The Wonderful and Wild World of "Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide"
For those of us who prefer to go off the beaten path, the website Atlas Obscura, with its curation of hidden wonders around the world, is more than just a go-to travel guide; it's a way of looking at the world. The collection of quirky locales included so many culinary gems that the editors created a special category – Gastro Obscura – to contain them. As its entries grew (there are now more than 20,000), co-authors Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras (also a founder of Atlas Obscura) wanted to curate the site's essence into book form and the result is the delightful Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide.
Basically a textbook of the weird with lots of entries organized by continent with pauses to dive deeper into specific topics, this tome is an homage to the surprising and interesting foods, traditions, and celebrations around the world. "It's the perfect book for someone who is curious about learning about food but maybe has yet to take the full leap," says Thuras. Whether it's an art gallery devoted to figurines carved out of pork fat in Ukraine, Ben Franklin's milk punch recipe, or the "tingle tea" (kava) of Vanuatu, the book takes you on a trip through amazing cuisines, festivals, and traditions that will amuse (a working replica of the Friends coffee shop in China), shock (the saliva-fermented liquor of Peru) and/or confuse you (a roadkill salvage program in Alaska). All that and a Jell-O salad entry, too.
Interspersed between these wild, weird, and well-researched edible oddities are pauses to celebrate global connections like a roundup of giant egg-shaped structures across the globe, including the USA's "World's Largest Egg" roadside attraction and Sweden's giant golden egg-shaped sauna; or the celebration of Chinese restaurants located in unexpected places such as Ushuaia, Argentina and the small island of Mayotte that's located between Madagascar and Mozambique. Long-forgotten trends like the lavish dining experience of the pre-Hindenburg 1930's commercial zeppelin industry not only provide cultural insight but like this one gives humanity and depth to a tragic headline. Deep dives on pantry staples such as milk, honey and…blood (!) will have you looking at these mundane items with a fresh perspective.
The best part: it doesn't matter if you're a super-adventurous food enthusiast who'll use the book as a bucket list, or more of an arm-chair traveler. You can always curl up on the couch with a cuppa or cocktail and take an amazing journey without ever coming out from under your blanket. According to Thuras, the book "does something special that the internet can't. It conveys our approach to storytelling, the overall vastness of the world, and the immense possibility. There is just something incomparable about holding a physical book." We couldn't agree more.