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Northeast culinary tours

Taste of Northern Liberties Tour includes a visit

Taste of Northern Liberties Tour includes a visit to Darlings Cafe in Philadelphia, Pa., where guests can taste Best-of-Philly Bananas Foster Cheesecake and Chocolate Mouse Ganache with tour guide Jamie Larkin. (July 31, 2010) Photo Credit: Taste of Northern Liberties Tour

A new batch of city walking-tour operators has learned what chefs and beloveds have known for centuries - the way to a person's heart is through his or her stomach.

Turns out, its also a way to present the history and culture of a particular ethnic group or neighborhood in a palatable and engaging way. It's no surprise that these walking tours with sustenance are becoming a hot ticket in every city.

The following are three worthwhile culinary walking tours run by an eclectic group of guides: a chef, a self-described trivia nut and a food columnist.

Before you go

Culinary-oriented walking tours are relatively intimate affairs designed for small groups of people who can comfortably stay together while traipsing through the neighborhoods and squeeze inside small shops or cafes. Reservations are required to guarantee a spot and to ensure there's enough food samples to go around - tastings are included along the way.

You'll naturally want to wear comfortable shoes, and dress according to the weather - most tours are held rain or shine.

Give yourself extra time to hang around the neighborhood after the tour wraps up so you can return to your favorite pit stops for more leisurely browsing, shopping - and eating.

North End Market Tour

WHERE Boston

WHEN 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Friday-Saturday; also 2-5 p.m. Wednesday and 3-6 p.m. Friday.

INFO 617-523-6032, foodtoursofboston.com

COST $50

THE GUIDE Jim Becker, former chef

ABOUT THE TOUR By the end of this enlightening and often-hilarious three-hour walking tour, you'll be stuffed with enough information about Boston's Italian-rich North End to hold court at any trattoria. The neighborhood has been a toehold for immigrants since the American Revolution. Becker, a former chef with an acerbic wit, favors "real deal" markets, bakeries and restaurants over the more "touristy" establishments on Hanover Street.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE Becker introduces groups of up to 13 people to lesser-known gems such as Maria's Pastry, with its marzipan candies, amoretti and flaky "lobster tail" goodies. He leads the tour down Salem Street and expounds on the charms of crammed-to- the-rafters markets such as Polcari's Coffee, which has barrels of rare salted capers and real licorice sticks.

You'll learn the difference between Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine, how to tell a male eggplant from a female eggplant, and the origin of bona-fide balsamic vinegar, among other things.

THE SAMPLES Baked goods, cheese, cold meats and wine.

GOOD TO KNOW Food Tours founder Michele Topor has created another excursion through Boston's Chinatown that lasts 31/2 hours and concludes with a dim sum lunch ($65).

Taste of Northern Liberties Tour

WHERE Philadelphia

WHEN 1:30-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

INFO 800-979-3370, cityfoodtours.com

COST $38

THE GUIDE Jamie Larkin

ABOUT THE TOUR Groups of 15 people stroll through the artsy Northern Liberties area of Philadelphia, where contemporary steel and glass buildings coexist with original brick row houses drawing celebrities, artists and hipsters. The district recently has been reimagined as a place where people can live, work, shop and eat within a cozy few blocks, so it's no surprise that the neighborhood exudes a trendy vibe.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE Larkin takes patrons on an around-the-world feeding frenzy that begins in "Taiwan" at Euphoria Café with a refreshing Honeydew Bubble Tea, heads to "Italy" with a wonderful pasta-making demonstration and sampling at Apollinare, and ends with Best of Philly bananas Foster and chocolate mousse ganache cheesecakes at Darling's Cafe.

THE SAMPLES You'll also eat fried green tomatoes and hushpuppies at the soul-food restaurant A Full Plate Café and taste the somewhat watered-down brew (Schmidt's) that put Northern Liberties on the map at the Swift Half Pub.

GOOD TO KNOW City Foods also hosts a general Flavors of Philly culinary tour as well as others devoted to craft beer, with artisan cheese and global cuisine.

New Haven Culinary Tours

WHERE New Haven, Conn.

WHEN 10:45 a.m. Aug. 14, Sept. 25, Oct. 6

INFO 203-777-8550, stephenfries.com/culinary_walking_tour

THE GUIDE Stephen Fries, food writer

COST $59

ABOUT THE TOUR New Haven as a culinary hot spot? Why, yes, actually. This home of Yale University is also said to be the birthplace of the American hamburger in 1900, at Louis' Lunch, which is still in operation. It is also the center of the universe for pizza aficionados, who claim Pepe's or Sally's (forever in dispute) as the most perfect pie on the planet. Neither of these establishments are on the New Haven Culinary Walking Tour, but New Haven Register food columnist Stephen Fries incorporates a revolving set of eateries - from upscale restaurants to neighborhood pubs to gourmet food carts.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE The three-hour tours begin at the Top of the Omni Hotel for a birds-eye overview of New Haven before heading over to The Wine Thief - a shop that could win awards for its name alone - for elucidation about vinos while you sip and swish. While you're in the imbibing mood, it's time for flights of craft beer at Bar, where you'll also try Fries' favorite mashed potato-and-bacon pizza.

THE SAMPLES Patrons will also get a caffeine fix at Willoughby's Coffee & Tea before nibbling on a selection of cheese at Caseus Fromagerie. The group advances to the sidewalk outside Atticus Bookstore, the granddaddy of the merging of cafe and books, where Fries steps in for a loaf of crusty bread. The carb-loading continues with dumplings at York St. Noodle House. If you can manage to stuff any more down your gullet, Fries escorts the group to the white-linen and crystal-topped tables at the Union League Cafe for samplings of sweets (and dessert wines) before bidding adieu at the art gallery-artesian chocolate shop, Wave.

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