A Feast for the Eyes: Introducing Lonely Planet Food

Books Reviews

In an age when traditional print travel guides are one step above obsolete, venerated travel publisher Lonely Planet has had to innovate. Which they’ve done in a number of gorgeous ways. Although LP still publishes their (famously blue) destination guides, they’ve recently put a heavy emphasis on photo books, travel writing, and other pictorial books that celebrate specific themes around the world. And we’re all the luckier for it.

We’ve been big fans of the books put out by Lonely Planet Kids, which do a fantastic job of bringing the world home and inspiring a bit of wanderlust among the youngest readers. And now we’re equally captivated by their new line of books under the Lonely Planet Food imprint.

Thanks to the Internet, the old travel guide model was dealt a death blow by social media and the crowdsourcing of information, which – admittedly – is more immediately accessible and easier to update (and remain relevant and accurate). Nevertheless, Lonely Planet is still finding a way to celebrate travel and highlight some of the best places on Earth.

And now they’re doing it through our taste buds.

It’s no secret that food and regional cuisines are a major reason why many people travel. Pasta in Italy doesn’t hold a candle to your neighborhood Italian joint. The most unremarkable sushi place in Tokyo isn’t even in the same ballpark as your favorite restaurant close to home. And authentic Chinese food from the Mainland? Most Americans have never even tried it.

I’ve traveled through 34 countries, and – yes – food is very important to my travels. I’ll admit to being a huge fan of street food, but I’ve never been known to turn down a good meal. And these books from Lonely Planet Food are absolutely awful on an empty stomach. They will give you hunger pains and wanderlust at the same time.

To call the From the Source books “cookbooks” would be vastly underselling them. Spain, Japan, Italy, and Thailand are available now. Each carries the tagline “Authentic recipes from the people that know them best” and presents regional dishes “direct from the kitchens where they were perfected.”

I’m not gonna lie; they are cookbooks, but they’re so much more. The books are organized into chapters devoted to regions of the country, and each recipe is prefaced by a detailed introduction to the dish, its chef, and the restaurant or location where it was born. Gorgeous photos (of the final dish, its preparation, chef, and surrounding countryside) round out the presentation and truly make each book a feast for the senses.

I’m not much of a cook myself, so I haven’t actually attempted any of these recipes. But it doesn’t matter. I lazily flip through the books on an imagined culinary journey through Spain or Japan, planning a future trip. And I feel completely satisfied.

Note to those of you who will actually make this food: make sure you know the location of your local international market. Many of the ingredients won’t be in stock at your typical supermarket.

Even though I’m in love with the visual sumptuousness of the From the Source books, Food Trails is far more practical for food-obsessed travelers (not home chefs) like me. The book is ostensibly a guide to “52 perfect weekends in the world’s tastiest destinations.” How can you say no to that?

The book includes ideas for 52 weekends in 36 different countries. Some involve driving; some are just walking tours. Each weekend plan includes 5-10 different restaurants or food-specific destinations, along with tips on where to stay, what to do, and local celebrations – all centered around food, of course.

Even if you don’t make a stop at the specific places identified in each itinerary, the suggestions still provide a fascinating insight into the delicacies and specialties available, and they provide can’t-miss ideas you should keep in mind while on the road. Go on a seafood and cider crawl in the southwest of England, check out the flavors of northwest Sicily, taste the traditions of Cape Town, and sample grassroots cooking in Jamaica. The ideas are practically endless.

Curious about what U.S. destinations made the cut? Represented are New York City (Jewish cuisine), New Orleans and Cajun Country, Texas (BBQ), Maine (seafood), and Hawaii (modern fusion).

All of these books are beautiful, and all have found a welcome home on my bookshelf. It doesn’t matter if I’ll ever spend a weekend eating my way across Crete, Lonely Planet Food has planted the seed. And my taste buds are forever grateful.

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