The gut-wrenching effects of human heartbreak often lead to a culinary corrective. Who hasn't indulged in a little dark chocolate therapy to cleanse the palate of a sour romance? On the high heels of a failed relationship with a handsome, cinnamon-skinned tango dancer in Argentina named Joaquin, intrepid travel writer Layne Mosler turns to the cabdrivers of Buenos Aires with one request, "Where is your favorite place to eat?"
The answers propel Mosler on an international journey of gastronomical adventures to the off-the-grid diners, back-street bistros and humble cafes of blue-collar foodies, where she samples the best tenderloin of her life one day and the tastiest oxtail soup the next.
The food descriptions are indeed scrumptious, but it's the striking everyday-life details surrounding Mosler's discoveries that make "Driving Hungry" a pleasurable read. Her writing is personal, but not intrusive to the narrative, lighthearted but never failing the factual.
While eating the Argentine version of pizza, she watched the neighborhood come and go. "The retirees nursed their beers, studied the soccer scores in Clarin, and pretended not to notice me. Young couples fed toddlers who couldn't sit still. Teenagers in Catholic school uniforms schlepped stacks of twine-bound boxes of pizza to go."
Asking cabbies where they tuck in was a freelance writer's stroke of genius that eventually separated Mosler from the pack and led to a successful blog, Taxi Gourmet, and eventually to this, her first book.
Mosler takes her idea to New York City, where the results are more mixed. A Manhattan cabbie recommends Subway or McDonald's. "They have salads now, ya know?"
But she is also directed to places that serve such edible alchemy as mofongo, an Afro-Puerto Rican mash-up of pork, plantains and sweet prawns in a light tomato sauce.
She eventually abandons New York City for Berlin, where, she has read in a "Lonely Planet" guide, the "average Berlin cabbie can hold forth respectively on any subject from the best sausage in the city, through the meanderings of Nietzsche."
And after a few rides around the fabled German city, she finds such a person in an eccentric Berliner named Rumen, a fellow free spirit who shares her quest for bohemian adventure and off-road cuisine. Rumen sums up his philosophy of life this way: "Ever since I drive the taxi there is hardly anything I cannot believe."
And for Mosler, it's love at first bite.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books, most recently "Going Driftless: Life Lessons From the Heartland for Unraveling Times." He lives in Illinois.