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Good books with food as a key element?

I picked up a used copy of Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" yesterday, and realised that I've read very few books relating to food. Have read "Kitchen Confidential", and even Tom Robbins' "Jitterbug Perfume" was great, with beets playing a key role. I've seen posts about films related to food, and the two that come to my mind first are "Big Night" and "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman".
Any recommendations for great books about food? Fiction or non-fiction, just so's they're well written and enjoyable reads. Thanks.

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  1. EXB, Do not miss Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everyting". You'll learn a lot whenever you're not laughing out loud. A terrific read.

    1. I absolutely love the novel "Stanley Park" by Timothy Taylor.

      1. I like the mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson. And some of the recipes are terrific (I haven't tried them all).

        3 Replies
        1. re: piccola

          Hey Piccola,
          I like Diane Mott Davudson's books too. I also like Tamar Myers' line of "Pennsylvania Dutch Mysteries" all have recipes and have titles that are word plays on common phrases, like:
          The Hand That Rocks The Ladle
          Eat, Drink, and Be Wary
          Funny mysteries with recipes, what more could you ask for...LOL

          1. re: twh1475

            If you like Diane Mott Davidson (cozy mysteries with recipes), try Katherine Page Hall (The Body in the ____). Another caterer/sleuth. (I might be partial because the protagonist's fictional town would be near me in the Boston 'burbs, and she goes to real restaurants.)

            Don't forget Steingarten's other book, "It Must Have Been Something I Ate."

            1. re: momjamin

              Thanks for the suggestions. I guess that's why I like Tamar Myers they all take place in Lanacaster County (Amish country). I live an hour away, and worked for 10 years in the area. I'll check out your suggestions on my next stop at the bookstore.

          1. I second the vote for Heat. I have been on a food writing binge lately (reading not writing it myself). I loved Calvin Trillins latest book, Gael Green autobiography was okay. I also read Madhur Jaffery's latest about her childhood in India, it is not exactly about food per se but food plays an important role in the stories about her family.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sweetie

              I'd be interested to hear more about the Madhur Jaffrey book, I'm thinking of asking for it for Christmas...

              1. re: Anne H

                As I mentioned it is not exclusively about food, but there are interesting stories, insight into what kinf of person she is. There are also recipes at the end of the book. Recipies like the kind of kabobs that her father loved, her grandmother's recipe for cheese cauliflower. Some of the stories are from articles she has written in the past, so you may have read them before.

            2. Like Water for Chocolate is a lovely read.

              1. Has anyone read "The United States of Arugula?" It's our book club book of the month, so I'm wondering before I get started if I should buy the (hardcover) book. The queue at the library is ridiculously long!

                2 Replies
                1. re: sheitoon

                  I read "The United States of Arugula" and found that it did not live up to the hype.

                  "Heat" was interesting. If you have a love of food there are several passages in it that'll make you shriek. And by the time I was finished I had a serious need for some good polenta and some pastafresca.

                  1. I don't know anything about this book, but a quick check of our local library system showed that there are eight copies, all are out or on hold, and there is a Q of fifteen more waiting!!

                    1. La Cucina by Lily Prior. This is pure sensous fantasy and to really enjoy it you must suspend belief and just go with it. Her other books are in the same fantasy mode.

                      1. "Salt" is a fascinating and well written history of this essential ingredient. I highly recommend it for both foodies and history buffs. Another great book is "Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure." I couldn't put it down. Both wine and history buffs will enjoy this one.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Ellen

                          Ditto on "Wine and War" - I bought it on a whim, and really enjoyed it. I'm not much of a history buff, but I also couldn't put it down. I especially liked learning how wine shipments gave the Allies information about troup movements and battle plans.

                          I haven't read Salt yet, but I'm adding to my list.


                        2. All of the books by Joanne Harris: Chocolat, Five Quarters of an Orange, Blackberry Wine, The French Market.

                          1. The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester is a delicious, dark, funny, food-obsessive novel that contains recipes and the single best passage on charcuterie ever.

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                            1. The mysteries by Donna Leon are excellent. The protaganist, Guido Brunetti, is a commissioner of police in Venice, Italy. While these mysteries, unlike the Diane Mott Davidson books, do not revolve around food, it's clear that the author loves food and Venice. Brunetti often describes the food that he made or is eating throughout the city. Brunetti also mentions when he has to miss a meal and goes to rectify that situation as soon as possible. Often times, I have to go eat Italian food, immediately.

                              1. I'll second the recommendations on Madhur Jaffrey's latest, anything by Calvin Trillin, and Debt to Pleasure. i'll add to the list: The Basque History of the World, by Mark Kurlansky (he of Cod and Salt), the Whole World Over by Julia Glass, Michael Ruhlman's books (the Making of a Chef, the Soul of a Chef, and the Reach of a Chef), any number of books by MFK Fisher (especially The Gastronominal Me and Serve if Forth), Ruth Reichl's books, and Mort Rosenbaum's books. (can you tell i'm a bit of an addict?)

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: pablissima

                                  Yes! I love reading MFK Fisher - her descriptions are wonderful. I just read "Julie & Julia" about a woman in NY who spends a year cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". It was pretty fun at times...

                                  1. re: pablissima

                                    Highly recommend Ruhlman's books. An incredibly strong writer.

                                  2. Peter King's "Gourmet Detective" series is a hoot. He carries food obsession over the top, giving detailed descriptions of practically every meal our hero has. Nuggets of food history and arcane culinary information are included as bonuses.

                                    1. I recently picked up from the library: "Don't Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs" -- a collection of stories from familiar names. Many were amusing, some were LOL funny. Makes my still-frozen-Thanksgiving-morning turkey-for-9 story seem a lot less catastrophic ;-) Includes Tony Bourdain, Sara Moulton, Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali...but most of the chefs aren't TV personalities.

                                      I second the recommendation for Ruth Reichl's books.

                                      I also recently picked up from the library "Finding Betty Crocker: the secret life of America's first lady of food" -- an interesting history of corporate marketing, food processing big business, and the evolution of America's home kitchens over the better part of the last century.

                                      1. I second the recommendation of The Whole World Over by Julia Glass, a novel about a chef whose life is changed because of a cake she makes. Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy is fantastic. My two favorite food movies are Babette's Feast and Dinner Rush.

                                        1. My favorite food related book - 'Diggin' In & Piggin' Out - The Truth About Food and Men' by Roger Welsch. I found it for 2 bucks in a closeout store about 5 years ago. I love it.

                                          1. Like Water for Chocolate was the book that immediately sprang to mind when I read the OP-sensual and beautiful. I second (or third?) the vote for Debt to Pleasure.

                                            Jitterbug Perfume is my all-time favorite book, but not because of the food connection-just because it's a blast to read.

                                            1. Mark Kurlansky's "The Big Oyster" was great, maybe his best. I think a very important food/food culture book.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: howund09

                                                Kurlansky's book "SALT" is remarkable. I never thought the history of salt could be so fascinating.

                                              2. You know, I didn't even think of "The Big Oyster" or "Cod" by Kurlansky, They were both excellent, I'll have to read "Salt".

                                                1. An oldie, but still great: "Blue Trout and Black Truffles" by Joseph Weschberg (I probably spelled his name wrong -- the book is in the other room). He used to write for Gourmet (the old, good Gourmet) among others.

                                                  1. My list would start with anything by MFK Fisher, the grand dame of food writing. I would then go to A. J. Liebling's *Between Meals*, who wrote for the New Yorker in Paris during WWII and writes about the large amounts of food being eaten in between writing about the war. Ernest Hemingway's *A Movable Feast* because it's an autobiographical book about him living in Paris in the 20's and writing in cafes all day long. *Hotel Splendide* by Ludwig Bemelmans is about working in Hotels and the chefs and waiters who prepare your food, and is filled with lovely illustrations and charming characters. Any of Ruth Reichel's books,*Tender at the Bone*, *Comfort me with Apples*. And *Epitaph for a Peach* is about the struggles of a CA farmer and shows you what today's family farmers are up against.

                                                    *Babette's Feast* is my all time fave. Then there's also a German movie,*Mostly Martha* that's also quite good.

                                                    1. Tasy Bits Anthony Bourdain genius

                                                      1. THE JUNGLE (Upton Sinclair)

                                                        1. Dining with Headhunters by Richard Sterling qualifies as a good food read

                                                          1. "Best Food Writing 2006" came out at the end of September. I love that series (collections of essays).

                                                            1. I just remembered a food-centered novel I read: "Crescent" by Diana Abu-Jaber. Many love the book. I thought it was just okay.

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                                                              1. re: Atomica

                                                                I liked her Language of Baklava more of a biography and also Nigel Slater's Toast, The story of a boy's hunger was a terrific read.

                                                                1. re: Candy

                                                                  I adored Diana Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava, became an immediatel fan, felt her writing to be strong and clear and unselfconcious, esp when it came to the food parts.
                                                                  Nigel Slater's Toast was another story, though: i thought it a long passive-aggressive whine. he sounded so angry. but then i thought about his story--so very sad, his emotions submerged and love unreturned, and i felt very sorry for the little boy within......

                                                              2. I've read and enjoyed many of the authors discussed here, but I can't believe that no one has mentioned Peter Mayle. He's my go-to guy when I need a mental trip to Provence with great food and wine.

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                                                                1. re: LaurainCT

                                                                  I see a movie currently being made from one of his.

                                                                2. I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilema by Michael Pollan.
                                                                  I'm having a hard time putting it down, It's very interesting and a little maddening to find out what (and who) is really behind the food most Americans eat.

                                                                  1. I really enjoyed Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson. It's a little non-traditional; I'm not sure I'd recommend making or even sampling any of his recipes.

                                                                    1. California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution by Jeremiah Tower is really special.

                                                                      1. R. W. Apple has (had) his moments. I'm a fan. Check out Amazon for availability.

                                                                        1. Dishing by Liz Smith. Her 2nd book is a lightweight contender but if you enjoy celebrity gossip, recipes and interviews, this is a light, fun read.

                                                                          1. I just checked "Pig Perfect" by Peter Kaminsky out of the library. My husband is loving it.

                                                                            1. Hey, thanks everyone for all the great responses. I've gone through and written down many of the more interesting suggestions. Hopefully I'm not to late to get them out on my xmas wish list. If not, I usually get one or two bookstore gift cards, so either way...
                                                                              ps Speaking of gift cards, I'd heard something a while back about a gift card for independant bookstores. Anyone with knowledge about this? I try to avoid the chains, but sometimes i falter.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. Heartburn by Nora Ephron, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the ongoing feast) and 100 Secret Senses by Amy Tan.

                                                                                1. Tony Bourdains novels are very good..Typhoid Mary, Bone in the Throat, Gone Bamboo.

                                                                                  Loved Heat by Buford. So many good books to read out there.

                                                                                  1. Kitchen Confidential by Bourdain was a good read but the narrative was irritating in one of those "I'm going to be self-depricating but I really think I'm the greatest" kind of ways. Same with Garlic and Sapphires (Reichl). I throughly enjoyed Julie/Julia (Powell) and just read My Life in France (Pru'dhomme). My favorite of all time though has been posted in this thread: Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate (Esquival).

                                                                                    1. Peter Mayle's, A Year in Provence and A Good Year are fun, foody reads. Also, Heat is excellent as is Like Water for Chocolate; and I loved Garlic and Sapphires.

                                                                                      1. An interesting novel about an eccentric gourmet recluse is "The Epicure's Lament" by Kate Christensen.

                                                                                        1. What a great thread! Thanks for the great list of books; I've added several to my "must read" list thanks to you guys.

                                                                                          Here are some of my faves, some of which have already been mentioned:

                                                                                          I love Calvin Trillin's books, and actually learned about Chowhound in his latest, Feeding a Yen. A hilarious read and highly recommended.

                                                                                          I heartily agree that Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate is a classic. Guys, if you ever want to impress a date, rent the movie and maybe try your hand at making one of the dishes featured, like Chiles En Nogada.

                                                                                          Another poster recommended One Hundred Years of Solitude. While it's one of my all-time faves, I don't really think of it as a food-centered book. Still, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the great writers of our time.

                                                                                          Another wonderful read by a great contemporary Latin American author is Aphrodite: A memoir of the Senses by Isabelle Allende. It is 2/3 luxurious reading and 1/3 cookbook.

                                                                                          Another book in the great tradition of food and sensuality-themed Latin American novels is Dona Flor and her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado. Can you tell I love Latin American authors?

                                                                                          I also add a cookbook and memoir written by Guadalupe Rivera, daughter of the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera, entitled Frida's Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo. It contains wonderful first-person accounts of Frida and recipes from Frida's personal cookbook. The photos alone will make you salivate. There's even Frida's personal recipe for Chiles en Nogada, for those of you who take my dating advice above. . . .

                                                                                          Moving away from Latin American authors, two non fiction must-reads are Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (also a movie that received great reviews; I'm hoping it will soon be released on DVD) and Food Politics by Marion Nestle. Both expose the power of "Big Food" and how the powerful food industry profoundly influences our society.