In 1996, when I was about to take an extended trip to Italy, Fred Plotkin’s Italy for the Gourmet Traveler was my guide. Plotkin, who had been traveling in Italy since 1973, forged the guide from years of passionate traveling, living and eating there – over 700 pages crammed with personal notations and insider views on wonderful restaurants, trattorias, coffee bars, farms, cooking schools, festivals, and markets. He is at his best with small towns and off-the-beaten path places, like the Mushroom Market in Trentino…

“In season this is the place to buy freshly picked mushrooms. If you have any fears, you can look for the police officer who is the designated mycologist on duty. This piazza also has orderly stands selling cheese, meats, fruits, vegetables, beans, honeys, and flowers.”

In Plotkin’s guide, you will find essential bits of history and architecture and opera, as well as terrific, insightful writing. His chapter on Napoli begins:

“Fasten your seat belts! One can stand absolutely still in Napoli and feel like a spinning top.”

The guide has been so good and so reliable that it has gone through several printings; an updated edition was just published by Kyle Books. Like its predecessors, it suffers from only one problem: it is heavy, a 3-pound brick of solid information, particularly daunting in these times of overweight-luggage fees. Unwilling to travel Italy without Fred’s book, I improvised a solution (and figured out how to hack a guidebook): 

I sliced through the spine with an X-ACTO Knife to separate the book into Italy’s regions, and stapled the pages of each section, to make a series of lightweight booklets. When traveling in Piemonte and Liguria, I took those sections with me, along with the excellent introductory material: Eating in Italy, The Land of Wine and Traveling in Italy. I left the rest of the book behind at home, to use on future trips, should I get so lucky.

Tara Mann

With (a few chapters of) Italy for the Gourmet Traveler in hand, I found my way into REAL Italy.

Find out more about the surprising Fred Plotkin at his website.

–Sally Schneider

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3 replies on “italy for the gourmet traveler (+how to hack a guidebook)

  1. Even simpler would be if the book was available as an eBook. Then you’d not have to carry any paper at all. Just an iPod or a cell phone.

  2. The suggestion that Italy for the Gourmet Traveler should be available as an e book is a fine one. And I completely agree. However, I prefer Sally’s solution to the book’s weight (even though the thought of taking a knife to any book whatsoever seems sacrilegious to me). After all, when you carry a book along on your travels, the pages themselves become place memories. Imagine, for example, the evocative power of a stain made by the drop of juice from a perfect cherry in Marositica. Or refinding the leaf from a Cerignola olive tree that fell between the pages in Puglia.

  3. I’m with you Cara…mostly. Though I felt weird taking a knife to Fred’s book, it seemed worse to leave the book home. And as you saw from the picture, I brought the chapters back with me from Italy, with their notes and stains, as reminders, which I arranged within the cover again, to rebuild the book. It was a thrill to get the updated version + have my ancient hacked one…and I think a real compliment to the book Fred wrought so carefully. That being said…with an ebook, you could print the pages you want, and make them into a slim booklet to the same effect.

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