The Best Of Delicious Travel With ‘Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide’

By Laura Manske, Contributor
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Grab with gourmand gusto the new Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide (Workman Publishing). This fun book brims with fascinating foodie facts and travel trivia — an enticing read for anyone who is curious about the world. Like a five-star hotel’s platter-stacked buffet artfully arranged to please the eye and palate, Gastro Obscura stimulates aplenty, with hundreds of rich morsels to peruse and savor.

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Cleverly written by Atlas Obscura cofounder Dylan Thuras and coauthor Cecily Wong, the hefty 440-page hardcover — meaty with details, peppered with revelations, salted with humor and sweetened with good cheer — is served with colorful photos, illustrations and layouts. It showcases surprising sustenance, stellar dining establishments, shocking flavors, riveting rituals, chef ingenuity, astonishing history, fantastical lore and practical know-how gathered from seven continents, more than 120 countries and all 50 United States.

Tasty Tales Are Welcomed Now More Than Ever

Our journeys have been vastly curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The thirst-quenching, armchair-traveler escapism of Gastro Obscura inspires. With holidays ahead, consider gifting this festive travelogue.

“Eating may be the most immersive, visceral travel experience,” wrote Wong and Thuras in the book’s introduction. “It requires an engagement of every sense, from the sound of dishes clattering in an alleyway kitchen, to the smell of garlic hitting hot oil, to the joy of seeing a plate of food before you as you sit, utensil in hand, about to taste. Humans around the world are bound by the necessity and pleasure of eating and there is no faster way to glimpse the heart of a place than by experiencing its food.”

Athletes run past Chateau Lafite Rothschild during the Marathon du Medoc in Southwestern France. AFP via Getty Images

Organized into short lively sections, Gastro Obscura spotlights quirky feasts and festivals, extraordinary spirits and wines, offbeat museums and monuments, unusual markets and farms, gorgeous getaways and heady hideaways. Chew on info about outstanding oddities, such as the elaborate table etiquette of the Victorian era, the diets of Roman gladiators and the rules of haggis-hurling competitions in Scotland. A favorite hedonistic challenge: France’s Marathon du Médoc, during which thousands of participants, dressed in whimsical costumes, annually race 26.2 miles each September (cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus), pausing en route to sip from 23 glasses of wine and gulp local treats like cheese, foie gras and oysters. My kind of sport.

Vermouth and olive tapas at a wine bar in Spain. getty

Toast Spain’s daily Vermouth hour. Imagine the relaxing suds of an Austrian beer spa. Explore Nottingham, England’s subterranean drinking dens. Visit a bright shrine to tomato paste in Greece. Dine like a sultan at a Turkish restaurant that recreates menus from the Ottoman Empire. Peek at lush edible gardens of the U.S.A. Learn about a mind-boggling array of Mexican candy, the bouncy meatballs of the Chaoshan region of China and a rare coffee, planted near giant mossy trees, in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park. Find out how a single Iranian seed launched America’s impressive pistachio industry. Wonder about a berry, grown in the rainforests of southern Nigeria, that is more than a thousand times sweeter than our table sugar. And check out visionary food pioneers, who have changed the appetites of millions of people.

Ambitiously celebrating Earth’s diversity, this zany anthropological opus, published today, is an inviting, horizon-expanding portal.

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