The Austin Chronicle

Gastro Obscura Reveals a World of Food-based Weirdness

By Wayne Alan Brenner, October 12, 2021, 12:34pm, All Over Creation

The world – not just Austin, you old hippies, but the world – has always been weirder than we think. Which is why the website Atlas Obscura is such a compelling place to visit and browse: It shows us stuff about this planet and its inhabitants that can boggle any mind.


Funny thing about this planet’s inhabitants: Their dining culture – their foodways and fads, their fancies and follies, their diverse methods of cooking and the stunning variety of what they’ll ingest for survival or pleasure – are also weirder than you’d imagine. Which is where Gastro Obscura comes in.

Gastro Obscura is the new hardcover and perfect-for-your-coffeetable book of culinary wonderments and rarities and, yes, general weirdness from around the world. Available starting today (Oct. 12), painstakingly curated by Atlas Obscura’s Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras, it’s your introduction to the most remarkable gastronomy humans have ever known.

Hell, it’s an introduction, a first date, and maybe even a steady relationship: The volume’s rich with 448 pages of gorgeously designed, full-color reports that’ll keep you fascinated (and delighted and even, sometimes, totally squicked out) for years to come.

What sort of things are contained within these beautifully produced pages? Listen: “Select a cake out of a dazzling array of custom confections — some weighing as much as 200 pounds — at Mexico City’s massive cake showroom, sip beer made from the fog of the Chilean Atacama Desert, experience the joys of bouncy meatballs in the Chaoshan region of China, down a shot of what has been dubbed the world’s worst liquor in Chicago, or dine on schnitzel and crepes in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone cafeteria. Consider sipping on the Sourtoe, an alcoholic beverage of your choice with a pickled severed human toe floating inside – available every night at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Canada, since 1973.”

And oh, citizen, that’s just the start of it.

Learn about rare events and annual gatherings in the name of culinary celebration; discover rare delicacies like that su filindeu pasta from Sardinia or the, erm, parasitic caterpillar fungus found in Tibet; rearrange your assumptions when you see that Norway has the highest annual per capita pizza consumption in the world. Basically? Let Wong and Thuras be your guides to a smorgasbord of happily digestible, thoroughly illustrated facts and features: Get you a copy of this Gastro Obscura compendium that’s sure to, as a certain Dormouse once advised, feed your head.

Note: Co-author Cecily Wong will be presenting Gastro Obscura at the virtual Texas Book Festival on October 30.

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