Tips & News

T+L’s 10 Best Beach Reads of 2021 for Foodies and Travelers

Here’s your summer reading list.

By Adam H. Graham
Photographed by Veronica Inveen

May 14, 2021

IF YOU STILL CAN’T TRAVEL THIS SUMMER — or even if you can — below are 10 books to reacquaint you with the world’s wondrous sights, mellifluous sounds, fascinating smells and mouthwatering tastes. From chasing butterflies in Mexico’s ancient sacred oyamel fir forests to pondering your existence on a sinking ship under Norway’s Northern Lights, these books, listed in no particular order, are sure to kickstart your wanderlust. 

The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruises & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship

By Chaney Kwak

The Passenger

What happens when your cruise ship starts sinking off the blustery coast of Norway? Korean-American journalist Chaney Kwak takes us to the scene of such an incident in his irreverent debut travel memoir where he not only ponders the end of his life on the listing ship, but summons up a Titanic clarity and humor that’s as dark as it is dry to ponder bigger questions about doomed relationships, authenticity in the social-media age and what survival means in the 21st century. 

Available June 8, 2021; Godine Press

My Place at The Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris  

By Alec Lobrano

My Place at the Table

James Beard Award–winning food writer Alec Lobrano’s first memoir takes readers to his Connecticut childhood, in which a Proustian B.L.T. sandwich plants the seed that leads him to becoming Paris’s preeminent English-language food critic. Along the way, he takes us to soirées in high 1980s New York, London and Paree, where he assumes the role of fashion editor and dishes on Rothschilds, Fairchilds, and Saint-Laurents. But his hawklike dinner-table observations—by turns sentimental and Pavlovian—are a love letter to Parisian bistros where dishes like guinea hen stuffed with duck foie gras and runny hunks of Camembert will have you summoning imaginary garçons.

Available June 1, 2021; Houghton Mifflin

Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day: A Cookbook

By Rodney Scott

Rodney Scott

Much has been written about American barbecue, but very little of it by African-Americans, who arguably invented America’s iconic cuisine. In the first cookbook by a black pitmaster, James Beard Award–winning chef Rodney Scott tells stories about his family traditions and reveals an eagle-eyed dedication to the culinary craft of ‘cue. Growing up in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, Scott cooked his first whole hog by age 11 and went on to cook his lowcountry style barbecue in places like Uruguay and France, eventually nabbing a role on Netflix’s Chef’s Table.

The first part of the book contains straightforward essays providing historical context of Scott’s tobacco, squash, okra picking childhood on his parent’s farm, followed by technical info on his preferred types of woods, styles of barbecue, burn barrels, and notes on sandwiches. But the photographed recipes in the book’s second part really sing: smoked catfish dip, chicken perloo, smoked prime rib, and fried chicken tap into an American soul food that seldom gets the ink it deserves.

Available now; Clarkson Potter

Ideal City: Exploring Urban Futures

The Ideal City

Cities took the biggest hit during the coronavirus pandemic and people left them in droves to set up camp elsewhere. This book—written by Copenhagen-based Space 10, a research and design lab, before the pandemic—celebrates 52 cities in 30 countries and comes at a time when we are all returning our gaze to urban living. Unlike similar vanity books emphasizing famous urban hubs, it profiles projects in lesser-sung cities. Ho Chi Minh’s edible exteriors, Freiberg Germany’s net-surplus-energy Town Hall, and a plant-friendly Tuberculosis Hospital in Port au Prince are profiled for their innovative design solutions showing us how architecture can improve the quality of lives everywhere. 

Available now; Gestalten Press

Eating Wild Japan: Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes 

By Winifred Bird

Eating Wild Japan

If living in Japan’s alps for eight years teaches one anything, it’s that the land provides. This proved true for American author and gaijin forager Winifred Bird, whose insightful essays and illustrated guide to Japan’s wild edible plants — the first of its kind in English — is next-level reading for Japanese food lovers. Her myth-dispelling prose unlocks the history of lesser-known sansai (spring buds) like yomogi (mugwort) and fuki (butterbur) and tree nuts like tochi-no-ki (Japanese horse chestnuts) lurking in Japan’s woods and wilderness. Bird translates and carefully recounts sustainable wisdom dating back 12,000 years to the Jomon-era. Recipes for each plant increase the book’s usefulness for novices to the topic.

Available now; Stone Bridge Press

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide

By Anthony Bordain and Laurie Woolever

World Tavel

“Did the world need another travel guide?” asks Bordain’s longtime editor and co-writer Laurie Woolever in the first sentence of this book commissioned at “Peak Bordain” before the author’s death. Regardless, Bordainaphiles will rejoice at this collection of contrarian intel. Of course there are Mexican taquerias, Osakan ramen shops, and Neapolitan pizzerias among the pages of everyday meals in 40-plus countries. But this is Bordainland, where underdog cuisine reigns supreme, so Sichuan dan dan mian stalls, Ghanaian chop bars, and Omani shuwa joints, are given just as much love.

Available now; Ecco

Wild Sweetness: Recipes Inspired by Nature 

By Thalia Ho

WildSweetness

Dessert skippers may eat their words after seeing Butter & Brioche blogger Thalia Ho’s debut cookbook, a cabinet of cavity-inducing curiosities that rhapsodizes bramble and baking. Ho’s elegant, neo-Gothic concoctions sound more like love potions conjured up by a resourceful fairy godmother than they do desserts. Violet mousse, white rose cake, and sugared sesame banana bread are spellbinding, while bay leaf blondies, Black Forest cookies, and juniper-and-white-chocolate ice cream sound like temptations made by Hansel and Gretel’s witch. The book’s 95 romantic sweets are not made with wild ingredients per se, but are heavy on bramble fruits, herbs and botanicals often overlooked in the baking pantheon. Ho tames their wild and connects these two worlds so seamlessly, we might ask why they were never paired together in the first place.

Available now; Harper Collins

Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells

By Harold McGee

Nose Drive

Leading food-science writer Harold McGee delivers another classic tome, this time exclusively sniffing out the world of scent, from the sulfurous smells of space to the earthly wafts of moss, baked bread, billygoat, and even the leathery smells of decaying books. Like all of McGee’s writing, his anecdotes are backed entirely by the latest science and answer old sensorial questions from Proust, Aristotle and Kant. McGee answers them in clear and unadorned prose that takes sudden turns to physics and chemistry, but always guides readers back to the more relatable smells of the California freeways, the fleeting scent of violets, the fragrant Tian Shan mountain range, and the terpenoid cocktails found in thyme fields across Provence.

Available now; Penguin Random House

Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration 

By Sara Dikeman

Bicycling with Butterfiles

Sara Dikeman clocks more than 10,000 miles on her three-county bicycle loop, retracing the migratory path of monarch butterflies from the sacred and ancient oyamel fir forests of Michoacán, Mexico, to Canada’s Great Lakes and back down through the U.S. to Mexico. During her solo papillon pilgrimage, Dikeman touches on the fears of women traveling alone and our biases about Mexico. She confronts her own isms in each spoke-spinning segment, fueled by tacos, ice-cream, cornfields, and the unexpected kindness of strangers she encounters. But ultimately, her story is a wake-up call for North American butterfly conservation, highlighting the threatened species and its fragile milkweed habitat. 

Available now; Timber Press

The Origins of Cooking: Palaeolithic and Neolithic Cooking

By Ferran Adrià

The Orgins of Cooking

Light beach reading is it not, and don’t even think about trying a Kindle version. One-upping the encyclopedic spirit of Waverly Root, Dumas, Escoffier, and Larouse, legendary El Bulli chef Ferran Adrià c/o Bullipedia painstakingly outlines the ancient history of cooking in this comprehensive study dating from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic eras (2.5 million to 3,500 B.C). Illuminated with illustrations, diagrams and maps, it’s only the first of eight volumes chronicling western food.

The 592-page, three-kilogram tome is more gnostic than it is academic, asking questions about the origins of ancient eating and answering with an archeological-backed menu of boozy fermented persimmon, fresh horse brain, and mammoth tongue. Details about stone-tool butchering and the logistics of boiling water pre-pottery (in a tree trunk with hot stones) will delight historians more than it may casual foodies seeking paleo kale recipes. But for readers who’ve long craved a source to fill in historical culinary gaps, this book is not only a new essential but will be a bible for centuries to come. 

Available now; Phaidon Press

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