The World on a Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes, and the Stories Behind Them by Mina Holland is a gastronomic tour readers can take in their own houses. “When we eat, we travel,” Holland writes, and our kitchens can be places of exploration. She divides the book into five major sections– Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Americas–and introduces these major areas with an overview of the culinary history, giving world events as they involved bringing new food types to the area. Each country is given a similar description, with personal recollections and food-related experiences added.
Holland’s descriptions of the different locales and their food are lyrical; she may say she is writing to let people travel in their own kitchens, but she also tempts one to actual getting-on-a-plane type travel. Indeed, comments on the importance of terroir make one think that the best thing to do would be to book a flight to France or Morocco and try the food there before daring to duplicate it in the kitchen. Besides, the places sound enticing—sunshine, long bike rides, beautiful scenery, and good food, all at once.
The book is not for the timid cook: Holland’s recipes include a wide and sometimes startling range of spices and ingredients. Anyone wanting too cook a recipe is advised to look at the list of pantry requirements before setting out on the adventure (I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually have octopus on hand for a quick seafood dish). Given the stress placed on fresh food, the cook really ought to have a farmer’s market near at hand—not a difficult feat, most places, but one does have to plan. The World on a Plate is also not for the dieting cook; while there are no calorie counts given, there is plenty of cream, butter, and deep frying involved.
The adventurous cook will find plenty of new flavors and mixes to try with enthusiastic descriptions and glimpses of the world. So, for the cook willing to plan ahead and to do some serious exercise afterward, The World on a Plate will be a welcome challenge.