Finding Richer Stories through Travel with Roads and Kingdoms’ Matt Goulding

When journalist Matt Goulding set out to write his first travel book a few years ago, he felt that the traditional travel guide model was no longer captivating or, in the age of mobile phones, perhaps even necessary. In its place, he had the idea of crafting a hybrid of great storytelling and savvy recommendations — Graham Greene meets Lonely Planet.

“I wanted something that gave me the vivid literary qualities of good narrative writing, but also was going to educate me,” Goulding says. “Both inspiration and information.”

The book he eventually published in 2015 — the critically acclaimed Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture — reflects Goulding’s ability to transcend the formulaic in search of a richer story. Further, the online publication he co-founded, Roads and Kingdoms, explores the myriad ways food and travel intersect with politics and culture around the globe. (Not that formulas are all bad: Goulding is also a co-author of the highly successful series of food books Eat This, Not That.)

Roads and Kingdoms, which he launched with former Time  foreign correspondent Nathan Thornburgh in 2012, gained an early admirer and champion in Anthony Bourdain, a kindred spirit whose pioneering approach to food and travel storytelling is present in the publication’s DNA. “His show wasn’t about telling you what to eat where,” Goulding says of Bourdain. What mattered to him was “the conversation at the table that was supposed to give viewers a window into these complex worlds.”

Goulding collaborated with Bourdain on Rice, Noodle, Fish and its two sequels — Grape, Olive, Pig  about Spain, and Pasta, Pane, Vino  about Italy. Roads and Kingdoms also worked with Bourdain on digital extensions of his “Parts Unknown” TV program, winning an Emmy for a digital video series called “Little Los Angeles” that explored the city’s immigrant enclaves. (Bourdain also became an investor in the website.)

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji in Tokyo, Japan

In the wake of Bourdain’s death, Goulding focused on continuing to expand Roads and Kingdoms’ video efforts. He also has recently published a cookbook with acclaimed chef José Andrés called Vegetables Unleashed, which aims to “help convince people a vegetable is sexier than a piece of protein any day of the week.”

For the last nine years, the peripatetic Goulding, 38, has called Barcelona home, which is perhaps fitting, as the California native credits a visit to Spain during his senior year of high school as solidifying his wanderlust. “I was pretty drunk on traveling by the end of that trip,” he recalls. Before moving to Europe, Goulding lived in New York, and he misses the richness of the city’s food scene, particularly the regional Chinese cuisine found in neighborhoods like Flushing, along with that Big Apple staple: bacon, egg and cheese on a roll.

Frequently on the road, he recently crisscrossed New Zealand in a camper van with his wife, and they were wowed by the beauty of the landscape. “You don’t travel to New Zealand specifically to eat,” he says. “You travel there to gawk at the natural world.” He has his sights set on traversing China by train for his next adventure.

For Goulding, travel represents the opportunity to experience “a rebirth of wonder,” a sensation he says he felt most intensely when in Japan; it’s a chance to reclaim that childhood experience where everything around you is brand new and is a reason to be excited and to explore. “We lose that feeling very quickly as we grow up,” Goulding says. “But travel is what brings that back.”

To experience your own “rebirth of wonder” in Japan, book your stay at Conrad Tokyo.

Discover some of Goulding’s other favorite cities with Conrad Hotels & Resorts.

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