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Your favorite cooking/food based fiction books?

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I recently read and loved The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. I really liked the amazing descriptions of traditional Chinese foods and cooking techniques intertwined with a pretty interesting story. Do you know of other books like this? They don't have to be about China- any cuisine or time period will do! Thanks.

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  1. Cooking With Fernet-Branca, by James Hamilton-Peterson is a good one - a brilliant sendup of the Tuscan Sun school of writing. The Passionate Epicure, a French food novella, almost classic, written by a colleague of Curnonsky, is another: it reads like minor Balzac. High Bonnet is a gastronovel by Idwal Jones, kind of hackwork but not bad.

    1. Tony Bourdain has written some fiction. I've read one, Gone Bamboo, which is a mystery with a chef protagonist. Entertaining, and a great beach read.

      1. One that comes to mind is Pomegranate Soup, by Marsha Mehran. Sisters escape from Iran, move to Ireland, open a cafe. Recipes included.

        1. I just started "The Wedding Officer" which takes place in the wartime Naples-- I can already tell this is one of those books that is going to make me hungry reading it, with the descriptions of wonderful Italian food lovingly prepared by the heroine of the story--

          1. Pat Conroy's Beach Music. Our hero is a food writer from South Carolina living in Italy. When Conroy writes about the South Carolina Low-Country food & Italian dishes, I can see, smell and taste them!

            1. Andrea Camillari's Dectective Salvo Montalbano series set in Sicily and Donna Leon's Commisario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice. Both detail lunches and dinners with multiple courses, wines, and every snack during the day in the life of an Italian intellectual policeman.....yes there is such a thing. Recipes not given but the description of the complete menu sends me into the kitchen to replicate.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Gio

                I hate reading Inspector Montalbano mysteries at night because I inevitably get up out of bed because I am famished. But then again I can't put the books down. I am going through withdrawls right now because I have read all the books. Maybe I can lose some weight now.

                1. re: Phaedrus

                  Aren't the descriptions of what Salvo eats terrific? I love that his rule is, when dining with others, "no one talks till they're finished eating." Take heart Phaedrus.... there'll be a new book published in February 2009. Till then, I suggest you start on the Brunetti series. The lunch his wife prepares for the family each day is phenominal. There are 17 books in this series. I'm on the last one and waiting for the next. Then there's Michael Dibdin, also set in Venice.... but that's another story....

                  1. re: Gio

                    Salvo is my hero! I love that quote too. I got drawn in early on when he was describing the simple dishes that his housekeeper leaves for him. Then he talks about the dishes at his favorite restaurant.

                    I tried Brunetti, the first book, La Fenice and I liked it just fine. The second book wasn't so much to my liking. So I stopped reading the series. I just got started on Manuel Vazquez Montalban's Pepe Carvalho series. Montalban was supposed to be quite the gastronome in real life. And yes, I couldn't help but notice the similarity in names. I guess I get back on Brunetti after I finish Carvalho.

                    1. re: Phaedrus

                      Oh I've heard of the Carvalho series.... I'll look into them when I finish the last Leon book sitting on my desk as I type.. I'm hooked.....

              2. I don't know that I'd call it my favorite, but you might enjoy Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. Magical realism meets the Mexican Revolution, and much of it takes place in a kitchen, w/recipes woven into the story

                1. This topic comes up every few months -- there are quite a few long threads on the subject.

                  1. The Gourmet Detective mystery series of books by Peter King is a hoot! I greatly enjoy the way he takes the gourmet aspect over the top.


                    1. Johannes Mario Simmel's Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein. The translated title was "It can't always be caviar: The fabulously daring adventures and exquisite cooking recipes of the involuntary secret agent Thomas Lieven"

                      I read this book many many years ago, and probably hate it if I read it today and deem it misogynistic; or maybe I'll still love it. Dunno, but I learned how to double fry fries to make them crisp, I learned that food could be seductive (compared to the gunk my poor-untalented-unwilling mama cooked). There was a chapter titled something like "... and this recipe made me get Josephine Baker into bed". I think it was an egg dish. Or was that some other women? There was definitely something about Josephine Baker, and there was a lot about getting women in bed.

                      Anyhoo, can't remember much since I don't have the copy, but it was about a second world war era spy, and how he got women in bed while resolving international crises and mysteries; of course with the help of his cooking.

                      Looks like it is pretty hard to get in English these days. What a shame! My parents should still have the copy. Must ask for it now...Must read it again...

                      1. The Spencer private detective series by Robert B. Parker usually has a few interludes where Spencer describes in some detail something that he is cooking. Some of the books have three or four of these interludes and others have none. It's only a few pages out of each book, so it may not be enough to satisfy you. On the other hand, I love the way Spencer looks inside the refrigerator of a non-cook, such as his inamorata, Susan, describes the sad contents therein, and then proceeds to whip these leftovers into a delicious meal!

                        1. LIQUOR, PRIME, and SOUL KITCHEN by Poppy Z Brite. The protagonists are Ricky, a New Orleans chef/owner, and G-Man, his lifelong best friend/lover/sous chef. There are no recipes but the descriptions of the dishes can be so vivid that you almost dont need a recipe.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Fydeaux

                            Poppy Z. Brite used to be a regular poster on the NO board (as you may know), under the nom de chow "doc."

                          2. The Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. Fritz the butler's culinary skills are described perfectly to elicit hunger pangs.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Phaedrus

                              Speaking of classics, don't forget Ian Flemings James Bond books. He really knows how to make your mouth water, especially the famous "lobster and toast" dinner in Goldfinger.

                            2. Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray and I second Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran.