& Review: Driving Hungry by Layne Mosler

Driving Hungry by Layne Mosler. Food/Travel Writing. Publisher: Pantheon, July 2015

Driving Hungry by Layne Mosler. Food/Travel Writing. Publisher: Pantheon, July 2015

The Book Itself: Simple and graphic, my catchphrases! The fonts are also pretty darn aesthetically pleasing…

My ReviewA delicious memoir that takes us from Buenos Aires to New York to Berlin as the author, driven by wanderlust and an unrelenting appetite, finds purpose, passion, and unexpected flavor.
 
After putting her dream of opening her own restaurant on hold, Layne Mosler moves to Buenos Aires to write about food. But she is also in search of that elusive something that could give shape to her life. One afternoon, fleeing a tango club following a terrible turn on the dance floor, she impulsively asks her taxista to take her to his favorite restaurant. Soon she is savoring one of the best steaks of her life and, in the weeks that follow, repeating the experiment with equally delectable results. So begins the gustatory adventure that becomes the basis for Mosler’s cult blog, Taxi Gourmet. It eventually takes her to New York City, where she continues her food quests, hailing cabs and striking up conversations from the back seat, until she meets a pair of extraordinary lady cab drivers who convince her to become a taxi driver herself. Between humbling (and hilarious) episodes behind the wheel, Mosler reads about the taxi drivers in Berlin, who allegedly know as much about Nietzsche as they do about sausage. Intrigued, she travels to the German capital, where she develops a passion for the city, its restlessness, its changing flavors, and a certain fellow cab driver who shares her love of the road.

This book is less about getting into taxi cabs and asking the driver to take the passenger to their favorite place to eat, and more about one woman’s search for who she is in three different foreign countries.

I loved the concept of Driving Hungry, but I think I would get more having to do with the concept if I read Mosler’s blog. The book isn’treally about the food, although we get some nice, mouth-watering (or cringe-inducing) descriptions of some of her meals. It is more about each city’s atmosphere and the usually tenuous relationships she has with people there.

In Buenos Aires, we get a lot of Mosler desperately wanting to be great at tango dancing. More than just a hobby in Buenos Aires, our Mosley attempts to get to that effortless, sensual level that tango dancers who have been dancing for years achieve every night of the week. Unfortunately, she suffers heartbreak and setback after setback, having a brief flame with her tango teacher, and leaving several nights from the tango club in tears and blisters.

While I understand that being seen as the clumsy American who lacks the skill and history to ever be good at the tango, and to see every dancer in the place as better than you to be discouraging, I found some of Mosler’s complaints to border on the whiny. Being a tango prodigy takes time and effort over years, sometimes lifetime, and her frustrations and departure from Buenos Aires to find herself in some other way seemed flippant and childish.

The New York section was the darkest. In a city that is often portrayed as The Best City in The World, with so much going on at once, with so many people doing so many things, Mosler bottoms out. She rather inexplicably decides to drive a taxi in New York City (why?Whyyyy?). The stories of the passengers she carries, the overwhelming hardships she faces as a new taxi driver, and even details about how hard it is for even accomplished drivers to drive and own a piece of their business in the city, are fascinating and eye-opening. She has her typical impatient businessman screaming at her to somehow change gridlock traffic. In a particularly low point, she has to use a Starbucks cup to go to the bathroom because she doesn’t have the means (or the parking spot) to find a place outside of the car to do so.

While it was the saddest and darkest (not that the book ever really gets that dark) part of the story, I found the bit on New York to be one of the more interesting sections. I don’t read a lot about the down-on-your-luck New York. Or if I do, it is only so that fictional characters can triumph and Find Their Way in the city. Again, Mosler leaves New York rather defeated, and makes her way to Berlin.

Taking an instant liking to the city, Mosler paints Berlin in a decidedly more positive light. Or maybe it’s just so sparkly because New York sucked so much. She loves the streets, she loves the place she’s staying, she loves the food. And she loves the taxis!

In fact, she meets and falls for one of the drivers. For a few chapters, this book is all about their meet-cute (he takes her on a taxi adventure to eat a dish called Dead Grandma, of all things), their differing personalities, and how that throws some bumps in the road (pun sort of intended) for their relationship.

Berlin is undoubtedly Mosler’s favorite city (and continues to be, apparently – She married that driver and now lives in Berlin). But overall, the book left with me with the impression that flighty Mosler is hard to impress (maybe not food wise – she did try the Dead Grandma and liked it) and for me, hard to relate to. I do love to travel, but Mosler seemed to be constantly trying to find something and not succeeding, bringing the mood down in the process and making her seem whiny sometimes.

I will say that the blog, Taxi Gourmet, is a great resource for food and restaurant ideas in Buenos Aires, Berlin, and New York. If you’re traveling to any of those places, consider checking out her food guides. The book is more about her, and less about the food.

My Grade: C-

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