Tasty reads for the foodie traveller to take away

Every foodie traveller needs to pack a book that evokes the scents and flavours of the local cuisine. From Ernest Hemingway to Frances Mayes, John Walsh devours the best.

The travelling foodie reader is a niche demographic – a combination of adventurer, sybarite and gourmet, someone who would not dream of visiting a country without taking certain books. Along with the travel guide, the crime novel and the slim volume of poetry, he or she will always bring books that evoke the smell of a nation's cooking, the tang of its characteristic fruit, the rasp of its charred meat on your tongue, the commotion of its fiery spices on your oesophagus.

We're not talking recipe books, but food-travel companions. In Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons, the food writer Matthew Fort set out "to understand Sicily by eating it" while travelling around the island on his red Vespa scooter, Monica. You might call his stated intention over-ambitious but he brilliantly evokes the island where cannolo is "a tsunami of sweetness, sweetness piled on sweetness... hallucinatory, luxurious and heady".

Other choices in this mini-genre are travel books in which food is described as part of the changing landscape. Others still are novels you can enjoy for their local colour, in which eating and drinking pay a significant part. But all should leave you gagging to encounter the local ham, yam, berry, sherry, roots and fruits.


Travellers in Paris will enjoy A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway's posthumous memoir of his life in the French capital in the 1920s, when he was starting out as a writer and hanging out with Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Untrustworthy as autobiography, its descriptions of café life, wine-drinking and literary apprentice-work are glorious.

Gertrude Stein's lover/housekeeper produced an unmatchable food memoir in The Alice B Toklas Cook Book (1954). Don't be put off by the title, or the book's notoriety for its inclusion of a recipe for hashcakes; it's a fantastic recollection of her years in haut-bohème Paris and rural France, accumulating recipes from high (stuffed artichokes Stravinsky) and low, and speculating on the French intellectual passion for nosh. ("Conversation even in a literary or political salon can turn to the subject of menus, food or wine.")

Fans of the Meryl Streep movie Julie & Julia will lap up My Life in France (2006), in which Julia Child reminisces, with stunning sensory recall, about the culinary life she enjoyed with her husband in Paris, Marseilles and Provence between 1948 and 1954, starting with a particularly fine sole meunière she wolfed down in Rouen on the day she arrived on French soil.

A curiosity, though a delicious one, for the travelling Francophile is The Debt to Pleasure, John Lanchester's debut novel in which Tarquin Winot, a gourmet snob and scholar, travels from Portsmouth to Provence, lecturing on seasonal food, offering eccentric recipes and gradually revealing his homicidal intentions towards the young couple he's stalking.


Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is a treat for visitors to Chiantishire. Forget the cheesy Diane Lane movie – Mayes is an accomplished food writer who, while telling the story of her renovation of a crumbling villa, conjures up the region's seasonal grub and characteristic dishes with real flair and energy.

The British writer James Hamilton-Paterson's Cooking with Fernet Branca is a witty parody of Ms Mayes (and Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence) that charts the feud between two fuming expatriates; extremely peculiar recipes are included.

Elizabeth Romer's The Tuscan Year: Life and Food in an Italian Valley offers a traditionalist perspective: it's a month-by-month account of how one family, the Cerottis, make meals from the vegetables in their back garden, the animals in the yard and the corn in the fields. The processes move from making prosciutto in January to whipping up zabaglione in December. The book is full of ancient husbandry, magically described.

The great guides to Venice, by Jan Morris and John Julius Norwich, don't have huge amounts to say about the food (the city's most characteristic dish is risi e bisi or "rice and peas") but Dinner with the Doges: History and Recipes of Great Venetian Cooking by Alvise Zorzi is an enjoyable dive into her imperial past.

In Risotto with Nettles: A Memoir with Food, the prima donna assoluta of Italian food writing, Anna Del Conte, remembers being evacuated from her Milan home to the northern countryside, and describes the cucina rustica, from horsemeat roll to lemon granite, with nostalgia and love.


Among its many literary virtues, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is a novel crammed with food references. On the first page we learn that "his habitual diet consisted of a stew, more beef than mutton, of hash most nights, boiled bones on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays and a young pigeon as a Sunday treat…" His description of the wedding feast of Camacho will have you salivating.

A Stranger in Spain by the great HV Morton, originally published in 1955, is inevitably dated when it comes to details but his enthusiasm for regional dishes, from shellfish to paella, comes freshly, and greedily off the page ("How dearly I should like to return to Spain and eat my way northward from Seville to Madrid, then to gnaw steadily through the Castiles and chew on to the Basque country…")

The most prolific author on Spanish food is New York-born Penelope Casas, who visits the country every year with her Madrid-born husband and whose books, Tapas: the Little Dishes of Spain and The Foods and Wines of Spain, are considered the definitive word on everything from paella to padron peppers.


Prospero's Cell by Lawrence Durrell will give you a luxuriant, partly fictionalised, memoir of life on Corfu in the late 1930s; My Family and Other Animals, by Durrell's brother Gerald, covers the same timescale from a more childish and beast-centric perspective. John Fowles's The Magus wonderfully evokes the Greek island of Spetses (recast as "Phraxos") while Captain Corelli's Mandolin will bring wartime Kefalonia yelpingly to life. But the real foodie has to go back to antiquity to discover the importance of food to Hellenic society. Imogen Dawson's Food and Feasts in Ancient Greece is full of arcane knowledge, lightly worn.

Two vivid portraits of modern Greek character and culture, food included, are Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storace, in which the American poet describes villages, beaches, food (she calls the Greek snacks of pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and pistachios "the edible equivalent of worry beads") religion, culture and fighting off sexual advances wherever she goes; and 96 Acharnon Street by John Lucas, the record of his year spent as "Lord Byron visiting professor of English" at the University of Athens in the mid-1980s. In the noisy, reeking street of the title, helped by gallons of retsina at Babi's tavern, he discovers the corruption of officialdom, the importance of individual loyalty and the dignity of everyday duckers and divers on the outskirts of the economy.


From the long shelf of books offering Turkish recipes, I'd recommend Turkey: Recipes and Tales from the Road by the aptly named Leanne Kitchen. It describes a journey from high-caste, Ottoman-court dinner to low-rent peasant cuisine, and its evocation of slow-roasted lamb with pomegranates or Turkish-coffee custard will make you swoon.

North Africa

Umpteen 20th-century western writers have plunged into the souks of Morocco and emerged with a book of rapturous exotica-watching (In Morocco by Edith Wharton, the first travel book on Morocco to be published, The Voices of Marrakesh by Elias Canetti, Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud) but few of them linger for very long over the food. Marrakesh Through Writers' Eyes edited by Barnaby Rogerson is ablaze with the colours and smells of the city, with plenty of foodie rapture, especially by Gavin Maxwell.

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers