22 Favorite Cookbooks for Exploring World Cuisine
When it comes to exploring new cultures, cuisine is often our first and simplest way in. Whether it is investigating a new restaurant, going to a friend's home for a meal, or discovering a new ingredient at a market, food is always a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the world beyond your doorstep. And when you cannot travel to other countries, learning to cook new and exciting foods is like taking a mini vacation from the comfort of your kitchen. It is a great way to shake up culinary ruts, expand the dining horizons of your family, and open an opportunity for conversation about broader global issues. You might want to connect with an ancestral part of your own heritage or try something completely out of your comfort zone.
But where do you begin? Sourcing recipes for foods that fall outside your own lived experience can be complicated, especially if you do not have a personal connection to someone from that culture to guide your exploration. We thought you would like a good place to start. Think of this list of global cookbooks as the very tiny tip of an epic iceberg, by no means comprehensive and with many many cultures not represented, but all tried and tested and now well-loved tomes in my personal library.
As you begin to dive into any of these, I do suggest you use the recipes you find as an excuse to investigate and support the local ethnic markets near you to source ingredients. While most of these volumes will give you both substitutions and online resources, I have never visited a culturally-specific market and not made some exciting discoveries beyond the shopping list I have brought with me.
In no particular order, see if one of these might be the next addition to your cookbook library.
Some favorite cookbooks for world cuisines
Kachka by Bonnie Frumpkin Morales is a terrific place to start with everything from basic traditional salads to dumplings, to some modern updates of Russian classics, this cookbook from the Chef/Owner of the Portland restaurant of the same name is a wonderful introduction to Russian cooking that goes way beyond borscht.
With the extraordinary and varied foodways of this vast continent, there is no way to cover even the smallest part of what is available. But as places to begin your exploration, you cannot do better than Jessica B. Harris's The Africa Cookbook, which gives an extraordinary overview of over 200 classic dishes from all over the continent, and In Bibi's Kitchen by Hawa Hassan, which shares the stories and recipes from grandmothers from eight African countries, all of which border on the Indian ocean. Between these two books, I have no doubt you will find yourself inspired to go deeper on the cuisines of many African countries and cultures.
If you are a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine generally, or want to know more, getting to know Persian food is a wonderful place to start. The extraordinary book Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian showcases the best of Persian cooking, from simple everyday dishes to elegant and complex festive foods, and everything in between, and will give you a jumping off point to enjoying the foods of the region.
Never has the concept of hygge, that uniquely Scandinavian sense of convivial coziness, been more welcome than right now. As we all settle in for the cold winter months, it is time to go beyond thick sweaters and candles and snuggly slippers and check out some of the foods that are also part of this cultural hug. Scandinavian Comfort Food by Trina Hahnemann is the ideal place to get started on some dishes that are sure to keep you warm all winter long.
The scope of Indian cookery is as broad as the wide world, so for me, it is about that initial foray that empowers and emboldens me to explore further and seek out some of the more regional specialties. For me, there are three books that have given me that basis. The first An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, which makes Indian recipes and techniques feel super achievable. The second, Asma's Indian Kitchen from Asma Khan, brings some modern flair to traditional cooking. And the third, The Complete Indian Instant Pot by Chandra Ram, which gave me an everyday approach to incorporating Indian cooking into my life, using this time-saving appliance to its best advantage and making Indian cooking completely doable even after a long workday.
I am a longtime fan of Greek food, and Modern Greek Cooking by Pano Karatassos has become my new favorite source for all of my favorites. But I also still turn to my copy of Michael Psilakis's How to Roast a Lamb for both the recipes and the terrific personal storytelling.
The one thing that really started me off in German cooking was baking. German baking is very different from the French and American baking I was used to, and I love the traditions, from less-sweet cookies to yeasted sweet breads and cakes. Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss has become my German baking bible, and I even tried the two-month long Christmas cookie project that is Lebkuchen to great success. For a full exploration of German cuisine, I have always relied on Mimi Sheraton's The German Cookbook, now in its fiftieth anniversary edition.
Again, the broadest possible swath, but the books that have inspired me along my exploration of the varied cooking of Asian countries and cultures are a mix of old and new. China: A Cookbook by Terry Tan is a newer volume of authentic dishes that marries well with my ancient copies of China Moon by Barbara Tropp and Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop. Bangkok by Leela Punyaratabandhu has become my go-to for Thai dishes, and Japanese Home Cooking by Sonoko Sakai makes me feel like simple Japanese cooking is not beyond me. Korean BBQ by Bill Kim highlights my favorite method of Korean cooking, and Coconut and Sambal is the one to get if you want to try cooking Indonesian. Also check out our complete collection of Asian Recipes.
The new book I am super excited about right now is Mexican Home Kitchen by Mely Martinez, which reminds me of the dishes I ate when visiting family in Mexico City. And Amalia's Guatemalan Kitchen by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard brings me back to travels in Central America and has become a book I turn to again and again. Explore our collection of Latin American Recipes.
This country's rich diversity of culinary heritage is something to always be celebrated. The food of adaptation, bringing techniques and flavors with you to a new country and adjusting to incorporate locally available products and equipment is in no small part the foundation of our society, so as you think to explore "global" cuisines, it is always important to remember that our own American foods are by their nature also global. Heirloom Kitchen by Anna Francese Gass is a gorgeous book of recipes and stories from immigrant women, and if you only buy one book on this list, this would be the one.