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The Best Guides to Learning a Culture Through Its Cuisine

Eating is immersing yourself in the local culture. And for the traveler looking to taste culture through cuisine, a guidebook listing restaurants and descriptions of places is not enough.

Culture and Cuisine

Lonely Planet's superb series, World Food, takes travelers by the hand and introduces them to all aspects of eating, drinking, and discovering the cuisine of (so far) 16 destinations. Apart from a history of the cuisine and indepth sections on shopping and markets and where to eat, chapters cover traditional cooking and include a culinary dictionary. Some titles in the series are Caribbean, France, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.

The Time for Food series (Thomas Cook) is a collection of pocket-size books with a wide selection of places to eat, places to buy food, and interesting essays on local cuisine and food culture. The 18 titles include Amersterdam, Barcelona, Paris, Prague, Sydney, and Hong Kong.

Travelers' Tales

In 1996 Richard Sterling edited a mouth-watering anthology called Travelers' Tales Food: True Stories of Life on the Road. The book proved so popular that Sterling followed up a few years later with The Adventure of Food: True Stories of Eating Everything, an equally tasty collection drawing on authors such as Jan Morris, Frances Mayes, and Jonathan Raban. The most recent release in the series, Her Fork in the Road: Women Celebrate Food and Travel, edited by Lisa Bach, is a sensitive and savory selection of stories by women from the warmth of their kitchens to the corners of the globe.

Julia Child says "Be a fearless cook!" Richard Sterling is a fearless diner. In his pocket-size book, The Fearless Diner: Travel Tips and Wisdom for Eating Around the World, he shares personal eating adventures and a wealth of advice and interesting tips. His latest book, The Fire Never Dies: One Man's Raucous Romp Down the Road of Food, Passion and Adventure, takes us through his culinary adventures on the road from Mexico to Vietnam and beyond.

More Travelers' Tales

Chef Anthony Bourdain is a veteran of over 30 years in professional kitchens (editors note: now an engaging host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel). He is also a traveler. In A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal Bourdain weaves his way around the world sampling local delicacies in Japan, Vietnam, Portugal, Russia, Mexico, and other locations. He recognizes the importance food has on drawing people together into communities.

Today several authors offer wonderful narratives about food and place in the vein of M.F.K. Fisher, one of the first food and travel writers (see especially Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon). Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, and Susan Hermann Loomis, to name a few, delightfully recount their transition to a new location in the context of food.

See Mayle's well-known A Year in Provence, an introduction to French country life and wonderful meals and food forages. His latest book, French Lessons, is subtitled Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew.

Susan Hermann Loomis charms the reader with her love of France and French cuisine and her eventual move to Normandy, where she renovates a house in a small town. She makes readers feel they are sharing meals with her, more so because she provides such mouth-watering recipes, in her book On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town .

Cooking Schools

Cooking in Paradise: Culinary Vacations Around the World by Joel and Lee Naftali lists over 150 cooking vacation programs around the world-in places as varied as a French chateau, a Mexican farm, and an Australian country house. The authors provide contact information, prices, course descriptions, and more.

Serious chefs, looking for more than a cooking vacation, should consult The Guide to Cooking Schools. The current edition contains descriptions of over 1,000 culinary schools and apprenticeships plus food and wine organizations worldwide.

Mastering the Menu

Marling Menu Masters are indispensable pocket menu guides to unfamiliar dishes. They are available in French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Phrasebooks with a good menu reader include Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Berlitz. Lonely Planet's World Food books each has a culinary dictionary.

Bon appétit et bon voyage!

Food and Travel Quiz

How far have your taste buds traveled? Can you identify the following foods and drinks and their country or region of origin?

1) Durian
2) Manchego
3) Cui
4) Pavlova
5) Nasi goreng
6) Grappa
7) Lefse
8) Congee
9) Tapenade
10) Wasabi
11) Bubble & Squeak
12) Kava

Food and Travel Quiz Answers

Editor's Note: Kathy says they're easy. The editor, who travels on his stomach, flunked.

1) Large fruit with a spiky exterior and pungent smell. South East Asia
2) Sheep's milk cheese. Spain
3) Guinea pig (Inca delicacy). Andes
4) Meringue and cream cake created in honor of ballerina Anna Pavlova. Australia
5) Fried rice. Indonesia and Malaysia
6) Spirit distilled from the pomace of grapes. Italy
7) Thin potato based flatbread. Scandinavia
8) Rice porridge. China/Hong Kong
9) Savory spread with olives as the main ingredient. France
10) Horseradish. Japan
11) Typically fried dish made from) leftover cabbage and potatoes. England
12) Ceremonial herbal drink. South Pacific, especially Fiji, Samoa, Tonga