Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide by Cecily Wong & Dylan Thuras, 436 pp, RL: 4

 

Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide 
An Atlas Obscura Book
Review Copy from Workman Publishing

If you aren't familiar with the exception resource that is Atlas Obscura, scroll down to catch up. I've been a fan of the online version of Atlas Obscura for years and was super excited when they launched their James Beard nominated food section, Gastro Obscura. A a food lover and travel lover, Gastro Obscura hits my sweet spot. And, while I have been following Gastro Obscura on Instagram since they debuted in 2019, I was so excited when I heard they were publishing a book (that can now sit on the shelf next to Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition). Cleverly (and realizing that Instagram is mostly about the visuals) not too much information about the featured foods or locales they come from is handed out on social media. At the Gastro Obscura website, you can read full articles like, "Inside the Company Printing America's Community Cookbooks," and, "The Epic Landscape Art of Tiny Inakadate, Japan." And now, when you want a break from your screen, you can pick up this gorgeous tome and salivate as you read.

Wong and Thuras write in their introduction, "Most of the entries in this book came from the Atlas Obscura community - over half a million incredible users who share tips with us every day - and our remarkable team of editors who scour the earth to find even more wonders. What you hold in your hands is a massive, collaborative effort made possible by every person who pointed us to a surprising restaurant , a charming fruit, or a Canadian hockey arena above the Arctic Circle that locals have turned into a thriving greenhouse." It is the collaborative nature of all things Obscura that makes this such a truly amazing book. Yes, manmade monuments and natural oddities are landmarks that draw visitors from all over the world, but it is the intimacy of eating a local delicacy and experiencing a new taste, flavor combination or culinary work of art that, to me, is truly what makes visiting a new place memorable. And what makes Gastro Obscura so highly readable.

Divided into regions (Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, Canada, USA and Latin America) that in turn are divided into smaller regions, Gastro Obscura, is encyclopedic in design. There is a fascinating history lesson that comes with most entries - like K'alapurka, or Volcanic Rock Soup from Bolivia that was eaten by the conscripted native Peruvians and enslaved Africans who worked i the treacherous, disease-ridden silver mines in the 16th century. And not all entries are about food you can eat, like the giant rice straw sculptures, or Wara Art, found in Japan, and Qasr al-Haj, a stunning work of Berber architecture that is also a granary fortress in Libya. There are floating farms in the Netherlands and ancient Roman fish sauce factories to be explored as well. Then there are newer creations like beer made from fog water in Atrapaniebla, Chile (described as "crisp and refreshing with just the slightest hint of atmospheric salt") and the story of Trinidad's beloved Red Solo soda. There are also many entries with fascinating traditions and superstitions around food, including the many dallah, the Arabic coffee pot, sculptures all over the Arabian Peninsula that speak to the core significance of coffee in the region.

If you "Let curiosity be your compass" (an Atlas Obscura motto) then you will definitely enjoy traveling the pages of this fantastic, hard to put down (until it makes you too hungry to read anymore) book!


**Hopefully you already are familiar with Atlas Obscura, the online catalog of obscure and unusual travel destinations, made unique by the fact that, as with all hidden local gems, these destinations are shared by people in the know. Founded in 2009 by Thuras and  Joshua Foer, Atlas Obscura is a global community of users who continue to help to build a comprehensive database of the world's most wondrous places and foods, with 23,310 of them contributing so far. Beyond user contributions, Atlas Obscura is a publisher of "best-in-class journalism about hidden places, incredible history, scientific marvels, and gastronomical wonders." And, as it evolved over the years, Atlas Obscura has gone on to now organizes events, host a podcast, offer courses and "lead the world's most unusual trips to the world's most remarkable places."


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