Food and travel are deliciously entwined — forks in the road, scooping up horizon-savoring experiences. Here are 16 new sweet reads that stir a strong sense of place: travelogues spiced with foodie know-how; cookbooks layered with regional flair; memoir-luscious looks at culinary-focused passions, places and people. They all offer plenty of sizzling ideas to quicken your explorer-at-heart pulse.
1 CIAO! CHOW!
Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding. A James Beard Award-winning writer, Goulding jumpstarts this ode to Italian nourishment by reproducing correspondence between himself and Anthony Bourdain. Then Goulding dishes out enticing details about Italy’s diverse culinary regions, weaving in anecdotes about bakers, chefs, shepherds, farmers, fishers and food-feisty grandmothers (for whom he has great affection, dedicating this book to these elder women, the nonne, who have taught the world so much about eating). Dare to read Goulding’s prose and not yearn for Italy. In this Roads & Kingdoms/Anthony Bourdain imprint, Goulding heralds the intricacies of pasta and antipasti. He effuses about the source of the tastiest pizza in the world: Naples, of course. He rhapsodizes about “beauty and the beef,” the interior of Sardinia and the glee of agri-tourism (staying in a rural B&B where you can press olive oil, create cheese, help in wine production). He steers readers toward serene villages, swoons over family-run trattorias and sways you to eat like an Italian. He profiles three brothers who are mozzarella kings of Puglia and the Barolo Boys who transformed hilly Piedmont into a world-class wine region. He reminds the reader that Italy is still a young country, to think hyper-local when making choices (dialects, customs, spices, even pasta shapes change from the north to the south), to venture into parts unknown and, perhaps most essential, to surrender yourself to the serendipity of travel. With more than 200 story-telling photos, curling up with this book could make you feel as though Goulding is sitting across from you in a ristorante overlooking a piazza, as he serves you engaging verbal morsels, pushing a platter of formaggio to your side of the table, pouring you another glass of vino. Manga! Manga!
For vacation information and inspiration: Italian National Tourist Board North America.
2 HEART & SOUL
Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes by Todd Richards. Get set to cheer Richards, a James Beard Award-nominated chef and Iron Chef competitor, who grew up in Chicago’s Southeast Side and, after working in several fame-glam kitchens, opened his own Southern Fried restaurant in Atlanta. This lavishly photographed cookbook with heart-felt prose — marinated in descriptions of Chicago and the South — brims with flavors and fellowship. It is Richards’ “homage to the cuisine of my family and ancestors,” he writes. “These are the ingredients of my people. This is my sermon about my soul food.” His emphasis on the word my is key — for this creative chef goes beyond what is expected of traditional soul food, concocting tempting taste-combos: Collard Green Ramen, Blueberry-Sweet Tea-Brined Chicken Thighs with Golden Beet Hash, Hot-Chicken-Style Country-Fried Lamb Steak, Hot and Spicy Zucchini Slaw, Smoked Catfish Dip with Parmesan Tuiles, Popcorn-Crusted Scallops and Seared Snapper with Red Bean Emulsion. Hungry yet? “Today I know a certain truth,” continues Richards. “Food is a religion of its own. Different regions have produced great preachers of cuisine…. Creating and sharing are both spiritual acts. I happen to create and share food…rooted in African-American cooking traditions… I also…draw inspiration from around the world… It’s crystal clear to me that food brings people together.” Amen.
For vacation information and inspiration: Choose Chicago and Atlanta CVB.
3 VIBRANT VIETNAM
Vegetarian Việt Nam by Cameron Stauch. This devoted dive into veggie-centered Vietnamese cuisine is a ground-breaking cookbook achievement. Many included recipes were originally devised over centuries by Mahayana Buddhist monks. Canadian chef Stauch, who currently lives in Bangkok, delivers an enthusiastic ogle at Vietnam with photos (most by Stauch; several by Evan Sung) that spotlight culinary ingredients, tablescapes and people. His descriptions twirl across a range of edibles — Bánh Mì, street snacks, salads, noodle bowls, light soups, drinks, sweets — revealing respectful points of view and thoughtful motivations. “Whenever I travel, I try to find one of the local breakfast staples for my first meal, a practice that helps ease me into my new surroundings,” he writes, a terrific tip for all travelers. Stauch recounts a sticky-rice vendor in Hanoi, who encouraged him to become a regular breakfast visitor. “Whenever she’d see me approaching, she’d start portioning my order: a mound of plump steamed sticky rice, tinted light yellow with turmeric and plopped into the center of a large piece of banana leaf. She’d liberally drizzle rich shallot oil over the top and garnish it with steamed mung beans and crispy shallots. Each bite offered rich, buttery flavors with a hint of sweet grassiness from the rice.” Among the nearly 100 versatile recipes packed with herb seasonings and fragrant aromas are Green Mango Rice Paper Ribbons, Star Anise Cinnamon-Scented Pho Noodle Soup, Spicy Lemongrass Mushroom Mince and Soy Ginger Glazed Eggplant. Tangy, peppery, crispy, tender and sweet — a vivid palette of palate pleasers. Read about the maze-like fresh food markets, within which becoming momentarily yet merrily lost is a Vietnam vacationer’s rite of passage. Understand the marvels of a communal hot pot, the ancient temples, the culinary rhythms of Vietnamese life. Gain tips about rice papers, noodles, mushrooms, as well as tofu preparation. “Whether you digest this book in the kitchen, in an armchair or in preparation for travel to this captivating country,” Stauch continues, “I hope you are as fascinated by Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine as I am. I can’t wait to take you on this journey!”
For vacation information and inspiration: Vietnam Tourism and Viking River Cruises Vietnam.