Culinary Travel Books: World of Difference

Three gorgeous recipe-filled books take armchair travelers on a tour of diverse cuisines.

A version of torta rustica (“rustic pie”) from Tasting Rome, one of three sumptuous culinary travel books.

Kristina Gill

Who among us hasn’t curled up on the sofa with a travel guide or a good sojourner’s memoir (I highly recommend J.G. Link’s Venice For Pleasure) and escaped to another land for an afternoon? The only thing better is to take your taste buds on an imaginary holiday, and perhaps plan for next year’s vacation, with these recipe-filled odes to culinary travel.

Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill (Clarkson Potter) 
I must admit that I love Italy with a particular passion, and I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the food that developed from Rome’s Jewish ghetto. Many dishes we now think of as quintessential Italian began as staples of Jews sequestered in seven acres of malarial land from the 1500s to 1800s. Stuffed zucchini flowers, rice balls, fried mozzarella sticks, even the fish and chips that migrated to England, came from cucina ebraica. So I was delighted to find a section of Ghetto cuisine in Tasting Rome, with recipes I’d never seen before, such as pickled concia zucchini and dishes from the Libyan Jewish community. And that’s just the start; the book is alive with treasures, a guided tour of places and flavors that is nearly (nearly) as good as walking the cobblestones of Trastevere and Testaccio. There are detailed instructions on proper Roman pizza, a delightful mint and chocolate panna cotta, and the simple and simply delicious torta rustica pie stuffed with chard and ricotta. Profiles of Roman bakers, a visit to Rome’s 120 city-run markets, and fun quirks (Day of the Dead cookies?) make this a tourist’s delight.

Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books) There’s travel, and then there’s discovery. Taste of Persia does both, an engrossing excursion through lands that we might think of with prejudice and fear, but offer extraordinary history and astonishing food. Each image—pink kidney beans at a kitchen table in Tbilisi, Georgia; a nomad market in Iran—leads to the author’s evocative stories of people and their food that are enlightening and poignant. They made me think about how blind politics keeps us from enjoying that most personal of experiences; sitting at a common table, sharing food. Kurdish grilled eggplant pkhali, Persian potato and pumpkin soup, baku fish kebabs from Azerbaijan and a black-eyed pea and lamb stew flavored with dried limoo basrahi limes from Iraq make for a tasteful Persian journey. All that’s needed is a comfy chair, a glass of tea and plate of cardamom cookies.    

Susan Feniger’s Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes by Susan Feniger (Potter) While I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Susan Feniger in person, I’ll come right out and say I adore the chef, cookbook author and TV star (one of the first Food Network personalities), and I couldn’t think of a better person with whom to explore the world’s cuisines. So while I fantasize about visiting Mongolian cheesemakers and eating coconut fish on a kettuvallam reed boat in Kerala, I can tour hawker carts of the world in Street Food. The locations are as exotic as the food: black pepper clams from Singapore on one page, Romanian sweet and sour eggplant the next. A beautiful Vietnamese chicken salad, flavored with nuoc cham fish sauce, calls to me. Trinidadian duck and potato curry may be tomorrow’s lunch. This is a world-spanning and head-spinning tome, and as delightful as a vacation with Ms. Feniger must surely be.

Pull Up a Chair

If your taste buds are piqued by these armchair culinary tours, why not take one of your own? Read my Savor Orlando blog during September for a chance to win a copy of Tasting Rome, Taste of Persia or Susan Feniger’s Street Food. Visit for details.

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