Unique Food And History Tours Available On The Re-Launched Rama App

Going on a guided tour is one of the best ways to get to know a new city. But sometimes we just can’t fit it into our itinerary. Perhaps the cost doesn’t work within our budget, the timing doesn’t fit with our schedule or the tour is already full. For these reasons, guided tour apps have become a favorite tool for traveling smart phone users.

The Rama app, which is known for quirky, focused history tours such as the Guillotine in Paris, America in London and Detroit’s Skyscrapers, has re-launched with 31 unique food tours from around the world. A few I’d like to check out include Istanbul in Berlin, which explores the Turkish food scene in the German capital; Newcastle by Breakfast, which scopes out five of the best places in Newcastle for a full English breakfast; Little India Insider, a guide to South Asian eats in Jackson Heights, Queens; Dim Sum Stories, a food tour through Hong Kong; and Free Tapas in Madrid.

Local experts write all of Rama’s history and food tours and many include offline maps for easy touring in places without a dependable 3G/4G of Wi-Fi connection. Tours are available as in-app purchases ranging from free to $2.99 and each comes with a useful introduction to let you know what you can expect before purchasing and embarking on the tour. For example, the food tours provide information on how much money you can expect to spend when sampling the local fare while the history tours give a time and distance estimate.

One refreshing aspect of the Rama app – at least for this writer – is that it gives users the opportunity to connect with the tour writers. Each “About the Author” section provides details on the writer’s personal blog, background and provides his or her email address and, where applicable, Twitter handle. Imagine being able to contact your tour author with additional questions as you follow his tour! Sure, there’s room for abuse here. But I think the personalization is a nice touch.

Rama is free in the iTunes store. Download it here.

Eating historically in New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy

As a native New Yorker, I’ve spent many afternoons wandering the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy, stopping to get some dumplings or some pasta and wine. While I had always kind of thought of these places as tourist hubs with delicious food, I never realized just how much history belongs to these areas, and how much of this history is still alive today.

After going on a walking tour with Ahoy New York Tours and Tasting, I now look at Chinatown and Little Italy with a new appreciation. Alana, the tour guide, led the group through each area, speaking about how the regions came to be and letting everyone sample from historical eateries.

As Alana likes to say, “If a restaurant has been around for 40 years or more, you know it’s good because it has stood the test of time.”

Around the time of the United StatesIndustrial Revolution, southern Italians began coming over to get away from high taxes and low wages. In order to help ease their culture shock they began importing foods from their homeland and opening restaurants that reflected their heritage. Lucky for us, a lot of what was created back then is still around today.The first stop on the tour was Alleva Dairy to sample prosciutto and homemade mozzarella. Opened in 1892 by the same family that runs it now, this is the oldest Italian cheese shop in America. Fun Fact: Mozzarella originated in Naples, Italy, when a monk accidentally dropped a cheese curd into a pail of hot water.

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe was the next stop, where the group got to taste their world famous cannolis. My grandmother, who is from southern Italy, actually used to swear by these, and my father still refuses to eat cannolis from any other bakery. This eatery was opened in 1892, and during WWII many Italian families would purchase Torrone, a nougat confection, from here to send to their loved ones who were fighting because the treat wouldn’t spoil.

After our sugar indulgence, the group traveled to another continent and headed over to New York’s Chinatown. People first started to notice the Chinese coming into the United States in the 1840’s. While they first tried to settle in California, they were not socially accepted there and so they came to New York in an attempt to better assimilate. While the original Chinatown was made up of only 3 streets (Mott, Doyers, and Pell) and consisted of mostly immigrants from southern China, today the area has grown to encompass 2 square miles and 200,000 Chinese-Americans from diverse backgrounds.

A family-style lunch at Pongrsi Thai Restaurant, the oldest family-run and operated Thai restaurant in New York City, allowed the group to sample 40 years of delicious hard work with rice, Orange Chicken, Pad see ew, and a spicy Chicken Pra Ramm.

In order to let the group digest, Alana took us to visit Columbus Park, a cultural hub for the Asian community where people go to play Mahjong and checkers, practice Tai Chi, and relax. Standing there today, you would never know that the area was once considered the worst slum in the history of the U.S., and possibly even the world.

No tour of Chinatown would be complete without eating some dumplings. What many people don’t realize is that dumplings aren’t just delicious, they’re an important part of the Chinese New Year as they symbolize wealth with their ancient silver and gold ingot shape. If you’re looking for taste, try Tasty Dumpling on 54 Mulberry Street. However, if you want a front-row view of how they are made, go to Fried Dumpling on 106 Mosco Street. Hint: It’s actually a lot more complex than you probably think.

To end the tour, the group was taken to a place that isn’t known for its history but for its flavor. Everything Frosted sells cupcakes with an Asian flair with choices like Lychee, Red Bean, Jasmine Tea, and Black Sesame.

While the tour tells a lot about food and its historical significance, you will also see a lot of other notable points of interest, such as the Transfiguration Church, which services the most Chinese-Americans than any other church in U.S., the former Bloody Angle, which is said to be where the most murders in America have ever occurred, and the oldest tenement building in New York at 65 Mott Street.

For more information or to make a booking with Ahoy NY Tours & Tasting, click here.

Black History Month: A look at places to visit year round.

Black History month sped by this year. In my mind, a history month merely indicates those places that should be on our radar year around. Here are several places and events we’ve covered in the past. Hopefully in your travels between now and next February, you’ll be able to head to one or two of them. As I read through the posts, the scope of African American history in the U.S. struck me. I knew that before, but it’s good to review the vastness, and how African American history is such an important part of the U.S. fabric that ties the country together in such a unique, diverse way.

To see more than one significant site, take an African-American heritage tour. This post lists several. The photo is of the painting “Neighborhood” by African American artist Jacob Lawrence who created a series of paintings on the Great Migration–the movement of African Americans to northern cities. The paintings are part of the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Travel to the Cherokee Nation: A new website helps you plan

In the 7,000 square miles of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, there are attractions scattered across it. From National Historic Landmark Fort Gibson that was built in 1824 as a staging area for military expeditions in the west, to Will Rogers birthplace, to the Tahequah Cultural District–the Cherokee Nation’s capitol after the Cherokee were forced to relocate to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, the variety is impressive.

As a way to help tourists find their way across the Cherokee Nation’s vastness, and plan a trip according to their interests, the website Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism was recently launched.

Along with the navigation tools that allow people to find out specifics about each cultural attraction, there is also a Calendar of Events page and another page to help folks hook up with specific tours: Cherokee Old Settler Tour; Will Rogers History Tour; Cherokee History Tour; and Cherokee Civil War Tour.

The list of things to do on each day of February is impressive. One event that caught my attention on this month’s calendar is the Fiddler’s Festival, February 26-28 at the Western Hills Guest Ranch & Sequoyah State Park.

One place to start a trip to the region might be the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. Here you can learn more about Cherokee history and life. The complex also has an ancient village designed to look like it did before the Europeans showed up.

Even if you don’t plan to set foot in Oklahoma, head to the website as a history and cultural arts lesson. You’ll come away learning aspects of American history you may not have known before. [Pittsburgh Post Gazette]