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Food in Fiction [moved from Not About Food board]

Who are the great food writers? Not writers whose subject is food, but those writers who create evocative food scenes and descriptions in their novels. I'm thinking of John D MacDonald and Lawrence Sanders whose male protagonists had great appetites and would describe sandwiches, steaks, breakfasts with mouthwatering detail. Are there any more current authors out there who present food with gusto?

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  1. Andrea Camilieri who writes the Inspector Montalbano books set in Sicily has wonderful descriptions of food and meals.

    1. This probably isn't what you had in mind but it popped right into mine when I read your post. I love this passage. In "The Wind in the Willows" when Toad is in jail, the jailer's daughter brings him tea and toast: "...a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate, piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops like honey from the honeycomb...".

      9 Replies
      1. re: Querencia

        In the kiddie lit genre, I'm reminded of Bread and Jam for Francis. Francis the badger wants, as all kids do, only bread and jam while he schoolmates pull out the most amazing lunches. Those badgers have quite the sophisticated palates!

        1. re: wandasue

          OMG but you just brought me back in time. I LOVED that book! Thanks for such a happy memory!

          1. re: wandasue

            I should have known I was a foodie from birth because the Frances books were my favorite!

            I remember a great chapter in Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides" where Tom's mother enter a cooking contest and makes a stuffed fish. Yum.

          2. re: Querencia

            I was thinking of all the loving descriptions of food in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. In "Farmer Boy" it is all about eating, but in the Laura and Mary books the preparation of food is lovingly detailed. And food is appreciated so!

            1. re: mwright

              I really loved reading farmer boy when I was growing up just for the food scenes.

              I also reccomend pretty much anything by roald dahl.

              Im sure you all think of james and the giant peach and charlie and the chocolate factory but how about the fantastic mr. fox? I think I read every single one of his books (including adult short stories) at least 5 times each
              fantastic mr. fox is also being released as a movie in nov 2009

              1. re: bitsubeats

                Have you read his short story "Taste"? It's about wine and so much more!

                1. re: bitsubeats

                  Ah, I remember the part in Matilda where Ms. Honey lets Matilda gather up tea leaves and water from the well in her backyard for a little tea party, along with toast, jam and margarine. I loved it.

                2. re: mwright

                  I do remember the making ice cream details!

              2. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is fiction entirely devoted to food and passion. i think the joy luck club (amy tan) also has a lot of cookery in it

                the feast scenes in the harry potter books are also wonderful.

                it's been a long while, but I have a vague memory of food images from Enid Blyton's magic faraway tree and only last night my mum mentioned the "suppers" in the secret seven.

                I am not sure if it's a book, but the film "eat drink man woman" certainly deserves a mention.

                3 Replies
                1. re: kmh

                  I had forgotten about Esquivel's novel! Has anyone tried the recipes?

                  1. re: kmh

                    I'm just starting Like Water... and it is quite good. But it's clear Esquivel borrows, just a little here and there, from "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado of Brazil, particularly when it comes to the cooking segments.

                    1. re: inuksuk

                      OK, I would just love to throw in (fellow Jorge Amado lover here), that his book GABRIELA: OF CLOVES AND CINNAMON, takes place in the sugar-growing region of Brazil (I forget the specific province) and is all about food, seduction, what-have-you. A classic.

                  2. Dickins in The Pickwick Papers is absolutely cinegraphic in his descriptions of food.
                    But many of Dickens' works have glorious food passages.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      There are wonderful food passages also in GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

                    2. I've just finished reading a wonderful book by Nicole Mones called "The Last Chinese Chef." Food is both a central theme and the thread into which several personal stories and histories are interwoven. Her writing is engaging, to say the least. As you read, you can hear the thwack of knives against wooden cutting boards, hear the ssszzzzzzzzz! as food goes into a hot wok, and smell the garlic and ginger. I'm never been a huge fan of Chinese food, but reading her beautifully detailed description of the preparation of an Imperial-style banquet made me believe I'd never really eaten Chinese food. Now I almost want to go to China to seek out the real thing.

                      Mones is also the author of "Lost in Translation," which was made into a movie with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Deenso

                        Actually, Mones' "Lost in Translation" isn't the same story-line as the movie with Murray and Johannson - here's a link to the book's plot-line: http://tinyurl.com/2bxb4e .

                        1. re: Deenso

                          I agree that the Last Chinese Chef was amazing! I loved it!

                        2. Nothing makes me want sausages, mushrooms and crispy bacon as much as Tolkiens passages about the lifestyles of Hobbits. ;-)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: littlelea

                            I second Tolkien - Hobbits like their meals... plenty and often if i remember right. And a good deal of the Trilogy was devoted to mealtimes - good and bad. Be it a feast in the hall of an elvenking or "cram" and water, with maybe a few bits of roasted coney, the food always evoked the spirit of the story line.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              my husband has decided he is a hobbit so that he can have "second breakfast"!

                          2. There are 2 mystery authors who base their series around food and recipes: Joan Fluke and Diane Mott Davidson.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: AlyKen

                              Lots more mystery series than those...Katherine Hall Page (The Body in the Boullion, etc), and several others whose names aren't coming immediately to mind.

                              1. re: momjamin

                                Additionally, if I remember correctly, Peter King wrote (possibly still writes) a series of mysteries about a nameless detective who tracks down restaurant secrets, offbeat ingredients, and solves the occasional murder centered around the culinary world, in a series of books that began with 'The Gourmet Detective'.

                                1. re: blackoak

                                  His books are a hoot! He takes the gourmet thing over the top, amusingly so.

                            2. I borrowed "La Cucina" by Lily Prior from Candy and took it with me on vacation last week. Really enjoyed it, especially the many cooking and eating scenes.

                              1. whoops, I forgot cloudy with a chance of meatballs. I read it in elementary school and I LOVED it

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                  That is my favorite book to give children. Gorgonzola!

                                  1. re: Oh Robin

                                    We just bought that for our 6 year old. Great book!

                                2. Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" (a memoir) and his novels, too. The guy liked his food--and drink.

                                  Laurie Colwin wrote for Gourmet magazine, but I can't remember much about food in her novels.

                                  George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London." Well, maybe not.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Glencora

                                    Hermingway and Colwin were the exact ones I was going to say!

                                    I have all Laurie Colwin books and have them shelved with my food writing books - even the ones not specific to food. That's a compliment BTW - a place of honor!

                                    And if we are going to talk about kids fictions - In the Night Kitchen set me on the path to kitchen/baking love.

                                  2. Spenser (Robert B Parker) often describes his meals, from doughnuts to the Ritz, the meals he cooks as well as eats in restaurants. Scenes comparing Spenser's speed of eating with Susan's are often lots of fun.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: momjamin

                                      Ruth Reichl - "Tender at the Bone". She's also the editor of Gourmet Magazine.

                                    2. Ellen Hart writes mystery novels. She has a series with Jane Lawless who owns a restaurant and solves crimes. She has another with Sophie Greenway who is a food critic and solves crimes.

                                      1. Anything by Haruki Murakami, except "After the Quake" and "Underground" (non-fiction). Many of the meals prepared and eaten by his lonely characters, no matter how simple, are described from prep to toothpick in his amazing novels.

                                        1. How about Fannie Flagg's books, especially "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe".

                                          I'll second the rec. for Andrea Camilleri's books - that Inspector knows how to eat and appreciates the most simple, fresh dishes. I'd love to follow along and dine with him.

                                          There's also some interesting (and tantilizing) food/meal descriptions in Helene Turston's "Inspector Huss" series.

                                          I just read Leonie Swann's "Three Bags Full" and there's some delightful descriptions of different grasses and herbs (as described by sheep).

                                          1. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto was a book a really enjoyed.

                                            1. Donna Leon mysteries. The books are set in Venice and her protaganist, Guido Brunetti loves food. He goes into the descriptions when he eats out or when his wife, Paola cooks for him and they are luscious. I always want Italian food after reading one of Leon's books.

                                              Also, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert has some excellent food descriptions in it. Unfortunately, they only occur in the Eat section (Italy) and the rest of the book isn't worthwhile. But, if you can start a book and not finish it, I recommend reading the Italy portion only. One section, she described how she went to a farmer's market and bought asparagus and cheese (and something else but I can't remember) and how she arranged it on a plate. The description was lovely. also, how she and a friend made a pilgrimage to this pizza place in Rome (?). How the line was long but the pizza was unbelievable. I'm not even the biggest pizza eater but I felt the need to get a slice soon after.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: beetlebug

                                                Under the Tuscan Sun had lots of delicious food in it.

                                                1. re: beetlebug

                                                  Yes, I always get hungry when I read what Paola's cooking or Brunetti's eating. Always want to join them on the terrace for a little aperitif too. Oh, and good mysteries to boot.

                                                  1. Steven Brust is a science fiction/fantasy writer whose Dragera series of books features the main protagonist - Vlad Taltos -- who is an obvious foodie. They certainly aren't books about food, but he cooks and describes restaurants/inns and meals. Hios latest "Dzur", has the beginning of every section as a flashback taking place within his favorite restaurant -- Valabars -- and those of us that love food will love how he describes his enjoyment of the meal and the reactions of a character new to the experiance.

                                                    He also invents herbs, vegetables, and animals, working them into the description of a dish along with actual ingredients. "Longfish" is one such example, and it's fun to try to guess at what the ingredient might be like.

                                                    1. You could go back to two sleuths - Nero Wolfe, who had his own private chef, Fritz, and who was always arguing with him about how a dish was to be made; and Georges Simenon, whose Maigret used to eat lunch at home in Paris with his wife and in bistros (he loved andouillettes, for example). Both had cookbooks written based on what they ate in their respective novels. Rex Stout, who wrote about Nero Wolfe, wrote at least twenty novels about him; and Simenon wrote over 150 novels about Maigret.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: EclecticEater

                                                        My favorite short story is "Sorry Fugu" by TC Boyle. It's about a restaurant that's getting reviewed. I actually feel like Ratatouille (great movie!) kind of ripped off elements of the story -- but I guess the critic archetype can cross stories and genres.
                                                        Also, Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester is a good one -- he describes cheese, rather unforgettably, as the corpse of milk. Nice.

                                                        1. re: ctscorp

                                                          Lanchester might have been paying tribute to James Joyce, who in _Ulysses_ famously wrote: 'A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what's cheese? Corpse of milk.' I've always loved this idea, too.

                                                        2. re: EclecticEater

                                                          I think the Wolfe series has to be the best for food enjoyment.

                                                          I searched for years for "The Nero Wolfe Cookbook" (out of print for many years now).

                                                          At the closing of a library book sale one day, it was announced "Now $1 a bag." As I reached for a bag to fill, there it was. based on the number of books I fit into the bag, it cost me about 3 cents.

                                                          I have used a variation of one of his lamb recipes for leg of lamb for years. Sweetbreads and shad roe too.

                                                        3. What a great topic! As a child the segment in 101 Dalmatians where the parent dogs are fed cinnamon toast made at the fireplace of the kindly old man spurred me on my 1st kitchen experiments.

                                                          Going to the library tomorrow with this list of good reading!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                            I'm very interested about other novels that include food. I love Nicole Mones books. I came across a foodie fiction website but I can't find it now. I'd love to hear more suggestions.

                                                          2. Many fictional detectives are also foodies--Salvo Mantalbano (Sicily) is my current favorite, also Lord Peter Wimsey London), Spenser (Boston), Dave Robicheaux, (New Orleans and environs) Elvis Cole (Los Angeles), Nero Wolfe (NYC), Prescious Ramotswe (though her Botswanan diet seems a little circumscribed, she still loves her grub) are all wonderful. Also "Crime a la Carte" is a collection of detective and crime stories centered around food featuring great writers including A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl and if you can believe it, MFK Fisher! I know I've read it cover to cover at 3x's.

                                                            The "Lucia" books by EF Benson, about English country life between the WW's, are not only wonderfully funny, but Lobster a la Risholme and gooseberry fool are plot lynchpins. They are like a cross between PG Wodehouse and Jane Austin. Highly recommend!

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: annabana

                                                              Definitely The Good Earth by pearl Buck

                                                            2. This book "The Last Chinese Chef" by Nicole Mones was mentioned by someone and I concur that it is a fun read, and adventurous with descriptions of food being prepared in unique settings.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: EmyLouie

                                                                Every once in a while I think about that tofu crab dish and wish I could lay mouth to it!

                                                              2. Oh and please, please! Dont forget Ludwig Bemmelmans, an artist with words and pictures,whose books and murals speak eloquently about properly prepared dishes. If you haven't read any of his books, it will be a completely new and astonishing pleasure for anyone who loves food. Books include Hotel Splendid, My War With The United States, The Street Where The Heart Lies, I Love You I Love You I love You, and the Madeline series. He will touch you, make you hungry, and in the gentlest way teach you how to prepare certain classic dishes properly.

                                                                1. I posted this earlier tonight because I couldn't find this thread... so here it is in the right place.

                                                                  I just finished reading a novel that was absolutely wonderful... the author has a deep knowledge and love of food and it shone through in every page - and she also knows how to write! This is her first novel, and I drank it in. You'd have to call this food-porn. :P It makes you not only appreciate the food but to want to run out and cook it and to savour the tastes and smells and experiences she's writing about. I hope she isn't a one-book author.

                                                                  The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister

                                                                  Another great foody novel I read awhile ago was 'Blessed are the Cheesemakers' by Sarah-Kate Lynch. Her other foody novel is 'By Bread Alone'. These are lighter fiction but very readable, and without the food there would be no story.

                                                                  And then of course there's the detective series about the caterer in the Rockies... the food is more peripheral in those books, but they're enjoyable enough. They have actual recipes scattered through them, but I don't usually feel any desire to run out and make the recipes.

                                                                  Anybody got any other great suggestions for literary food?

                                                                  1. Rose Tremain's The Road Home is a wonderful, very humane novel (about a Polish immigrant to London in the 90's) which has a lot to say about food and its role in nurturing and happiness. This woman is the most amazing writer, each of her books is set in a different era/country and all are intensely involving.

                                                                    1. Don't forget Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta character - she's all about the food - there's even a cookbook (Food to Die For).

                                                                      1. Just read "Jamesland" by Michele Huneven (who I understand is/was a restaurant reviewer in the LA area). Excellent book, vivid characterizations, and a lot about food (one of the main characters is a chef who had and lost two restaurants due to shaky mental health and circumstance and is given a third chance - and whose meals cooked for friends -and their reactions to same - are described in loving detail). Love this woman's books, "Blame" was good, "Jamesland" better, and I still have "Round Rock" to read.

                                                                        1. And the sadly obvious: RIP Robert B. Parker.