We interrupt our regular programming to cover the release of an extraordinary book from the world’s best travel publisher—Lonely Planet. Yes, it’s a travel book, but what makes Ultimate Eats so special is the virtual thrill of touring five hundred interesting places around the world and vicariously sampling the dishes unique to the locale.
The book’s dual nature—destination and food—encourages us to explore the question of what makes a place interesting? So, play the game with us. Think about some of your favorite vacation destinations and what comes to mind?
Paris, for example. No doubt, you quickly flash back to Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, but don’t you also remember the steak tartare, macaroons, croque monsieur, and creme brulee you enjoyed in the city’s bistros? Of course you do, and Paris’s incomparable food scene will be the primary reason you go back to the City of Light (City of Bite) sometime in the future.
I’ll be there for a couple days on my way to the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall, and you can bet I’ll be tucking into some duck liver pate alongside a glass of good red Burgundy like Clos du Vougeot as I stroll about the cobblestone.
When a copy of Ultimate Eats landed on my desk, I leafed to the TOC and ran my finger down the list of places and dishes, just to see if some of my favorites made the Lonely Planet grade. Pintxos in San Sebastian? Check. Curry laksa in Kuala Lumpur? Yep. Sushi in Tokyo, Pizza margherita in Naples, White truffles in Piedmont, Raclette in the Swiss Alps, Caviar in Moscow, Gado gado in Bali, Dragon beard candy in Hong Kong, Greek salad in Athens, Arancini in Sicily, Black Risotto in Croatia, Manuka honey in New Zealand, Lamingtons in Australia, Sopa de lima in Yucatan…I remember them all in my fifty-plus years of travel. And Ultimate Eats has made it wonderfully, painfully obvious that I’ll need another fifty years and a sizable inheritance from a rich uncle I don’t have to make a decent run at the rest of their list of exotic foodie places.
Our travel-loving managing editor, Michelle Anne Schingler, fresh off a food-driven tour around the whole island of Iceland—Lobster in Reykjavik (page 144)—also fell hard for this project and felt inspired to write a delightful review, below.
How quintessentially inspired that Lonely Planet’s 500-stop global gastronomy tour begins not with flashiness and flair, but by lauding what’s simple: “battered white asparagus, a tuna and anchovy tart or maybe mushrooms braised in garlic,” enjoyed after a “lazy day” in San Sebastián, Spain. This latest guidebook isn’t about food-tripping for show; it is earnest in its efforts to encourage curiosity and learning on a transnational scale. Try everything, savour every ingredient—let taste be your guide.
The book’s entries were ranked carefully by a team of culinary and travel experts. Borders may be crossed multiple times on a single page, but every entry ends up celebrating something elemental, situated, and singular. You may have had pho before, but have you had it on a boat in the Mekong Delta’s river market? You incorporate coconut in dishes at home, but have you experienced it beachside in Fiji—“that little gift from Mother Nature … cold, sweet and refreshing,” sipped straight from the fruit? The book celebrates street food alongside Michelin three-star restaurants, and considers the experience as part of the package (sufganiyot are reserved for Hanukkah in Israel; wait to experience Germany’s mulled wine until the nation’s Christmas markets are in full swing). Its exuberance is pure; its sense of adventure is insatiable.
An index organizes entries by nation, enabling a quick scan of the must-tastes in your next destination. Colorful ingredients pop in bright photographs of steak tartare in France (the book begs that you not neglect the classics) and paprika-dusted cabbage rolls in Hungary, while wanderlust-awakening pictures of sites are included next to those of mouthwatering dishes. A select team of notable and celebrity chefs lent their own top five recommendations to the project, as seen in sidebars sprinkled along the path: note that mashed potatoes in Paris are how Eric Ripert does it, or follow in Wylie Dufresne’s footsteps and down fish skin tacos in Copenhagen. It would be a shame to come away from this generously portioned project and not hunger for just one more helping, to be downed in a location that is as yet unknown.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (August 13, 2018)