Jodi Ettenberg’s Food traveller’s handbook is an evocative and practical distillation of hard lessons and culinary highs experienced over a decade and then some of long-haul adventures. There’s a patina of authenticity flowing through her writing which stems from both the grand scale of this former lawyer’s escapades (if the Canadian Passport Authority had a loyalty programme, Jodi would be flashing double platinum at immigration) and the author’s changing travel persona – from vacationer through round-the-world backpacker and onto location independent legal nomad. Although the meat of the book is, as the title suggests, in the form of a “handbook”, it is the bite-sized chunks of our guide’s personal food memories which are the highlights here – reflective vignettes on the joys of being a global food citizen. Kicking off with “Laos Tapas” on the pavements of Luang Prabang, by the end we’ve eaten our way around the world from Moroccan spices in France to cheesy Corn bread in Columbia and food and fashion in Burma.
Jodi’s skill – the literary spice which lifts this above standard food porn – is her expression of how the street food experience, its rituals and the human interactions they demand allow each serendipitous snack to become a pathway into a better understanding of where you are and the locals you're meeting. Plus, she's recruited fellow travel writers to add more great tales and tips from Zambia, India and Mexico.
These are great pieces which ring true - having collected a few passport stamps myself, I'm on the same page of the menu as Jodi as to the importance of diving into local food for the deepest, most satisfying of travel experiences. There IS nothing like the culinary alchemy of how a Singaporean hawker can turn shredded turnip of all things into the vegetarian apex predator that is Popiah; or nothing to compare with wolfing down a heaped plate of spicy dhal bhat and rice halfway up a Himalayan mountain - cooked over an open fire in a stone shack but served with real pride by the dhaba lady.
For me, her insights were where I got most out of my reading, but this is a “handbook” after all and our author’s lawyerly discipline eventually comes to the fore, with informative sections on every possible food-related issue. Whatever travel experience a reader might be considering – from one-week vacay to global epic, there's a ton of info here – savvy suggestions on making smart food choices to avoid illness as well as a personal take on why allergies and food intolerances didn't stop the author in her tracks and won't stop you. Jodi even flags some important ethical choices readers might need to consider. Me? I'd be fine with dog, and am still annoyed that bad timing meant I missed out on a monitor lizard curry in Borneo once, but I'm with the author all the way when it comes to shark fins - that's a big NO.
The Food traveler’s handbook is a very modern tome - a paperback is available for the dead tree fetishists, but I imagine most of target audience will pick this up via Amazon Kindle and with colour photos and info panels throughout, it's made for the modern tablet audience. Lengthwise, we’re way past a longform article but not quite in sight of a coffee table book – there's a lot of stuff here people, and it's well worth the price of admission.
As to the downsides? Well, like a typical street-food addict, I'm greedy, I'm a glutton, and would have liked to have had even more of the author's personal travel food stories. Plus, the resources section has a lot of links in it, some of which will date quickly, so this is a book "of its moment" to grab hold of, although I'm sure there will be updated editions in the future.
But, these are trifles. If you're lucky enough to be visiting a new and foreign culture anytime soon, or know someone who is, then get this book - it's keenly priced and worth every cent. Buy the book, get outside your culinary comfort zone and expand your mind as well as your waistline...
Take yourself over to Jodi’s blog, Legal Nomads for more info on how to buy and a video trailer / sample links.
Like this? Take a look at