Northland tour takes foodies around the world
Columbus Food Adventures puts five local eateries in the spotlight
A decade or two ago, an adventure in dining for many central Ohio residents might have involved going to a different Wendy's.
A venture launched in July 2010 by the Short North husband-and-wife team of Andy Dehus and Bethia Woolf takes advantage of the seemingly ever-expanding choices in restaurants and food venues throughout Columbus. On walking tours and in a van adorned with the image of Christopher Columbus holding a fork, Columbus Food Adventures aims to introduce residents and visitors alike to the myriad local options for eating out.
Among the adventures is one called "alt.eats," named after the popular food blog alteatscolumbus.com. In that tour, a van visits the Northland area, with stops at restaurants featuring five different ethnic cuisines: Vietnamese, Nigerian, Indian, Mexican and Somali.
"It was a very good idea and it was a good opportunity for us, and still it is today," said Nadira Abdirahman, owner of Solay Bistro, the Somali stop on the alt.eats tour. "A lot of Americans don't know Somali food or African food, East African food. They introduce the food to these people, but they also introduce them to the culture.
"They don't just give them the food. They also give them the history of the country."
Columbus Food Adventures also offers walking tours of dining hot spots in German Village and the Short North; a tour of taco trucks around the city ending at a Mexican market on the West Side; and the Meat Lovers Tour that includes a stop at a Pakistani market on the Northwest Side.
Interviewed via email from Malaysia, where she and Dehus were last week while traveling in Asia to learn more about food and food tours in other parts of the world, the British-born Woolf discussed how the alt.eats tour came about.
"The name is a riff on the idea of an 'alternative weekly'-style newspaper, but for alternative food destinations," she wrote, explaining that what became the tour originated as a website that was intended "to explore the often off-the-beaten-path immigrant kitchens in the city and provide them with recognition when we found them to be good."
Woolf, who has been blogging about the Columbus food scene since arriving in the city in 2008, wrote that "it was a given, as far as we were concerned," that ethnic restaurants would be on one of the tours.
"We've since found that, much like the taco trucks on our taco-truck tour, there's interest in cuisines found in unconventional or out-of-the-way locations, but people often feel as though they could benefit from a bit of guidance regarding etiquette, potential language barrier concerns and in seeking out quality and knowing what to order," Woolf wrote. "Our tours serve as the perfect solution.
"Since 2010, CFA has hosted approximately 10,000 tour guests with our range of seven different tour itineraries. We don't have numbers on hand for specific tours, but the alt.eats tour has been popular. We get a very wide variety of customers from all over the state and country and have had quite a few international visitors as well. Many have been surprised by the diversity and quality of ethnic food offerings in Columbus.
"The Northland area's food offerings are easily among the most diverse in the city, and this made the area an easy choice for our tour."
The 2013 tours of the five Northland eateries -- Mi Li Cafe (Vietnamese), Intercontinental Restaurant (Nigerian), Udipi Cafe (southern India), Panaderia Guadalupana (Mexican baked goods) and Solay Bistro step off at 6 p.m. Fridays, beginning Feb. 8; private groups can make other arrangements. Cost is $60 a person, which includes food, transportation, a guide and a handout.
Getting the restaurants to agree to participate was not a problem, Woolf said. "It wasn't difficult convincing them," she wrote. "We had known most of them from our work on the website and were semiregulars in many of their restaurants already. When we first proposed the tours to them, the general sentiment on their end was, 'Sure, let's give it a go.'
"The above alludes to one of the more charming aspects of visiting these immigrant kitchen restaurants. The owners are very accessible, are generally aware of who is in the dining room, and often develop some degree of relationships with regulars. When tour participants return to their restaurants, the owners notice and they let us know."
"We get people (who) come back," Abdirahman said.
For more information about alt.eats and other tours, visit columbusfoodadventures.com.