You get to know a country's real cuisine
I've gone for new experiences, like making cheese, but usually try to learn the local cuisine -- mostly because, as a tourist, finding authentic fare isn't always a cinch. Take Rome. Despite being an obvious food destination, the restaurants you'll find between the Coliseum and Trevi are likely to be packed with tourists (most likely, annoying ones).
That's why I stayed at the Beehive on a recent trip, a cute eco-hostel that offers cooking classes. The menu was no-frills – pasta sauces, walnut pesto, and zucchini in basil and almonds – but authentic. The hostel owner, Steve, is adamant about teaching only what people will go home and make (it probably won't be pasta).
"I got started doing the classes because we had guests who wanted to learn and there wasn't anything else available or accessible to their budget," he said. "So I figured, what the hell, I'll just do it."
Michelle, another tourist on a foodie pilgrimage, said the class was the trip's biggest highlight. "My flight to Rome arrived around noon and when I got to the Beehive I was tired with a sincere need to be horizontal for at least a couple of hours," she said. "I knew I would be jet lagged, groggy, and hungry waking up, so the cooking class was perfect. I signed up and didn't think twice because homemade Italian food would be my first meal in Rome. Who would argue with that?"