5 Cookbooks that double as guidebooks
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On a seven-week journey around the Black Sea this summer, I found my way to Odessa’s bustling Privoz Market with its mounds of fresh berries and fish. I spent days in Bulgaria feasting on petite mussels and restored myself with a bowl of seafood stew at Okyanus Balik Evi, a restaurant above a fish shop in Sinop, Turkey. My guide? Caroline Eden’s Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes - Through Darkness and Light, a travelogue enriched with recipes - a sort of travel book meets cookbook.
Many cookbooks that celebrate the cuisine of a city, country or swath of the world line my bookshelves.
At their finest, they take readers into kitchens and markets, on to farms and around towns they may never visit. Their recipes offer a way to bring those flavours into a reader’s kitchen.
But for travellers who think about dinner reservations and pastry stops first when planning a trip, a slice of this crop of books can function as guidebooks too. They offer restaurant suggestions, point readers towards markets and frequently display maps. The recipes offer a way to prepare for the journey, or relive it when one returns.
The greatest strength of these books, though, is how they connect what’s on the table to the broader culture and history of a place, proving that to understand a destination, you need to pull up a seat at the table.
Here are a few I recommend taking on the road. A warning though: cookbooks can clock in at more than 454g, so if you’re travelling light, be sure to download a version on an e-reader if available, snap photos of pages or build a Google Map.
The Food of Northern Thailand
The photographer and writer Austin Bush relocated from the US to Thailand 20 years ago and felt pulled towards the flavours of northern Thailand.
His book focuses on and is organised by six of the region’s provinces. Intrepid travellers can follow his work to Laap Kao Cham Chaa, an open-air eatery in Chiang Mai for a pounded salad of pomelo and crab paste, and to the city’s Kamphaeng Din neighbourhood for an evening of fried meat.
Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious
Along with recipes for falafel and schnitzel, the duo behind the James Beard award-winning restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia takes readers into their favourite spots in Israel, like D’vora Falafel in Karkur and Hatzot in Jerusalem for a plate of the city’s mixed grill.
A handy page in the introduction lists all of the restaurants and markets referenced along with their addresses, simplifying trip planning.
My Lisbon: A Cookbook from Portugal’s City of Light
Tucked between pages with recipes for salt cod fritters and pastéis de nata, or custard tarts, in the chef and Lisbon native Nuno Mendes’s book are inserts dedicated to café culture, fish, small neighbourhood restaurants called tascas, and more. Each contains recommendations like those in the beach life insert for local seaside snacks of cream-filled doughnuts and fresh potato chips, and where to eat them.
Cooking South of the Clouds: Recipes and Stories from China’s Yunnan Province
In 2011, writer Georgia Freedman and her husband, the photographer, Josh Wand, moved to Yunnan, a province in China that borders Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, to explore the region’s diverse food ways.
Many of the recipes in their book, like one for Kunming-style cold noodle salad, come from specific restaurants and each is accompanied by its name written in Chinese characters, meaning those visiting the region can show it to a server at a restaurant.
Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus
In this cultural travel guide and cookbook, the food and wine writer Carla Capalbo takes readers deep into the regions of Georgia for qvevri wine made in amphorae, cheese-filled breads and dumplings, like khinkali.
Since locating people and places in Georgia can be challenging, Capalbo offers maps and addresses or contact information for numerous restaurants, shops, and winemakers.
Katie Parla and Kristina Gill
Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City
The writer, Katie Parla, and the photographer, Kristina Gill, have lived in Rome for more than 15 years, deeply entrenching themselves in the city’s culinary scene.
Their work here goes beyond guiding readers to the best suppli and carbonara; it connects the city’s signature dishes to its history and modern- day culture.