6 Cookbooks That Double as Guidebooks

Jaw Phak Katt, a mustard-green soup, from “The Food of Northern Thailand.”

On a seven-week journey around the Black Sea this summer, I found my way to Odessa’s bustling Privoz Market with its mounds of fresh berries and fish. I spent days in Bulgaria feasting on petite mussels, and restored myself with a bowl of seafood stew at Okyanus Balik Evi, a restaurant above a fish shop in Sinop, Turkey. My guide? Caroline Eden’s “Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes — Through Darkness and Light,” a travelogue enriched with recipes — a sort of travel book meets cookbook.

Many cookbooks that celebrate the cuisine of a city, country or swath of the world line my bookshelves. At their finest, they take readers into kitchens and markets, on to farms and around towns they may never visit. Their recipes offer a way to bring those flavors into a reader’s kitchen.

But for travelers who think about dinner reservations and pastry stops first when planning a trip, a slice of this crop of books can function as guidebooks too. They offer restaurant suggestions, point readers toward markets and frequently display maps. The recipes offer a way to prepare for the journey — or relive it when one returns. The greatest strength of these books, though, is how they connect what’s on the table to the broader culture and history of a place, proving that to understand a destination, you need to pull up a seat at the table.

Here are a few I recommend taking on the road. A warning though: Cookbooks can clock in at over a pound, so if you’re traveling light, be sure to download a version on an e-reader if available, snap photos of pages or build a Google Map.

Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook

Along with recipes for falafel and schnitzel, the duo behind the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia takes readers into their favorite spots in Israel like D’vora Falafel in Karkur and Hatzot in Jerusalem for a plate of the city’s mixed grill. A handy page in the introduction lists all of the restaurants and markets referenced along with their addresses, simplifying trip planning.

Nuno Mendes

Tucked between pages with recipes for salt cod fritters and pastéis de nata, or custard tarts, in the chef and Lisbon native Nuno Mendes’s book are inserts dedicated to cafe culture, fish, small neighborhood restaurants called tascas, and more. Each contains recommendations like those in the beach life insert for local seaside snacks of cream-filled doughnuts and fresh potato chips — and where to eat them.

Credit…Reprinted from The Food of Northern Thailand. Copyright 2018 by Austin Bush. Photographs copyright 2018 by Austin Bush. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Austin Bush

The photographer and writer Austin Bush relocated from the United States to Thailand 20 years ago and felt pulled toward the flavors of northern Thailand. His book focuses on — and is organized by — six of the region’s provinces. Intrepid travelers can follow his work to Laap Kao Cham Chaa, an open-air eatery in Chiang Mai for a pounded salad of pomelo and crab paste, and to the city’s Kamphaeng Din neighborhood for an evening of fried meat.

Georgia Freedman

In 2011, the writer Georgia Freedman and her husband, the photographer Josh Wand, moved to Yunnan, a province in China that borders Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar to explore the region’s diverse foodways. Many of the recipes in their book like one for Kunming-style cold noodle salad come from specific restaurants and each is accompanied by its name written in Chinese characters — meaning those visiting the region can show it to a server at a restaurant.

Carla Capalbo

In this cultural travel guide and cookbook, the food and wine writer Carla Capalbo takes readers deep into the regions of Georgia for qvevri wine made in amphorae, cheese-filled breads and dumplings like khinkali. Since locating people and places in Georgia can be challenging, Ms. Capalbo offers maps and addresses or contact information for numerous restaurants, shops, and wine makers.

Katie Parla and Kristina Gill

The writer Katie Parla and the photographer Kristina Gill have both lived in Rome for more than 15 years, deeply entrenching themselves in the city’s culinary scene. Their work here goes beyond guiding readers to the best suppli and carbonara; it connects the city’s signature dishes to its history and modern-day culture.

Devra Ferst is a food and travel writer based in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @dferst.

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