The best cookbooks for armchair travelers

Who am I?

I've been thinking and writing about food ever since I spent a year in the Soviet Union many decades ago and discovered that food is a wonderfully immediate way to enter into another culture. My first cookbook led to a stint as a spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US—a fascinating exercise in cross-cultural communication during the Cold War. In 2001 I founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which deepened my interest in culinary cultures around the world. Cookbooks aren't just about recipes. For me, the best ones include personal stories and history that transport you to other realms.


I wrote...

Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

By Darra Goldstein,

Book cover of Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

What is my book about?

I love the icy beauty of cold climates, which I've written about in several of my cookbooks. For Beyond the North Wind, I traveled to remote regions of the Russian North to explore the true heart of Russian food and show how foods from a harsh climate can be surprisingly sophisticated. The book celebrates whole grains, preserved and fermented foods, and straightforward but robust flavors, with recipes for a dazzling array of pickles and preserves; infused vodkas; homemade dairy products and baked cultured milk; a pantheon of pies; large, lacy blini; and seasonal vegetable soups.

Beyond the North Wind is a home-style cookbook with a strong sense of place that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food

Darra Goldstein Why did I love this book?

This book immediately swept me up in its glorious evocation of Sicily: the island's ancient history, the ways of its people, and above all the flavors of the sun-kissed land. In gorgeous prose, American-born Mary Taylor Simeti combines the illuminating insights of an outside observer with a passion for her adopted homeland. The recipes range from the cucina povera that sustained most of Sicily's inhabitants over the centuries to the ornate court cuisine that developed in the 16th century. We also journey to Sicily's convents, where the nuns became famous for their wondrous confections with fanciful names like "Virgins' Breasts" and "Chancellor's Buttocks."

By Mary Taylor Simeti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pomp and Sustenance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This gem is more than just a cookbook. Walk through history with Pomp and Sustenance author Mary Taylor Simeti as she shares the secrets and eccentricities of Sicilian cuisine. Straddling the East and West, Christian and Muslim, land and sea, this Mediterranean island is a place of unique convergence. Nowhere is cultural convergence more evident than in Sicily’s regional culinary traditions and food culture. Simeti narrates this centuries-long journey, with wit and humor, making this historical cookbook a joy to own and use. 
More than just history, Pomp and Sustenance is filled with wonderful recipes. impressive in their style, scope,…


Book cover of Mourjou: The Life and Food of an Auvergne Village

Darra Goldstein Why did I love this book?

Few visitors to France venture to the Auvergne, the sparsely populated, south-central region where until recently most of the now-aging population still spoke the medieval language known as Occitan. Englishman Peter Graham moved there in 1978 and became captivated with the land and its inhabitants. Mourjou communicates his love for this little-known region and its hearty food. Graham collected extraordinary recipes that can't be found in other books about French food (an eggy pudding made with buckwheat flour, ham, Swiss chard, and prunes; a charlotte made with chestnut flour, chestnut cream, pumpkin, and quince). He intersperses recipes with beautifully crafted essays that dive deep into the region's history and culture, chronicling a way of life that is rapidly disappearing.

By Peter Graham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mourjou as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When cookbooks describe well-known traditional recipes, they usually provide some sort of introduction or background to the dish. All too often one would like to know more, but it is only too rarely that such matters are discussed at length. For most cookbooks are obliged to give priority to the quantity of recipes they include, and cannot afford to be as comprehensive or discursive as they would like to be. In this book, each chapter covers a different dish at the length it deserves, mentioning its origins, etymology, geographical spread, folklore and even appearance in history and the arts, and…


Book cover of My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking

Darra Goldstein Why did I love this book?

Until picking up this book I knew nothing about Parsi food, a distinctive way of cooking practiced by the descendants of the Zoroastrians who fled Persia for India around the 8th century. And what a cuisine it is! This book engages all your senses, immersing you in the aromas, colors, and tastes of Parsi kitchens. Niloufer King's descriptions are beguiling, her language deft as she evokes dishes like the "wobbly" cauliflower custard of her childhood and its "trembling delicacy," or a hot green chutney that is "raucous" rather than refined. King brings family and friends to life through anecdotes that reveal the long history and continuing evolution of this distinctive manner of cooking.

By Niloufer Ichaporia King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Bombay Kitchen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Persians of antiquity were renowned for their lavish cuisine and their never-ceasing fascination with the exotic. These traits still find expression in the cooking of India's rapidly dwindling Parsi population - descendants of Zoroastrians who fled Persia after the Sassanian empire fell to the invading Arabs. The first book published in the United States on Parsi food written by a Parsi, this beautiful volume includes 165 recipes and makes one of India's most remarkable regional cuisines accessible to Westerners. In an intimate narrative rich with personal experience, the author leads readers into a world of new ideas, tastes, ingredients,…


Book cover of Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes, Through Darkness and Light

Darra Goldstein Why did I love this book?

Caroline Eden is an intrepid traveler, and her culinary travelogue Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes through Darkness and Light beautifully captures the romance of the Black Sea region. You experience all the bumps and jolts of her journey as she moves along the coasts of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, repeatedly forsaking comfort for more strenuous modes of conveyance and lodging. The book's shimmery cover is alluring, as are the generous photographs of people, places, and food. Eden's lyrical, evocative prose has an immediacy that communicates the distinctiveness of each place she visits. The book goes beyond history, culture, cuisine, and geopolitics to tell the personal stories of the people who inhabit the Black Sea coast.

By Caroline Eden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Art of Eating Prize 2020

Winner of the Guild of Food Writers' Best Food Book Award 2019

Winner of the Edward Stanford Travel Food and Drink Book Award 2019

Winner of the John Avery Award at the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards for 2018

Shortlisted for the James Beard International Cookbook Award

'The next best thing to actually travelling with Caroline Eden - a warm, erudite and greedy guide - is to read her. This is my kind of book.' - Diana Henry

'A wonderfully inspiring book about a magical part of the world' -…


Book cover of The Cuisine of Hungary

Darra Goldstein Why did I love this book?

The legendary restaurateur George Lang escaped from a labor camp under the Nazis and in 1946 managed to emigrate to New York City. This book is his love letter to his native land. I can't think of another writer who conveys the fascinating history of Hungarian cuisine with such detail and depth of feeling. The book features "Gastronomic Profiles" of the country's distinctive regions and contains excellent information on Hungarian wines. Lang's book is rich in literary quotations, including an ode "To a Fattened Goose" by József Berda. The recipes are excellent, many with enticing names like "Witches' Froth," which Lang describes as a "featherweight dessert" to offset the richness of an otherwise heavy meal.

By George Lang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cuisine of Hungary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Presents a detailed guide to Hungarian dishes and wines, sketching the history of Hungarian cuisine and providing an array of simple recipes highlighting regional specialties


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Book cover of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

Marianne C. Bohr Author Of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

New book alert!

Who am I?

I married my high school sweetheart and travel partner, and followed my own advice to do graduate work, and started my career working for the French National Railroad in New York City, mapping itineraries for travelers to Europe. Travel means the world to me and if I don’t have a trip on the horizon, I feel aimless and untethered. I worked in book publishing for 30 years and dropped out of the corporate rat race to take a gap year abroad. I wrote about our “Senior year abroad” in my first book Gap Year Girl. I returned to the US to teach middle school French and organize student trips to France. 

Marianne's book list on by women about outdoor adventure

What is my book about?

Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica — the GR20, Europe’s toughest long-distance footpath — to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.

From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an “I’ll show them” attitude. But hiking GR20 forces her to transform a lifetime of hard-won achievements into acceptance of her body and its limitations.

The difficult journey across a remote island provides the crucible for exploring what it means to be an aging woman in a youth-focused culture, a physically fit person whose limitations are getting the best of her, and the partner of a husband who is growing old with her. More than a hiking tale, this is a moving story infused with humor about hiking, aging, accepting life’s finite journey, and the intimacy of a long-term marriage—set against the breathtaking beauty of Corsica’s rugged countryside.

By Marianne C. Bohr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Twenty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Great for fans of: Suzanne Roberts's Almost Somewhere, Juliana Buhring's This Road I Ride.


Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica-the GR20, Europe's toughest long-distance footpath-to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.


From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an "I'll show them" attitude. But hiking The Twenty forces her to…


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