread suburbs of Sydney and always longed for more exotic worlds,” she says.
She grew up in a time of great culinary change in Australia. But is glad “we now have the world on our doorstep.”
Sydney is a melting pot for international cuisine with pockets of cultural splendour around every corner. In Haberfield, you’ll find handmade pasta whose recipes can be traced back through generations to small villages scattered throughout Italy. Punchbowl is where you’ll find the most authentic Lebanese cuisine. And in Marrickville, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped onto the set of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, tasting flakey pastries, juicy olives and crumbly feta cheese.
“Food is the element that holds generations together – it’s the way traditions are passed down and stories are told.”
Since that first Lebanese lunch with her mothers’ group, Maeve has launched almost 20 local food adventures in Sydney and Melbourne. These tours provide a bridge between worlds, encouraging food-lovers to learn about other cultures through their taste buds.
Inspired by the Food Safari series on SBS, the elements of earth, fire, air and water are central to the Sydney tours. The Earth Safari takes foodies on a paddock-to-plate journey in the CBD. You can meet a Maltese fruit grower, goat cheese-maker, and a mother and son duo who produce traditional Indian chutney.
Turn up the heat on the Fire Safari where charcoal cooking is the word. Meet Sydney’s top bakers, take a Fire & Fish class with Dimitri from De Costa and learn from the man of fire himself, Ben Nguyen.
The local Gourmet Safaris are between 1-4 hours and include tastings, lunch, wine and transport. Maeve will also host three Safaris in Australia this year. These will follow a six-day itinerary with meals, transport, gratuities and entrance fees included.
On the Victorian High Country Safari, Maeve will enlist the help of Italian food goddess, Franca Norris and her mushroom-gathering father, Angelo Bonnaci.
“In Byron Bay, I’m joined by local food legend and baking guru, Belinda Jeffery,” Maeve says.
In Tasmania, Maeve’s fellow SBS host, Matthew Evans will join the group. Renowned chef, Rodney Dunn will also make a special appearance.
Gourmet Safaris overseas
Maeve believes tasting local food is the most memorable, sensual part of travelling to a new place.
“The aromas of food and spices, bunches of herbs, delicious dishes and welcoming people – truly the stuff of life,” she says.
This year, Maeve will host four international tours with the help of local chefs and guides.
“In Greece, we have the phenomenal talents of Greek-Australian chef, Peter Conistis,” Maeve says.
Turkish chef, Somer Sivrioglu, will join the group in Turkey. Culinary royalty, Peter Nguyen, will be joining the Vietnamese jaunt, and a handful Maeve’s close friends will be co-hosting the trip to Sardinia and Corsica.
On the islands of Sardinia and Corsica tour guests are “welcomed by the stallholders at the San Benedetto Markets in Cagliari Sardinia with gifts and Prosecco.”
In Turkey and the Greek Islands, the groups discover welcoming people and unique regional food. In Vietnam, the locals share their tantalising produce with travellers who want more than what’s on the usual tourist trail.
The international Gourmet Safaris follow a twelve-day itinerary and include almost everything, except flights of course. The tours include most meals, often with wine, and gratuities, transport and sightseeing.
Is a Gourmet Safari right for you?
If you love food, and I can’t imagine anyone answering no to this question, then the answer is yes.
Exploring with your tastebuds is one of the joys of travel. But it can be challenging when you’re living with an allergy or dietary restriction. Maeve assures us that all travellers needs are catered for.
It’s also good to know the fitness level required for undertaking a Gourmet Safari. While most travellers are 60 and over, you’ll get the most out of it if you’re in good shape.
“In the Mediterranean cobbled streets and hills are part of getting around,” she says.”We like to take people in good health who can handle a bit of walking – that said, we are transported to markets and farms and restaurants.”
To find out more about Gourmet Safaris, visit the website.