Food on the Move: Dining on the Legendary Railway Journeys of the World Edited by Sharon Hudgins (Book Review)

by Sam Bilton on February 4, 2019 No comments

I’ve always had a desire to travel, perhaps ignited by father’s time in the Royal Navy. He would return from his stints at sea with presents of dolls in national costume. I soon worked out that holding a gaudily attired plastic figure was nowhere near as exciting as visiting where it had come from.

My first taste of true travelling came at the age of 17 when I went to live in El Paso, Texas for a year as an exchange student. Shortly after I arrived my host family took me on a trip to Mexico to ride on the Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon Railroad). To this day it is one of the most memorable holidays I have ever had. Not only was it my first introduction to real Mexican food (which I still adore) it also opened my eyes to a form of travel that I’d hitherto thought dull. But it’s hard to be bored when you have such stunning scenery to look at and the pressure of the daily commute is not hanging over your head. Rail journeys, especially in a foreign climate, remain one of my preferred ways to travel, so as you can imagine I was naturally drawn to this book.

What is the essence of the book?

As Food on the Move suggests this book is all about the food enjoyed (or not) on rail journeys across the world, some perhaps more well known than others. Each chapter covers the beginnings of these routes (often commencing in the mid to late 19th century when rail travel really started to explode) right up to the modern day. Rather than a travelog per se the journey is viewed through the medium of the catering available en route and includes contemporary accounts. This food ranges from the notorious British Railway Sandwich (which Raymond Postgate, editor of the Good Food Guide, described at ‘triangular slices of curling bread with a thin slice of luncheon sausage between them’) to the decidedly more exotic bento boxes available for consumption on the Japanese bullet train. The book does contain some recipes although these serve more to illustrate the cuisine available rather than instruct the reader how to faithfully reconstruct meals eaten on board.

About the author

The book is edited by Sharon Hudgins, herself a seasoned traveller and award winning author. Other contributors range from Professors of Anthropology to railway historians and food culture specialists, so the subject is in good hands. All seem to share a love of this mode of travel and the food that comes with it.

Who will like it?

Whether you’re a seasoned traveller yourself or more of the armchair variety you can’t help be entranced by this book. Food and travel are two of my favourite subjects especially when combined with history. If you feel the same way then this book is for you.

Who won’t like it?

The emphasis of this book is food experience rather than travel. If you’re looking for a detailed account of the routes described and the sights to be seen then it will probably only whet your appetite rather than satisfy it. I wouldn’t say it’s a given that you need to be a fan of train travel but if flying is more your thing then it probably won’t have a great appeal to you. It’s also not a recipe book so you may be disappointed if you’re hoping to faithfully recreate menus served on the Orient Express.

What do I like about the book?

For me part of the joy of travelling is discovering the food of a different country (although I did pass on the Enchiladas de Gato (cat enchiladas) offered at one restaurant we visited on our Copper Canyon trip. To be fair, I think the dish may have been mistranslated by my ‘host mother’ but it wasn’t a chance I was personally prepared to take). Food on the Move has certainly whetted my appetite to undertake some of these journeys and experience the food. I particularly liked the fact that it wasn’t all about haute cuisine in swanky dining cars. It’s as much about the street food available to passengers on station platforms. As each journey is separate chapter it’s an easy book to dip in and out of. There’s some evocative imagery in it too, which never goes amiss when describing foreign journeys to uninitiated.

Would I cook from it?

Although Food on the Move is not a cookbook it does contain some interesting recipes from a diverse range of cultures. I haven’t tried any of them yet myself but there’s a few I would be happy to have a go at like South African Bobotie.

Where can you buy it?

Food on the Move: Dining on the Legendary Railway Journeys of the World Edited by Sharon Hudgins (Reaktion Books, £25)

Sam BiltonFood on the Move: Dining on the Legendary Railway Journeys of the World Edited by Sharon Hudgins (Book Review)

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