Karen Scalia, owner of Salem Food Tours, strolls the streets with groups in tow sharing all kinds of tidbits—from George Washington’s penchant for seafood to wasabi caviar oysters infused with raspberry vodka.
“This is something i would do if I were visiting an area,” says Karen Scalia, a spirited food lover, professional actor, and history enthusiast who has wed her eclectic interests to form Salem Food Tours: A Taste of History. Less than a year after her idea took flight, the walking culinary tours are hot and happening. With more than 20 restaurant and business partners, including Finz, 43 Church, and Salem Wine Imports, Scalia knows how to titillate taste buds and inspire intellects.
By digging into library archives and resources at the Library of Congress, Mount Vernon, and Johnson & Wales, Scalia delves into Salem’s food history. The spice trade, which had its heyday immediately after the Revolution, is of particular interest, so most of her tours include a stop at Salem Spice Shop. “When food and spices move over the centuries,” says Scalia,”[they have] an amazing impact on world history.” This fascinating world view of the power of the palate underlies her every tour.
Beyond her enthrallment with Salem’s dining days of yore is Scalia’s respect for kitchen craftsmanship. Watching chefs at work “inspires me on every level,” she says. Each tour is carefully orchestrated to showcase the town’s culinary talent. “There is such artistry and creativity happening all around us,” she says. “I’m in the arts, and I can really appreciate the passion that’s behind what people are doing.”
After 14 years in New York working as a corporate event planner, Scalia was ready to come home to the North Shore. She sought a “walkable [waterside] town in an area full of culture and good food.” Salem had it all, along with the historical aspect she craves. “That’s another reason I am doing this: to open the lens to Salem,” she says. “It is full of history that is so much richer than what people know it for.” Also important are the origins of Salem’s table offerings. “The thing all my [restaurant and business] partners have in common is that they source at least one thing locally,” says Scalia. “You are really getting that local flavor. That’s my mission: to get the local flavor.”
By celebrating its cuisine scene, Scalia hopes to put Salem on the map as a “destination food town.” She’s been told that joining one of her tours is akin to an afternoon’s respite; she appreciates the sentiment. “There is something so sublimely satisfying about having a taste, talking to the chef, meeting new people, and then strolling to the next stop.” salemfoodtours.com