Book review: “Gastro Obscura”

You had a sandwich for lunch again today.

If you had to estimate, you’ve eaten thousands of those things over the last five years. Chicken sandwiches. Sandwiches with lunch meat. Sandwiches with a burger. Vegetarian sandwiches. Grilled cheese sandwiches, yeah, you could be in a rut. So tomorrow, why not try something different? Read “Gastro Obscura” by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras, and see what else is on the menu.

Let’s face it: part of the fun of travel is eating, and lots of it. Whether it’s authentic Thai food or locally-sourced fish, Mom’s secret gravy recipe or Grandma’s pies, half the appeal of travel is on a table somewhere, and why not? 

Worst case scenario: you don’t like it but you tried. Best case scenario: the best meal ever.

So why not start with something easy: on your next journey, try Bovril, a “beloved” beef product that’s sold as a paste in England. Go to Italy and stand in line for the chance to sample “what may be the rarest pasta in the world.” Have a bowl of “Sumo Wrestler Stew,” knowing that no wrestlers were harmed in its creation. These foods would taste great when accompanied by bread baked in sand or lava in Libya or the Solomon Islands, and perhaps some mustard pickles from Canada.

If you’re thirsty, how about a Irn-Bru from Scotland, a kind of soda with “.002% ammonium ferric citrate.” A Mlíko, or “fluffy beer” from the Czech Republic might taste good, and “Naked Boy Tea” doesn’t seem so bad when you know that it’s not from a real boy.

And then there’s dessert, maybe ice cream presented as spaghetti, a dish Germans love; or blood candy from Russia, made of cow’s blood. Never mind; how about a stick of gum that proudly tastes like soap?

But wait – you’re traveling, remember? Yes, and while you’re out, you might take in a “Cow’s Head Barbecue” in Texas, a food tour of the Jim Crow South, lunch in Mumbai, chile school, or a Hollywood studio.

Bon Appétit!

Crack open “Gastro Obscura” and you’ll notice a most curious thing: much of what you’ll read about will make your mouth water. 

Yes, there’s plenty to make you say “Eeeeeuuuww” and curl your lip here, but give authors Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras a paragraph to change your mind. What they’ve dished up in this book are the kinds of foodstuffs that hosts in other countries would prepare for fancy company. Some of the dishes are ancient, passed down from generations of cooks; others are new versions of old meals similar to some you might already enjoy. You’ll find treats for kids here, once-in-a-lifetime bucket-listers for discerning palates, and easy-to-learn comfort foods for young adults – and if you don’t believe that, there are some recipes you can try. 

Reading this book is like taking your stomach on a vacation, and no foodie should be without it.

If you’re looking for an unusual something for the gourmand, “Gastro Obscura” is what’s for lunch.

“Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide” by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras

c.2021m Workman Publishing $40.00 / $50.00 Canada 440 pages