, Salem, MA


October 16, 2013

A taste of history

Karen Scalia's food tours of Salem emphasize the city's historic links with the spice trade and its current variety of restaurants

SALEM — Local actress and marketing consultant Karen Scalia got the idea for Salem Food Tours as a way to mix the city’s spice trade history with its happening food scene.

Last year Scalia was conducting walking tours of the city for children’s groups when she began researching Salem’s history, and it struck her the city would be ripe for a food tour showcasing its historic place in the spice trade with restaurants that source local foods.

“You have to have a couple of things to have a food tour town, because food tours have become popular now. But you have to have the right topography, you have to be able to walk the downtown. ... Salem’s got that,” she said.

“You have to have a really good, solid food scene; Salem definitely has that. But what really tipped it, what really created the idea for me, was when I started to study the spice trade history.”

The motto of the city, after all, reads: “To the farthest port of the rich East.” The city’s seal shows a sailing vessel off the coast of Sumatra. Also, Scalia said, when Salem was founded, it was the dried cod industry that sustained the community.

“I wanted to bring to light the maritime history,” Scalia said, “but I also wanted to bring to light these amazing shops and restaurants. We truly have some very special shops in Salem.”

Her solo business is more than a year old, and Scalia averages at least one tour a week with a minimum of six people each. Most of her guests are from the North Shore and Boston area, many of whom come away surprised by what Salem has to offer, she said.

Tours cost $54 per person, last about three and a half hours, and are usually run in the mid-to-late afternoon. They typically involve tastings at five to seven Salem eateries. Scalia counts about 25 local eateries as partners, plus so-called location partners, like the Salem Farmers Market, Aroma Sanctum and the Phillips House where guests also go. All partner restaurants have made the commitment to source at least one food item locally.

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