She writes: The moral of this story is: I should have eaten less breakfast. Facing a five hour walking tour of Cambridge seemed to require two slices of peanut butter on toast and a glass of milk. It was a mistake. If you’re going to join the Cambridge Food Tour on one of its foodie meanders about the city, make sure you’re hungry.
The tours are run by the endlessly enthusiastic Gerla Pusey – de Boer. Originally from Friesland in the Netherlands, the travel and hospitality expert has lived in Cambridge for more than 10 years and launched Cambridge Food Tours last September.
It was after several friends visited from the Netherlands and couldn’t find any local English food to try, except below par fish and chips and gelatinous pork pies. Gerla decided to step in and put her talents to work: “I thought maybe I should do something here, because, where do you find nice pies?” she says indignantly. “Nothing is typically English except the Chelsea bun and sandwiches!”
Within three months, she had tracked down a range of local producers and suppliers to showcase, and now hosts a range of tours across the city, including a college supper club for intellectual foodies, a vegetarian food tour for non-meat eating visitors and, coming soon, a chocolate, wine and cocktail tasting tour for boozy chocoholics.
On a blustery Friday morning I tried out her signature Cambridge food tour, which starts at Fitzbillies over tea and cappuccinos. As we tucked into Duke of Cambridge chocolate tiffin and quarters of their infamous Chelsea bun (apparently it’s the stickiest bun in the world and can last three weeks without going stale!), Gerla explained how she wanted to create a counterpoint to touristy walking tours that trudge empty-bellied round Cambridge.
And while there is a sprinkling of the city’s history throughout the tour, the focus is food, so every slice of history comes with a side of something to nibble on.
“I wanted it to be more challenging, something a bit different to your average food tour,” she says, alluding to the fact there are more than a few surprises along the route, not to mention more than a few detours. “I am always interested, always investigating and exploring,” she laughs, admitting she can’t help but keep researching new stops, and is always travelling. Recent trips to Marrakech and India have even inspired a Cambridge spice route tour.
So, with the last of the Chelsea bun scoffed, and a smudge of chocolate swiped off her cheek, Gerla steered us into Cristine Patisserie, a tiny, red curtained cake shop on easy-to-miss Botolph Street. We bit into bizarrely refreshing mint green Brazilian sweets that revealed themselves to be whole grapes wrapped in a creamy custard and sugary crust, and then popped into the Fudge Kitchen opposite King’s College to sample two types of fudge: maple syrup and walnut was nutty and warm, but salted caramel was delicious.
Before our teeth began clattering from our mouths, Gerla led us to The Cambridge Cheese Company down All Saint’s Passage. I am a medium cheddar kinda girl, so the array of smelly, gooey dairy piled high was slightly intimidating, but then we were presented with slices of Branston pickle pork pie and cloudy apple juice. The pies – golden, meaty and tangy – are made by a couple in their eighties from just outside Huntingdon at Manor Farm Glatton, and they are incredible. I could have stayed there all day, eating pie and looking at the multitude of saucy condiments, coloured pasta and Italian biscuits that line the store’s walls.
Alas, Gerla is so knowledgeable, passionate and committed to local traders, you find yourself being hauled off the beaten tour track to the next little foodie nook.
We sped through the new whisky and cigar emporium, Robert Graham’s, on Sussex Street (plans are afoot for a partnership), and peered through the window of Zhongua Traditional Snacks on Norfolk Street which doesn’t look like much, but Gerla promises does the best dumplings you’ll find in the whole city.
Then we got to linger over strips of dried beef and chocolate cannolis at the Norfolk Street Deli (“I spend an awful lot of time here,” says Gerla. “They sell things that no other deli sells, especially South African foods,”), and explored a Nigerian supermarket that sells goat. Who knew you could find goat meat in Cambridge?
At Adilia’s sunshine yellow Norfolk Street Bakery we chewed savoury Portugese prawn and suckling pig rissoles and hungered for homemade bread and a selection of desserts made by Portuguese nuns (yes, really), while I personally made eyes at a mound of hot cross buns in the window.
Let’s just say, it’s a good job it’s a walking tour because otherwise I don’t know how you’d fit in the seven or eight food and drink tastings without feeling sick. By the time we’d bagged a table for lunch at The Sea Tree on Mill Road we were flagging on weary, food filled legs. Somehow, I still managed to cram in a bite-sized portion of fish and chips with extra mushy peas though.
Then came the alcohol. A mouthful of wine and my cheeks fizz, my eyes spark and suddenly everything is much blurrier than before, so I’m not much of an aficionado. Well, not until we stopped by Bacchanalia to investigate a range of local stouts, and took over Cambridge Wine Merchant’s cosy wine lounge for a whisky tasting. Manager Matthew Boucher taught us how to drink different varieties properly (add a smidgeon of water), and match them with slices of apple, hunks of cheese and slivers of fruit cake: “To see what goes with what and break down boundaries.”
This is half the charm of the tour, seeing food, drink and Cambridge a little bit differently. It’s also a chance to discover local producers and traders you wouldn’t ordinarily come across.
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Find out about the diverse range of food and other independent traders in Cambridge: http://www.independent-cambridge.co.uk/