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good reads about eating? [moved from Not About Food]

i just read a really terrific collection of essays by james beard on cooking and eating. though i love to cook (and eat!) and also love to read, i rarely combine the two, other than reading cookbooks. but i have no idea how to go about finding other books like this one.

so my question is, has anyone read a book about cooking or food (not an actual cook book, though, i have enough of those, make that too many of those) that they would recommend?



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  1. you should definitely try "The Man Who Ate Everything" by Jeffrey Steingarten. It changed my life. I think he is coming out with a sequel soon. Also, Ruth Reichl's books are fun to read: she is the editor of Gourmet magazine and a food critic who wrote about her many disguises and experiences.

    2 Replies
    1. re: FoodieMcGee

      I second Jeffrey Steingartens "The Man Who Ate Everything" as well as his "It Must've Been Something I Ate". Both of these books are hugely enjoyable as well as informative. Marion Nestle's "What To Eat" absolutely changed my life, as cliche as that sounds. It is so full of information that is invaluable to consumers. I couldn't put it down.

      1. re: FoodieMcGee

        I agree one zillion percent about Steinarten's books. Few people write about food--or anything--with such wit. I made the mistake of reading his recipe for "Microwaving Your Sneakers" while on an airplane; I feel bad for the other passengers, because I was laughing like a mental patient. Also, I have a short attention span, so I appreciated that the books consist of many unrelated essays on wide variety of culinary topics.

        1. re: foodcheck

          Especially "With Bold Knife and Fork"

          1. re: foodcheck

            I have to agree that all MFK Fisher books are classics for anyone into food.
            I don't remember the specific titles because I read them all but the series on oyster stews, eating on an airplane, red bird/blue bird, honest meat in mediterranean are all scenes that I imagine when I think about what to cook.

            1. re: foodcheck

              You can get "The Art of Eating" which collects much of her work for around 20-25$, although I scored mine for 12$ used. It's a big book and collects her real essentials. She's an absolute must

            2. If you are a bit ambitious try Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham. It's shows the development of Indian cuisine through the different waves of empire and political domination and throws into a tizzy the question of what "authentic" could possibly mean to Indian food. Did you know that most Indian restaurants in N. America are owned by people from a small region of what is now Bangladesh? Did you know the habit of drinking tea was pushed into Indian culture by marketing by British tea importers? Lots of fascinating stuff you never knew. You can read more here if you like: http://www.eclectica.org/v11n2/iyer.html

              1 Reply
              1. re: inuksuk

                >Did you know that most Indian restaurants in N. America are owned
                >by people from a small region of what is now Bangladesh?
                i think you are confusing the prominent role of the Sylheti community
                in UK indian restaurant scene for North America.

                See e.g.
                in particular the link to this article in the Guardian:

              2. Roy Andres de Groot wrote "L'Auberge of the Flowering Hearth" which is such a wonderful read that you'll savor every delicious, descriptive word.

                Waverly Root's two contributions "The Food of Italy" and "The Food of France" should not be missed either.

                Calvin Trillin is wry & witty -- "Tummy Trilogy" is a great read and much lighter than de Groot & Root, more along the lines of Steingarten's writings.

                Enjoy! This will give you a full summer of delicious books.

                1. I second Ruth Reichl's books, I've found them very enjoyable. "A Year in Provence" is very good. It may not be particularly enjoyable but "Fast Food Nation" is a good book to read if you care about the moral aspects of food. Julia Child's biography is also good.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: izzizzi

                    I forgot to mention Anthony Bourdain's books. My favorite of his is the one about his traveling (forget the name).

                    1. re: izzizzi

                      A Cooks Tour is the name of Bourdain's travel book.

                      Julie and Julia by by Julie Powell chronicles Powell's attempts to cook everything in Mastering The Art of French Cooking in one year. It's funny, engaging and sweet.

                      There is also a collection of food writing that comes out every year called Best Food Writing. They're great collections and reading one or two of them will give you an idea of what's out there. I would second the Trillin recommenation as well.

                    2. re: izzizzi

                      I dislike much of Reichl's book writings. While her food writing is just fine so much of her book is padded with AND THEN I TRIED ON A NEW COSTUME AND NO ONE KNEW WHO I WAS AINT THAT CRAZY. It was okay the first time, but I ended up skimming after the third time she plunked down a thousand words on her new wig

                    3. I am currently dipping into "Talking With My Mouth Full" by Bonny Wolf. She's adn NPR correspondant and has been a food writer for awhile. It is quite enjoyable and thought provoking.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Candy

                        Bourdain is great...he talks the way many of us think, but is not afraid to speak those thoughts

                        1. re: nyfoodjoe

                          "Kitchen Confidential" is an excellent read, I was sad when I got to the end! I wasn't as enthralled with "Nasty Bits".

                          I also love Ruth Reichl's "Tender at the Bone", "Garlic and Sapphires" and "Comfort Me with Apples".

                            1. re: hrhboo

                              I must thank the person who left a copy of Garlic & Sapphires in the car I recently rented...I really enjoyed it (quite funny) and look forward to reading the others.

                        2. "The Taste of Country Cooking," by Edna Lewis.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Chef D Quizzing

                            HEAT by Bill Buford!
                            I couldn't put it down. It was so enjoyable and very funny.

                            Next on my list....The Omnivore's Dilemna.

                            1. re: amanda3571

                              Omnivore's Dilemna is a great read, one of those books that entertains, but makes you think at the same time.

                          2. Although it does include many recipes, "Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South" by Marcie Ferris is a pretty fascinating read.

                            1. I just read My Life in France by Julia Child and it was absolutely amazing. I was never a big fan of hers (I guess because she was from an older generation) but her biography is great. It is amazing, even at an older age when she wrote the book, how much she remembers and appreciates each meal she has had. The food descriptions are great, and it also great insight into her process of when she wrote her cookbooks. She also wrires with a sense of humor which is great. This book really made me learn to appreciate her. And it gave a really good picture to what life was truly like at the time. I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED this book!

                              PS James Beard was mentioned in the book too!

                              1. I also loved HEAT by Bill Buford. Not only does the writing sparkle, but it was really an enviable culinary adventure he embarked on. I think he describes living out the foodie dream (toying with the idea of a potential mid-career shift to the restaurant bizz, being taken under the wing of Mario Batali, delving into food history and learning the way things are done) in the most satisfying way.

                                Julie and Julia was also absolutely charming in a totally different way. I recommended this book in another thread not so long ago and was rather shocked that people reacted as strongly in the opposite direction and blasted the book and the author. From my perspective it was a great read about turning 30, evaluating what seems like a dissatisfying life, and asserting some control and purpose on your existence by creating a wacky project and sticking to it. In Julie Powell's case that wacky project was cooking every single recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Vol 1) in a year, and how that project changes her life.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ballulah

                                  I utterly agree :) That's so well put. I've recently embarked on a similar adventure!

                                2. Some that come to mind are:
                                  Marlena de Blasi - A Thousand Days in Venice
                                  A Thousand Days in Tuscany
                                  Peter Mayle - A Year in Provence, Encore Provence, Toujours Provence
                                  Mort Rosenblum - A Goose in Toulouse
                                  You got some other great suggestions. I have not read Madjur Jaffrey's newest whose title escapes me- a look back at the food of her childhood.

                                  1. Forgot to mention Laurie Colwin. I have all her articles that Gourmet re-printed after her death, but I know she wrote books as well. A real heartfelt home style cook.

                                    1. Things which haven't been previously mentioned:
                                      Michael Ruhlman "The Making of a Chef" ," The Soul of a Chef" and "The Reach of a Chef"
                                      - I love his writing style and these books are just wonderful. They build on each other. If you were an industrious college student you might use them as a modern example of how Modern Chefs correlate to Dogen's(first Japanese Zen Master) ideal kitchen monk. I'm seriously thinking about buying copies of those that I borrowed from the library for loaning out.

                                      I've also been known to read, while eating and alone, random pages in the Larousse Gastronomique. That having been said I also reand encyclopedias for fun growing up so your mileage may vary

                                      1. jeremiah tower and r. w. apple have some great books with seriously interesting stories to tell. check them out.

                                        1. I am rreading The United States of Arugula ...How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp. Very interesting book.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Candy

                                            Excellent book. I read that one too and loved it. It really put the time frame into focus for me about how things "evolved". I also just finished reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver for our bookclub. We had a fantastic discussion because while we all liked it we didn't all agree on some of the food issues she raises.

                                            As another poster above pointed out, "My Life in France" the Julie Child book is really wonderful. I ran out and made a souffle after I finished reading that!

                                          2. I've got a hundred books as such and apologize if I am duplicating another's suggestions, but I am going to just type through *part* of my bookshelf:

                                            ~ The Supper and the Lamb - Robert Farrar Capon
                                            ~ Delights and Prejudices - James Beard
                                            ~ From Hardtack to Home Fries - Barbara Haber
                                            ~ Food For Thought - Louis Marin
                                            ~ The Man Who Ate Everything - Jeffrey Steingarten
                                            ~ The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook - Alice B. Toklas
                                            ~ The Art of Eating - MFK Fisher
                                            ~ The Hungry Soul - Leon Kass
                                            ~ The Physiology of Taste - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (MUST READING!!!)
                                            ~ Cod, A biography of the fish that changed the world - Mark Kurlansky (actually, I have a LOT of single-ingredient history/sociology books but this one is especially good)
                                            ~Aphrodite - Isabelle Allende

                                            Collected essays (multiple writers - I'm listing the editors):
                                            ~ Literary Gourmet - Linda Wolfe
                                            ~ Oysters & Champagne - Wheeler's Review
                                            ~ Food Lovers Companion - Evan Jones
                                            ~ Food for Thought - John & Joan Digby
                                            ~ The Feast of Words - Anna Shapiro
                                            ~ A Literary Gourmet - Lilly Golden
                                            ~ Lang's Compendium of Culinary Nonsense and Trivia - George Lang
                                            ~ The Penguin Book of Food & Drink - Paul Levy
                                            ~ The Best Food Writing - Comes out every year, various editors
                                            ~ The Ravenous Muse - Karen Elizabeth Gordon

                                            Books of Historical Interest:
                                            ~ The Art of Cookery Made PLain and Easy - Glasse
                                            ~ The People's Chef; The Culinary Revolution of Alexis Soyer - Ruth Brandon
                                            ~ Uncommon Grounds; The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World - Mark Pendergast
                                            ~ The True History of Chocolate - Sophie and Michael Coe
                                            ~ The Last Days of Haute Cuisine - Patric Kuh
                                            ~ Last Dinner on the Titanic - Archbold/McCauley
                                            ~ Eating with the Victorians - Wilson
                                            ~ The Pantropheon; A History of Food and its Preparation in Ancient Times - Alexis Soyer (yes, reference "The People's Chef" above - Soyer wrote a book on Ancient cuisine!)
                                            ~ Found Meals and the Lost Generation; Recipes and Anecdotes from 1920s Paris - Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter
                                            ~ The Rituals of Dinner - Margaret Visser
                                            ~ Acquired Tastes - Peter Mayle
                                            ~ Cooks, Gluttons & Gourmets - Betty Wilson
                                            ~ Buon Appetito, Your Holiness; Rinaldi & Vicini
                                            ~ Dinner with Dickens - Cedric Dickens
                                            ~ The Magic Harvest - Camporesi
                                            ~ Food In History - Tannahill
                                            ~ The Art of Dining - Sara Paston-Williams
                                            ~ Great Cooks and their Recipes - Anne Willan
                                            ~ The Food Chronology - James Trager
                                            ~ History of Food - Toussant-Samat
                                            ~ Old Cook Books - Eric Quayle
                                            ~ The Art of Food - Claire Clifton
                                            ~ Medieval Arab Cookery - Rodinson, Arberry, & Perry
                                            ~ Dining with William Shakespeare - Madge Lorwin
                                            ~ The Roman Cookery - Apicius
                                            ~ Fabulous Feasts - Madeleine Pelner Cosnan

                                            okay... tired of typing....

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Carrie 218

                                              Wow! Top three of the list?

                                              Can you elaborate the Alice B Toklas cookbook?

                                              1. re: foxy fairy

                                                Top 3? No brainer for me:

                                                Brillat-Savarin's Physiology of Taste (Brilliant writing)
                                                Rodinson, Arberry, & Perry's Medieval Arab Cookery (GREAT history plus recipes)
                                                Soyer's Pantropheon (I am fascinated to look at how ancient cultures are viewed by pre-industrial revolutionary writers.)

                                                The Alice B. Toklas cookbook was written by her life-partner, Gertrude Stein as a memorial of their life together including recipes and the infamous "Hashisch Fudge"

                                            2. "Sound Bites" by Alex Kapranos. He fronts the new wave band Franz Ferdinand, and this book chronicles some of the food he's eaten while traveling the world on tour. Certainly not as elegantly written as anything by MFKF, but this guy is a true "chowhound", describing both holes-in-the-wall and 3 star restaurants.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Alcachofa

                                                I just read this, and I found it enormously unsatisfying. He just sort of noodles around with little written episodes of various meals he's had without coming to any sort of conclusion or end point. It's very abstract. I finished it a few weeks ago and sitting here now I'm having a hard time recalling much of what I read...I picked it up on a whim because I love Franz Ferdinand and I love food, and I've recently started to enjoy reading about food. I do recall that he is a true chowhound with a very adventurous palate, and I vaguely remember that he did describe food very well, but as to his stories...very very vague. Skips around in time and from place to place with no real rhyme or reason.

                                              2. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. This is just lovely -- read it en espanol if you speak Spanish. I have read this book several times (and taught it in Latin American lit classes), loving it more each time. The characters are awesome and the protagonist communicates her emotions through elaborately prepared meals. It's set on a ranch in Mexico, early 1900s. I love brazen Gertrudis too!

                                                Each chapter is centered on a recipe. I attempted some of the recipes when I first started to cook. One Valentine's Day I took on quails in rose petal sauce but I used tofu, being veggie at the time :) I know this book exudes food-passion and evokes the spirit of Mexican food and it is a delightful story as well -- a real treat in either language.

                                                1. I just finshed "The Scavenhers Guide to Haute Cuisne" by Steve Rinella. The publishers description reads, "A hybrid of memoir, cookbook, and travelogue, and a love song to hunting and fishing and the American wild, The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine is about one man’s quest to live off the land and recreate the recipes from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, the 1903 magnum opus.

                                                  Nature writer Steven Rinella embarks on a yearlong journey across America, trying to locate the bizarre, often esoteric ingredient of Le Guide Culinaire. His adventures take him fishing for stingrays on a Florida beach; skinning eels with an upstate New Yorker who keeps an emu as company; and hunting mountain goats on the snow-covered cliffs of Alaska’s Chugach Range."
                                                  It is such an interesting read i could not put it down. Finshed it in less than a week and am recommending it to basically everyone, foodies and otherwise.

                                                  1. I second Ruth Reichl's memoirs and The True History of Chocolate. Also, "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky is a fascinating read.

                                                    1. My highly subjective opinions:
                                                      Can't go wrong with MFK Fisher, obviously. I think John Thorne is in her league, or close. Ruth Reichl's first book was pretty good, but I found her personally annoying by the end of the second and didn't want to spend any more time with her, so I skipped the third. Three cheers for Calvin Trillin! Three cheers for James Beard! Jeffrey Steingarten gets the "Beverly Nichols Award for Charm." Laura Shapiro's books are required reading. Laurie Colwin writes like she has a column in the Ladies Home Journal: avoid. Robert Farrar Capon's Supper of the Lamb is a classic. So is Angelo Pellegrini's Unprejudiced Palate. Julian Barnes' The Pedant in the Kitchen never seems to make these lists, and I love it, slim though it is.

                                                      My food-related reading list at the moment: Marion Nestle, and Tannahill's Food in History (Sex in History was great, I expect good things.)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: curiousbaker

                                                        Please see my posting on this board from yesterday, "Roy Blount Jr. Is a Food Writing God."

                                                      2. The Unprejudiced Palate by Angelo Pellegrini sidles up alongside Brillat-Savarin as a great book on the art of eating.

                                                        Those "Best Food Writing of the Year!" books are a great jumping off point, check them out.