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 toward 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 be heavy, 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.
‘My Lisbon: A Cookbook from Portugal’s City of Light’ by Nuno Mendes
Tucked between pages with recipes for salt cod fritters and pasteis de nata, or custard tarts, in the chef and Lisbon native Nuno Mendes’ book are inserts dedicated to cafe 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.
‘The Food of Northern Thailand’ by Austin Bush
The photographer and writer Austin Bush relocated from the United States to Thailand 20 years ago and felt pulled toward 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.
‘Cooking South of the Clouds: Recipes and Stories from China’s Yunnan Province’ by Georgia Freedman
In 2011, the 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 foodways. 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’ by Carla Capalbo
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.
‘Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City’ by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill
The writer Katie Parla and the photographer Kristina Gill have both 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.