By William Caverlee
Perceptive Travel’s July 2012 book reviews feature food porn from Lonely Planet’s stockpiles, another women’s confessional travel book destined for Oprah and the cinema, and a 30-years-ago memoir of Alaska.
The World’s Best Street Food
Edited by Paul Harding, Kim Hutchins, Charlotte Orr, Christopher Pitts
A buoyant offering from Lonely Planet, the heavy-laden travel conglomerate. Someday the powers and principalities steering LP will run out of themes for their lustrous pictorial compilations, but happily they’ve turned their attention to street food before those last days.
Savories and sweets are arranged alphabetically, but I flew straight to Italy (p. 128) for a delicious-looking pizza al taglio, “a rectangular piece of pizza in the Roman style.” All the chapters in The World’s Best Street Food comprise two pages: (1) main description of the item, its history, where to find it; (2) recipe. Color photographs are scattered throughout. For those keeping score, Italy rates four more entries: arancino (fried balls of rice, saffron, meat, peas, and cheese), cicchetti (bite-sized bar food), pane, panelle e crocchè (North African-inspired sandwich with chickpeas and potatoes), and gelato, a frozen dessert that needs no introduction.
The Bahamas earn a sole entry: conch. Here I began to wonder about the real-world application of the recipes in the book. Obtaining “450g (1lb) conch meat, diced into small chunks” while in London or Des Moines sounds problematic, and brings to mind the famous, apocryphal opening lines to a recipe for rabbit stew: “First, catch a rabbit.”
More tallies from my scorecard. . . . Vietnam (pop. 91,519,289) lands four winners: banh mi (baguette sandwich), bo bia (rice-paper roll), bún cha (noodles and pork), and pho (beef and noodle soup); meanwhile, China (pop. 1,339,724,852) ranks only five: baozi (steamed bun), douhua (tofu pudding), samsa (mutton pastry), spring roll (filled pastry wrap), and yangrou chuan (mutton on a stick).
Joining China and Italy as second-place finishers are a crowd of contenders: Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, and the USA, whose iconic hot dog is joined by the breakfast burrito, knish, Maine lobster roll, and pretzel. (Given the chance, I probably would have nominated five different baseball-park hot dogs and left it at that.) The overall winner is India with nine selections. Among which is the kati roll, “a tinglingly tasty lamb kebab, rolled up inside a paratha with sauteed onions, chilli and spicy sauce.”
Looking for a reason to travel? Pyramids, Greek isles—forget’em. Scarfing down street delicacies sounds as good a reason as any.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed
Before we’ve become acclimatized to high altitude in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, we’ve followed the author through her abandonment by an abusive father, her mother’s remarriage, her teen years growing up in Minnesota, her too-early marriage at age nineteen, her mother’s death from cancer, several adulteries (hers), divorce, years of psychological turmoil, sexual addiction (or, at least, a kind of exuberant taste in one-night stands and random hookups), and heroin use.
Heroin! Was that the money shot that sealed the book deal? Even when Cheryl Strayed is trekking the perilous heights of the PCT, she ruminates incessantly about her mother’s death and her own troubled psyche, all the while finding time to imbibe a bit of marijuana and opium and to pick up a guy at a bar in Oregon. Well, she was twenty-six in the summer of 1995…A modern American woman.
Certainly a travel writer has every right to fill in the back-story and motivation for a journey, but lately, after reading a dozen or so such psycho-travelogues, I’ve found myself longing for a more stoical era—a time when mountaineers like Chris Bonington would begin a book along the lines of, Well, after climbing Annapurna, I thought I’d give Everest another go, so I phoned my mates and began drawing up a list of supplies. Next paragraph: arrival in Kathmandu.
William Caverlee is a contributing writer for the Oxford American magazine, and the author of Amid the Swirling Ghosts and Other Essays, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, www.ulpress.org. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, and in the anthology, The Writer’s Presence (Bedford/St. Martins, 2012).