Islas: A Celebration of Tropical Cooking—125 Recipes from the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Ocean Islands (Hardcover)
An intimate reflection on tropical island cooking's bold flavors and big stories, with 125 recipes, from celebrated food writer Von Diaz.
The islands spanning the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans are remarkable places, sharing dozens of ingredients and cooking techniques, including marinating, pickling and fermentation, braising and stewing, frying, grilling and smoking, and steaming and in-ground roasting. Bold flavors drip from the edges of each dish with tastes that represent stories of resistance, persistence, and wisdom passed down from generation to generation.
This narrative cookbook by writer, documentary producer, and author Von Diaz travels across oceans and nations to uplift the shared ancestral cooking techniques of these islands in more than 125 recipes, including intimate profiles of the historical context of each technique, stories from islanders, and step-by-step guides for recreating them at home.
- Coco Bread from Jamaica
- Arroz con Jueyes (Stewed Crab Rice) from Puerto Rico
- Masikita (Papaya-Marinated Beef Skewers) from Madagascar
- Bebek Betutu (Roasted Duck in Banana Leaf) from Indonesia
- Lechon Kawali (Crispy Fried Pork Belly) from the Philippines
Bright citrus and vinegars, verdant herbs, slow-cooked and smoky grilled meats, fresh seafood, aromatic rice, and earthy root vegetables: These flavors, found in the meals and recipes across these island nations pair remarkably well together, despite distance and cultural differences. The ingredients and deep-rooted cooking techniques in each of these recipes typify the harmonious, synchronous spirit found in each culture's unique cuisines. Even amid environmental chaos and food insecurity, islanders cook in ways that are soul nourishing and flavorful.
Islas is about preserving the wisdom, values, and resilience of the people who live in some of the most volatile, vulnerable places on this planet. Each recipe, an archive of strategies for persistence, creativity, and ingenuity, provides a path for cooking delicious food. But above all, these stories and recipes acknowledge that cooking delicious food for others is always a selfless act.
AN AUTHENTIC DEEP DIVE INTO UNDERREPRESENTED FOODWAYS: Amid environmental chaos and food insecurity, and with limited ingredients, islanders cook in ways that are soul nourishing and emphasize flavor. This book expertly and authentically presents the diverse recipes and techniques of the islands of the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans.
DETAILED RECIPES AND FULL-COLOR PHOTOGRAPHS: Each of the techniques and recipes are paired with lots of how-tos and step-by-step guides, including key historical and scientific background to help you master these delicious recipes—from quick pickles to soups, stews, and barbecues—at home.
EXPERT AUTHOR AND A LEADING VOICE: Von Diaz is a celebrated author and seasoned food researcher who has dedicated her life to bringing forth unique food stories and the people behind them.
- Anyone interested in learning more about AAPI cooking and cuisine
- A great hostess gift or self-purchase for those who enjoy entertaining and exploring food cultures around the world
- An educational and practical resource for sustainable cooking enthusiasts
- Special occasion, holiday, or birthday present for foodies and cookbook collectors
- Those who enjoy Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Coconut & Sambal; Cook Real Hawai'i; and Ottolenghi cookbooks
About the Author
Von Diaz is an Emmy Award-winning documentarian and food historian. She is the author of Coconuts & Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South and Islas: A Celebration of Tropical Cooking (March 2024). She is also the founder of La Piña—a Substack newsletter covering the people, ingredients, and systems that shape global cuisine. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Atlanta, GA, she explores the intersections of food, culture, and identity. She has contributed recipes and essays to a number of cookbooks and anthologies and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, StoryCorps, Food & Wine, and Bon Appétit, among many others. In addition, she taught food studies and oral history at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and food writing and audio production workshops at New York University and The New School. She currently sits on the Advisory Board for the Toni Tipton Martin Foundation and is a member of the Journalism Committee for the James Beard Foundation.
"Lush and visually stunning, this cookbook immediately draws readers into the tropics [...]. Accompanied by stories and poetry from island inhabitants, the recipes bring to life myriad island cuisines spanning the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans." — Library Journal, Starred Review
"Accompanied by mouthwatering photos, this vibrant collection will delight home cooks looking to diversify their repertoire." — Publishers Weekly
A glorious tribute to the remarkable ingenuity and brilliance of the people of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific islands. Islas will take you on a breathtaking journey and show you how cooking reflects adaptation to changes and making the most of what's available.
—Nik Sharma, author of The Flavor Equation, and Season.
Everywhere Von Diaz goes, she brings an ear for stories, and eye for connections, and a taste for the delicious. It's always been a special pleasure to explore the food of her family's beloved Puerto Rico through her writing, and in Islas, she weaves the connections between tropical cuisines around the world. Separated by oceans, languages, and cultures, there are still flavors and a spirit common to so much island cooking, and we're lucky to have Von as our guide.
—Francis Lam, host, The Splendid Table
What can we learn from the food of the world's islands, which are on the frontlines of climate change? Plenty, Von Diaz's book shows us, while honoring these cuisines' diversity, robustness, and beauty. These essays and recipes combine to form a wildly rich resource for imagining the future.
—Alicia Kennedy, author, No Meat Required
Islas is a culinary praise-song to the fragile environments that populate our oceans and seas. In it, Von Diaz takes the reader on a journey that celebrates the diversity and deliciousness of the world’s tropical islands and the ingenuity of those who inhabit them. I dare you to just read Islas. You will also want to cook from this beautifully illustrated book and savor the tastes that Diaz so lovingly explores.
—Jessica B. Harris, Culinary Historian, author of High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America
What a glorious ode to island nations and cultures worldwide. Islas is a lavish and loving chronicle of the distinctive cuisines of coastal people surrounded by water. Von’s expansive scholarship on food history and culture is in magnificent display, and matched perfectly with her extraordinary gift as a multimedia storyteller and collaborator. There’s no one else I’d rather have lead me on a culinary tour of island eating!
—Stephen Satterfield, Founder CEO, WHETSTONE Media, Peabody-winning Host, High on the Hog
In Islas, Von Diaz has crafted an intelligent and evocative portrait of island cuisines from around the world, lending nuance and respect to the traditions and flavors of cultures far too often dismissed as inconsequential vacation playgrounds. A skilled documentarian with a gift for engaging storytelling, Von artfully adds context to the easy-to-follow recipes with thoughtful essays and fascinating profiles that are as inspiring to the imagination as the dishes are to the appetite. Beyond a collection of beautiful recipes, Islas is a joyful love letter to the ingenuity and wisdom of island cooks.
—Alejandra Ramos, TODAY Show Contributor and Host of The Great American Recipe on PBS
Von Diaz, as visionary, storyteller, curator, and cook, brings to Islas the richness of so many island tales: dignity and ingenuity in the face of hardship; beauty and elegance in spite of efforts to rob these creolized cultures of both. Diaz’s dexterous approach makes this compilation seem obvious when in fact it’s a new and necessary culinary framing of the people whose skilled work has kept (and will keep) the world well-fed.
—Osayi Endolyn, James Beard award-winning food and culture writer
"Diaz explores the connecting threads that define the culture of islands around the world. Home chefs will delight in the rich history and mouthwatering dishes she has uncovered." — Booklist
"Whatever you cook or don’t cook, this book is a trip to the islands or islas of the world." – New York Journal of Books