Eating is about experience. Vibrant colors, strong aromas, and subtle flavors are a view into the various cultural and historical influences that had to come together to make a dish possible. But it’s not always feasible to pack up and go on an adventure in search of your next exciting meal. Sometimes you’re stuck at home with nothing more than a couple containers of leftovers and cans in the pantry that won’t go bad until 2052. For those times, there are books. These eight food-focused books will take you to places around the world that are famous for food, wine, and whiskey. They’ll provide inspiration, give tips, and pull back the curtain on some of the most highly regarded institutions in food. Most of all, they’ll provide a culinary themed escape.

1. Lands of the Curry Leaf by Peter Kuruvita

While the subtitle of Lands of the Curry Leaf is “A vegetarian food journey from Sri Lanka to Nepal,” this book is not just for vegetarians. Chef, artist, and TV host Peter Kuruvita’s collection of more than 100 recipes starts with a personal note of his experiences eating in Sri Lanka growing up. It was in his early years, he writes, that he learned “food and cooking were simply natural extensions of self,” and that there were no recipes, “just conversation and a reliance on the senses.” Thankfully, however, Kuruvita adds recipes to help the reader taste food as he’s tasted it over his well-traveled life. Lands of the Curry Leaf is one part personal narrative, one part recipe book, and one part food-focused travel guide. Gorgeous food photography and personal photos are spread throughout. This book can serve as many things — an encyclopedia of spices, an engaging read, a beautiful coffee table book — but perhaps its strongest use is as an inspiration engine to try the vegetarian dishes of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. —Nickolaus Hines

2. Coming to My Senses by Alice Waters

Alice Waters now holds iconic status in American culinary culture. Her Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse is arguably the pioneering farm-to-table restaurant in the country; as a chef, she advocated relentlessly for the now-ubiquitous slow food movement. In this memoir, Waters takes readers behind the scenes of her upbringing and then into the kitchen of Chez Panisse. Waters has a strong personality — opinionated, confident, even self-righteous at times, her perspective on how and what people should eat drives this narrative forward. Spoiler alert: After all these years, she still thinks Americans should all be eating vegetable-forward, fresh, and unfussy meals. The perfect memoir for readers looking for insight into the mechanics of a certified culinary genius’ brain. —Elisabeth Sherman

3. Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi

A Food & Wine 2019 Best New Chef, James Beard winner, and Esquire’s 2019 chef of the year Kwame Onwuachi is leading a new guard of star chefs. In his memoir, he reveals that his life didn’t always look so charmed: Onwuachi recalls how his mother single-handedly supported the family while he found trouble with friends from even rockier backgrounds, before being sent to live in Nigeria at the age of 12. Onwuachi’s stint in Nigeria only stoked his adventurous spirit and his accompanying love of food and home cooking, which he carried with him into college (where his entrepreneurial attitude gets him in trouble) and into his first doomed restaurant venture. Ultimately his story is about perseverance and triumph in the face of hardship, and Onwuachi’s ambition will both captivate and inspire readers. —ES

4. Save me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is a revered figure in the world of food journalism. Her latest book, Save Me the Plums, covers her time at the top of the now-shuttered Gourmet magazine, and it also includes a few relevant recipes to try. Her tenure was during what now feels like the height of excess at the publishing giant Condé Nast. Reichl delivers an insider point of view to the town cars, lavish parties, extensive test kitchens, and vast wardrobe expenses offered to the food magazine elite at the time. Save Me the Plums has a touch of voyeurism that pulls the reader through — whether they’re interested in media or not — peppered with insight to how Gourmet helped shape the way people see food and eating out even today. For Gourmet, food was never just about food, it was about culture and humanity as a whole. Though the ending is already known (the internet was not kind to the magazine industry), reading this book is all about the journey. —NH

5. How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry

Technically a cookbook, food writer Diana Henry’s visually stunning How to Eat a Peach is more like a bible on how to entertain. Henry emphasises simplicity and pleasure; her minimalist aesthetic recommends dishes like sliced white peaches floating in glasses of chilled moscato. Organized by season, her recipes are interspersed with memories of her legendary dinner parties with Alice Waters, her love affair with Naples, and how a trip to Oaxaca helped her forget about an ex-boyfriend. These reflections are so vibrant and atmospheric you will be transported to worlds defined by sensuous flavors — crisp ceviche dotted with pomegranate, cream-topped apple cider jellies, and briney crab lakes dipped in sea salt and mustard mayonnaise are just the beginning. —ES

6. Hacking Whiskey by Aaron Goldfarb

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Photo: W&P Design

Few things beat an experiment or two when you’ve got nothing but time on your hands and nowhere to go. Aaron Goldfarb, an author and drinks writer for publications like Esquire and PUNCH, collects all the experiments you could wish to try in Hacking Whiskey. You’ll find practical purchasing tips (Irish whiskey punches way above its price point) alongside plenty of cocktail recipes — all of which is delivered in witty, voicey writing. The real draw here, however, are the “hacks,” like how to mix two bottles so that they taste like the highly lauded Pappy Van Winkle, or how to fat wash your whiskey with things like butter and bacon. Add to that more than a few cocktail recipes and you have a book that’ll keep you entertained (and your house guests satiated) for months. —NH

7. Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh

Former Great British Bake Off contestant Ruby Tandoh loves food and she wants to teach other people to do the same. For Tandoh eating should be about pleasure. Creamy ice cream, salty butter, juicy peaches — she wants to taste it all, no shame, no guilt. In this book, Tandoh doesn’t just celebrate the foods we collectively cherish as a global society, she examines their effect on pop culture too. She asks how food figures into everything from movies to sex, denounces diet crazes, even referencing both Roald Dahl and Nora Ephron. Here, Tandoh is a jack of all trades, offering up not just the requisite recipe ideas and shopping tips, but also providing a much-needed reminder that it’s okay — nay, necessary — to enjoy eating. —ES

8. Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Published in 2017, Cork Dork is still one of the best books for anyone looking to delve into the wide world of wine. Author Bianca Bosker, a journalist who knew little about wine before setting out to write the book, goes on a journey to understand the world of the sommelier. There’s a touch of exclusivity when it comes to the secret tasting groups she gains access to, and plenty of science as she speaks with doctors and professionals to understand what, exactly, makes us think wine is so special. Cork Dork covers the 18 months that Bosker spent becoming one with the wine community. It’s gonzo, it’s informational, and it’s at many points hilarious. No matter how much you knew about wine going into the book, you’ll leave knowing at least a little more (and in most cases loads more). —NH

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