There’s only one thing I love more than trying new foods—and that’s trying new foods in new places.
But when I can’t indulge my passion for travel, I grab a book and indulge in some armchair vacationing. Living vicariously through authors who write about their experiences while living in or visiting a city makes me feel like I’m part of their journey, learning (and eating) right alongside with them.
If you’re an armchair traveler or a foodie—or both—here are a few books that will both whisk you to off to exotic locales and get your mouth watering.
This autobiography is not only a story about food writer Kim Severson’s relationships with food and the people who have taught her about food, but also about her relationship to the two cities where she’s written about food—the culinary meccas of San Francisco and New York.
Beginning with her first food-writing job at The San Francisco Chronicle, Severson takes readers on a journey through the Northern California food scene. Whether she’s talking about meeting restaurant legend Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame or her love affair with the Meyer lemon, she gives us a great sense of the California food culture.
Severson later moves to New York City to write for The New York Times, where she endures a coastal culture shock and laments the lack of seasonal, fresh produce. When she finally finds her rhythm in New York and writes about its joys (trips to Union Square’s Greenmarket!), you feel like you’re discovering them along with her.
Tom Parker Bowles combines an adventurous palate with an adventurous spirit by taking a tour around the world to sample “dangerous” regional specialties, from chile peppers in New Mexico to live seafood in Laos. Throughout his journey, he explores the cultural differences that dictate food preferences and make certain foods taboo—examining, for example, why chicken is considered a dinnertime staple in the Western world while eating insects is consider repulsive. From trekking to Laos to experience the bustling street markets to going on a fishing expedition in Spain, Parker Bowles gives us a taste of cultures around the world.
Living in Paris seems like it would be a dream come true for any foodie. But as former Chez Panisse chef David Lebovitz learns when he moves there, this gastronomic heaven also comes with its share of quirks and frustrations.
In this book, he writes about his experiences living and cooking in Paris and the culture shock that goes along with his journey—from miniscule kitchens to water never being served at the dinner table. As he discusses quirks like serving dinner guests fish that’s of dubious freshness or risking his life on a hazardous street to get his favorite hot chocolate, you’ll get a delicious taste of Paris life. (And don’t worry—he also shares recipes in each chapter!)
You may not associate the inner city with farm-grown produce. However, once you read Novella Carpenter’s memoir about urban farming, you’ll realize that cities that are home to vacant lots and graffiti can also be home to juicy tomatoes and vibrant bunches of kale.
When Carpenter discovers a vacant lot near her home in inner-city Oakland, she clears away the weeds and garbage, starts growing vegetables, and eventually moves onto raising animals, including a 300 pound pig! As the author guides us through adventures and misadventures in farming, the setting of Oakland plays an important role, providing her with characters that wouldn’t be found elsewhere—such as Bobby, a homeless man who lives in his car and provides valuable help to Carpenter as she gets her farm underway.