By April Bourie

You may have heard about Tucson being designated the first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Gastronomy in the U.S. in 2015, but what does that really mean?  The Presidio District Gastronomy Tour in downtown Tucson, spearheaded by the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum, is a food tour that allows attendees to experience and taste the reasons for Tucson’s designation. The new program is a collaboration between Presidio district merchants, program supporters like the Downtown Tucson Partnership and Visit Tucson, and the media sponsor, the Arizona Daily Star. The tour has also been endorsed by the local City of Gastronomy organization.

“People who come on the tours know that Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, but have no idea that the honor was based on the fact that today we are still eating some of the wild foods that sustained people in the area 10,000 years ago, that our farmers are growing some of the heritage seeds that farmers grew 4,000 years ago, and that some of our most popular dishes are based on foods the Spanish introduced when they came to the area three centuries ago,” said Carolyn Niethammer, tour guide and author of several cookbooks that focus on the use of traditional ingredients. “They love getting to sample the wild foods and going to the restaurants to taste the foods and hear the tales of early Tucson.”

Beginning at the Presidio Museum, participants learn about Tucson’s origins and the food fusions that occurred when the Spanish and Tohono O’Odham were first learning from each other. Tastings of old and new world ingredients are available for attendees to taste.

The tour then moves to El Charro, where attendees enjoy some of their most popular menu items and a margarita. While sitting in their flagship restaurant, tour participants will learn the rich history of the Flores family and hear stories about iconic dishes like the chimichanga.

The next stop is La Cocina Restaurant/Old Town Artisans, located in Arizona’s longest-inhabited block. Participants will enjoy an appetizer portion of menu items made with both old and new world ingredients as well as a cocktail featuring vodka from local distillery Flying Leap and prickly pear juice, while they are told stories about the residents and businesses the building has hosted in the past.

The final stop on the tour is Café a la C’art, housed in the historic Fish-Stevens home at the Tucson Museum of Art. Here, participants will enjoy one of their many famous desserts made with historic regional ingredients and learn about the Fish and Stevens families that inhabited the home.

“We came to Tucson from the east coast and wanted an immersive, full-circle experience that helped us get to know the Tucson culture and food history. The Presidio District Gastronomy Tour hit the mark,” said Kathe Dollish, a recent attendee. “A docent took us through a tasting of a variety of indigenous ingredients as well as those brought over centuries ago by the Spanish. We then moved to different restaurants and each included a serving of delicious food, drinks and desserts using several of these ingredients. I highly recommended this tour and look forward to going again with family visiting us; I’m sure they will be just as impressed as we were!”

Upcoming tours will be held Wednesday, March 18, and Sunday, April 19, from 12:30 to 4 pm. The cost is $75 per person or $65 for Presidio Museum members. This is a walking tour, so attendees must be able to walk approximately a total of 1/3 mile between stops. Pre-registration is required at Tours often sell out, so book quickly to ensure your spot.


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