History in Flavors: A unique food tour in Burlington, Vermont

with 15 Comments

Our taste buds have a way of dominating our memories. Up in the farmlands of Vermont, my appetite tends to be on a lookout for natural, wholesome flavors. I seek out food that hasn’t been messed around with or dishes prepared from freshly plucked ingredients. This time around though, our palates and minds were treated to new flavors. A walk with Burlington Edible History Tours gave us a chance to taste dishes which have traveled with the communities who came to settle in this region. Through the course of these tastings, we also learned about how the town has socially and economically evolved over time.

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The town of Burlington is located by Lake Champlain, which was once beneath a glacier. The native peoples, known as Abenakis were the first agriculturists in the region. What follows since the early days of the Abenakis is a fascinating tale of settlements and intermingling of cultures. So, without revealing any more about the tour, here are a few aspects that especially struck a chord with us:

Burlington is way more diverse than we imagined, even with its population of about 42,260 people. The region has welcomed settlers from Britain (including Black Yankees), France, Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Lebanon, China, Greece, Somalia, and Nepal to name a few. With years of immigrant settlement, the town has benefited from the new flavors that made their way from various corners of the world.

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Despite changes in meal preparation styles and strict laws, some hundreds of years old culinary trends have survived. Think farm to tables, food carts, and even microbreweries! During our walk, I particularly felt that the frozen yogurt sandwiches must have tasted delicious in the past too, especially since they would have been prepared using long forgotten techniques, without the aid of modern conveniences. This delicious sandwich, created especially for the tour by Shiel Worcester is meant to acknowledge Lebanese women who would tie balls of cream in cheesecloth and make their own yogurt. 

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A shift in perspectives about food brings some strong realizations to light. For starters, food is so much more than a form of sustenance. For communities like the Irish, Greek or Chinese, food was a connection to their home countries as well as a means to an end – a form of business, a method by which they could make a living. Some communities sold food that didn’t necessarily represent their own ethnicity but helped provide for their children’s futures.

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While listening to the story about a past period in history, it is difficult to not compare it with the present age. Our times and situations may be radically distinct but the urge to build a suitable world while maintaining a connection to our heritage remains.

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To balance these engrossing stories shared by Carolyn, our well-informed, enthusiastic guide, our group stopped at wonderful cafes and restaurants around town. Each of these establishments has a history of its own, and we tasted dishes that belong to the culture of Burlington today. You may be familiar with some of them, just as we were. Luckily, our request for vegetarian options was accommodated comfortably with prior notice:

  • Sweet potato salad (Served at the Waterside Cafe, ECHO Center on the Waterfront, a one of a kind dish custom-made for our group with ingredients developed by native people of the Americas.)
  • Lemon zest frozen yogurt ice cream sandwich (Maglianero / Jam Bakery)
  • Tofu buns (or chicken for omnivores) (Gaku Ramen)
  • Quinoa salad (option: French Canadian Tourtiere) (Penny Cluse)
  • Momos (Juniper Bar & Restaurant) Those in our group who ate fish were treated to Lake Champlain perch, one of the oldest foods found during archeological digs in the area, and eaten and sold by migrants for hundreds of years.

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Meeting a co-founder

Before the tour began, we caught up with Gail, one of the co-founders of Burlington Edible History Tours. How did a woman who has lived a city life with a sound career in public relations drop everything and move to the quiet countryside? I was curious. “You know, I took my time when I first moved here…but I’m thrilled with the special tour Elise (the tour’s co-founder) and I created”, she said. Gail fell in love with Vermont on her first visit and decided to move with her family. The city girl in her is well alive and kicking, and she often returns to NYC to joyfully ride crowded subways, hear cars honking – and sample food. Anyone who meets her will realize what makes this tour so enriching. She and Elise have devoted nearly a year researching and interviewing immigrant descendants about the different cultures in the city. Gail’s genuine interest in people and her eagerness to share the story of the region is a sincere attempt at connecting visitors to the past. In the process, we realized that our tasting experiences are so much more fulfilling once we know about the nature of the existence of the food that we are consuming.

Not every piece of history can be relayed through museums or books. Sometimes, all one needs is a conversation, along with a few scrumptious treats thrown in here and there.

We truly enjoyed our tour with Burlington Edible History. What was particularly nice was the fact that we could chat with an equally curious minded group. Gail and Carolyn are brimming with suggestions about local restaurants and farms too. The tour donates 10% of its profits to the New Farms for New Americans project.

This edible history tour runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 1:00 pm and ending at approximately 4:15 pm until October 14 this year. Book your tour for a Friday in September and avail a discount with the code FOODIES. Buy Tickets here.

Note: We learned about this tour through fellow traveler Naomi’s blog and reached out to Gail and Elise for a collaboration. All views expressed in this blog post are completely our own. 









History in Flavors: We took a unique food tour in Burlington Vermont. Here's how that went
Follow Supriya:

As a kid, Supriya had to be brought back to reality from her daydreaming excursions. A digital marketer by profession, she enjoys reading, writing, and photography. Her wanderlust list changes each week, but she's strongly eyeing countries in South America and the Middle East as destinations for her journeys :)

15 Responses

  1. Megan Jerrard
    | Reply

    Totally agree that our taste buds have a way of dominating our memories! Burlington Edible History Tours sounds great – I love that it combines food with an understanding of how the community has evolved from such a diverse base of settlers. Amazing that some hundreds of years old culinary trends have survived. Carolyn sounds like a great guide, and what an opportunity to meet Gail – I love her dedication to making this one of the most enriching tours – that’s dedication and passion to have so thouroughly researched the cultures of the city to incorporate into the tour. Impressive!

    • Supriya
      | Reply

      It really is Megan. As travelers, it’s amazing to meet such passionate people around the world – we are sure you agree. Carolyn was phenomenal. We really enjoyed chatting with her and learning about the community in Burlington through her.

  2. Chloe LIN
    | Reply

    Burlington Edible History Tours sounds really interesting. It looks like a great place for food and culture lover. Great to hear that the community is so vibrant!

    • Supriya
      | Reply

      It really is! Definitely give these guys a try if you travel to Burlington, VT πŸ™‚

  3. Juliette | Snorkels to Snow
    | Reply

    What an interesting food tour! Amazing how many different international cuisines have made their way into the local flavours. The ice cream sandwich sounds interesting and I love how that’s a nod to the Lebanese woman of days gone by. Isn’t food such a wonderful way to explore the history of a place?! Better than a museum, perhaps!

    • Supriya
      | Reply

      We too were so surprised by the presence of these cultures and their cuisines Juliette. I’m beginning to think that such tours could be new age museums. Isn’t it interesting how the growth of travel has given rise to so many unique ways to learn about a place?

  4. knycx.journeying
    | Reply

    The bakeries looks warm and comforting and it’s nice to know different cuisine all around the country. Thanks a lot for sharing with us! @ knycx.journeying

    • Supriya
      | Reply

      Glad you enjoyed the post Kenny! Hope you get to visit this side of the world soon and eat all those delicious dishes πŸ™‚

  5. Vlad
    | Reply

    What a unique mix of cultures, it sounds like a very interesting festival. I’d love to learn about different peoples through their food, is there a better way? πŸ˜‰ That sweet potato salad looks delicious and I’d kill for a frozen yogurt sandwich right about now, haha.

    • Supriya
      | Reply

      Each time I look at that photo, I’d want to kill for a frozen yogurt sandwich too. It wasn’t a festival but a food tour πŸ™‚

  6. Naomi Liz
    | Reply

    SO glad to hear you made a connection with Gail and Elise and enjoyed the tour! Very exciting. πŸ™‚ I absolutely loved Burlington, and I’m glad I did this tour at the beginning of my trip because it gave context to many places and restaurants within the city as I explored more. Enjoyed the post (and it makes me want to go back!)–thanks so much for the mention.

    • Supriya
      | Reply

      Thanks a million Naomi for giving us the recommendation in the first place πŸ™‚

      I so agree with you- Burlington definitely warrants many more visits, just for the food itself!

  7. […] hip city of Burlington, Vermont is thriving with activities, interesting eateries (including a historical food tour), and surrounding […]

  8. […] History in Flavors: A unique food tour in Burlington, Vermont […]

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