Guide Offers Good Food Tips and Great Read

August 8, 2008

Guidebooks just don’t achieve “it’s a real page-turner” status. I say this as a guidebook writer myself, under no illusions that the reader will devour my work cover to cover, gripped by every word.

That’s not the intent, after all. The user dips into the sections needed, garnering information of use, jotting down the nutsand-bolts contact and price information.

But a Danielle Steel novel the genre is not. I have found an exception to this rule: a guidebook, specialized to be sure, but one that I did sit down and read almost cover to cover because it was so entertaining.

The new “Feasting and Foraging in Costa Rica: A Comprehensive Food Guide” is a real page-turner, although you could dip into only the sections that interest you. Regardless of how you use it, the work is a must-own for any food lover in Costa Rica.

In the book, Lenny Karpman – his résumé as writer, cardiologist, resident of Costa Rica since 2003, and one-time food critic for online publication AM Costa Rica is a tad atypical – has compiled 320 pages of terrific information on dining in or dining out around the country.

Karpman devotes the first half of “Feasting and Foraging” to the foods and beverages of Costa Rica. If you’ve ever had trouble differentiating between your achiotes, camotes, chayotes and elotes, kick off with the glossary, and delve into more elaborate descriptions in subsequent chapters. They’re organized by category: fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood and so on.

It’s more than just basic descriptions, though. The author weaves in his own experiences, such as his first encounter with the durian – to put it kindly, an oddly smelling fruit.

Karpman devotes the second half of his book to detailed restaurant reviews. Venerable old standbys, such as pan-Asian Tin Jo, in downtown San José, and Taj Mahal, an Indian restaurant in the western suburb of Escazú, get two, three or four pages of description, the length of a newspaper feature story.

Others get about 100 words of narrative, still quite extensive for a guidebook. Short or long, all are entertaining to read.

Smaller chapters on chains, ethnic restaurants and cross-references by cuisine type round out the restaurant section. And to file under the “I’ve never seen this in another book” heading, Karpman rounds out the section with an “Adiós, Mis Amigos” (Goodbye, My Friends) chapter listing wellknown restaurants that have closed.

If I have one quibble with “Feasting and Foraging,” it’s the book’s organization. At first glance, its 27 chapters looked daunting, and caused me to wonder, “Where is this all going?” A scan through the table of contents is necessary to get your bearings and will allay any such apprehension.

Karpman has divided the restaurant-review section into those to which he gives five, four and three stars. The focus is on establishments in San José and the Central Valley, with a few restaurants around the country mixed in, too. Yet one chapter called “North Pacific Coast Dining” inconsistently lifts out restaurants in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and places them in their own section.

An alphabetical index would help immensely. Karpman does provide a restaurant index at the end of the book, with phone numbers, location and type of cuisine, but no indication of where they are in the book, or even if they are in the text. (Many are not, although that’s not the intent of the list.)

It’s a small gripe, but some tweaking here and there would make this useful guide more user-friendly. If you’re searching for something in particular, it’s probably there, but you’ll have to hunt.

If, however, you’re looking for some “let’s try a new restaurant this weekend” ideas with extensive descriptions of what to expect when you get there, “Feasting and Foraging” will be a phenomenal addition to your bookshelf.

Feast, Forage

“Feasting and Foraging in Costa Rica: A Comprehensive Food Guide” is priced at $16.95 on www.amazon.com and is available at Café Britt souvenir stores in Costa Rica.

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