There are two things I love most in this world: food and books. Sure, my family, my friends, and my boyfriend all fall in my top five, but really, eating and reading are my ultimate favorites. So you can only imagine how much I love when the two of them come together. No, I'm not just talking about essential cookbooks here. I'm talking about when books and food collide to create wonderful, mouthwatering reading experiences unlike any other. When it comes to food writing, there are just some books all food-lovers should read, because they're that deliciously good.
From the memoirs of greatest modern chefs to the journals of world-traveling foodies to the fictional dinner tables of the most decadent feasts, food writing tantalizes the senses. You can smell the sauce simmering, feel the heat of the burners, hear the sounds of the sizzling vegetables, and you can even almost taste the delicious meals, one course at a time.
But food writing isn't just about the meals themselves. Food is one of those things that connects us all, so when it comes to writing about it, it's not just about appetizers, main courses, and desserts. It's about what those meals mean to the people who prepare them and the people who enjoy them. Food writing isn't just about food, it's about the heart, too. There's a reason why people say cooking is good for the soul.
You know what else is good for the soul? Reading, so here are 13 books that all foodies should read. Be warned, you'll probably want a snack after this.
1. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventure in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain
Better known for his memoir Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain searches for the perfect meal in A Cook's Tour: Global Adventure in Extreme Cuisines. From the California coast to the Russian countryside to the Moroccan desert, Bourdain takes readers on a drool-inducing culinary tour of the world in an attempt to find the best food, a good atmosphere, and great company. Funny, enlightening, and extremely readable, A Cook's Tour has the power to make you want to try lamb testicles. Yeah, it's that good.
2. The Art of Eating by M. F. K. Fisher
One of the greatest American food writers, M. F. K. Fisher has penned over 25 books about eating, drinking, and being merry. In The Art of Eating, a collection of food-related essays, Fisher explores not only cooking and eating, but the very important and personal role food plays in people's lives. Honest, intimate, and full of heart, The Art of Eating is a must for every foodie, along with just about every other book by Fisher.
3. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
For anyone who is still trying to find their passion in life, Gabrielle Hamilton's charming, witty memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef is the perfect food-related read. In it, Hamilton recalls her years of floundering, trying to find her true calling, and how she ended up owning one of the hottest restaurants in NYC. If you like food and dream of life as a chef, find out this reluctant chef made it to the top.
4. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Not all food writing is nonfiction. Muriel Barbery's Gourmet Rhapsody tells the fictional story of the world's greatest food critic, Pierre Athens, and his journey to find the perfect taste before he dies. Told in both Athens' voice and that of those who know him best — family, lovers, chefs — food plays a major part in the retelling of Pierre's life and his less-than-pleasant personality. Set at 17 Rue de Grenelle, the same building made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbery's second food-related novel is just as enjoyable and even more savory than her first.
5. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
Becoming a world-renowned chef is never easy, but that has never been truer than it is with Marcus Samuelsson's moving, heartbreaking, and triumphant journey to the top. After losing his mother to tuberculosis, Ethiopian-born Samuelsson and his sister are adopted by a nice middle-class family and move to Sweden, where one young boy's tragedy becomes the doorway to his life-long passion as a chef. From his newly adopted grandmother's kitchen to the finest restaurants in France to the bustling kitchens in New York City, Yes, Chef is a story of courage, strength, passion, and, of course, food that any foodie will eat up. Samuelsson even has an adaptation for young readers, Make It Messy, so you can share your love of food and reading with the little ones.
6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
You know that expression, "you are what you eat"? Well, Barbara Kingsolver explains just how true that is in her NYT bestselling Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Over the course of a year, Kingsolver and her family take on a serious food challenge: only eating what they can find in their neighborhood or grow or raise on their own. From the challenges of raising turkeys to the difficulties of growing and maintaining a full-fledged garden, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is both a memoir and an investigative piece on food, farming, and consumption in America. Smart, revealing, and inspiring, this is a must-read for every passionate eater.
From beloved U.K.-based food writer Nigel Slater comes Toast, the childhood story of a boy, his family, and role food plays in it all. Using the contents of his family's pantry to draw readers in each chapter, Slater tells the complicated, sometimes heartbreaking stories of his youth. Hungry for good food, starving for familial love, Slater's childhood food memoir will wow any foodie while simultaneously making their stomachs rumble.
8. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
No food-related roundup would be complete without Ernest Hemingway's memoir of life in Paris. A broke and starving writer upon his arrival to the City of Lights, Hemingway spent his time dining in cafes, sipping at bars, and sharing meals in Parisian apartments with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Intimate and sensory, A Moveable Feast is a true delight for those who love literature and food that should really be shelved in between your copies of The Joy of Cooking and The Sun Also Rises.
9. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, and a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
Marriage is never easy, but it becomes an even bigger challenge when you and your partner are trying to open a restaurant — just ask Molly Wizenberg. In Delancey, Wizenberg chronicles the whirlwind that was opening a pizza shop with her new husband. Everything is there —the excitement, the challenges, the revelations, the heartbreaks — and it is told with frankness and insight. Featuring images and 20 new recipes, Delancey is a must-read for anyone fantasizing about opening their own restaurant.
10. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
If, like me, you dream of being a food critic — you know, trying all the best dishes at the world's most famous restaurants — then you need to pick up Garlic and Sapphires immediately. In it, Ruth Reich, world-renowned food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, reveals what it is really like in her shoes, from her many guises and made up personalities to her many mouthwatering meals. Funny, honest, and utterly delectable, Garlic and Sapphires even includes Reich's reviews are recipes. I know, this one just made it to the top of the TBR pile.
11. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
If you saw the film adaptation of this book staring Helen Mirren and Om Puri, then I probably don't need to do too much convincing on this delightful novel. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a charming, heartwarming book about a young Indian teenager who was born to be a chef, and the famous French cook who, despite her jealousy, mentors him on his journey to becoming a restaurant owner of his own. Filled with the smells, sounds, and flavors of the kitchen — both the bustling, spicy Indian kitchen and the traditional French kitchen — The Hundred-Foot Journey is a cross-cultural culinary novel for food lovers everywhere.
12. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell
Food and eating can be wonderful, enjoyable, and delicious parts of life, but they can also be the cause of major anxiety and stress. In It Was Me All Along, food blogger Andie Mitchell chronicles her lifelong struggle with food, weight loss, and body image. Poignant and emotional, Mitchell's memoir takes readers from a traumatic childhood to incredible weight loss, and ultimately, to a place where one young woman finds the right balance and develops a healthy relationship with food. At times tragic and others uplifting, It Was Me All Along is a must-read.
13. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
A favorite food-related read of mine has always been Like Water for Chocolate, so when I discovered Aimee Bender's magical story of a girl with the gift (or curse) of tasting the emotions of those who cooked what she eats, I was thrilled. When Rose discovers her powers, she discovers so much more — her mother's depression, her brother's angst, her father's detachment. Funny yet agonizing, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake will have food lovers eating (and reading) differently from here on out.
Image: Elizabeth Lloyd/flickr