10 Novels Every Food-Lover Should Read (Slideshow)
The Passionate Epicure by Marcel Rouff
Published in 1924, this classic novel is made up of a series of vignettes revolving around the culinary exploits of the fictional Dodin-Bouffant, based on the legendary gourmand Brillat-Savarin. It captures the beauty of French cuisine perhaps better than any novel written; if you even plan on visiting France, this book is a must.
St. Burl's Obituary by Daniel Akst
The story of an overweight journalist who gets caught up in a murder mystery before heading out west, gaining and losing massive amounts of weight, and eventually returning back to New York unrecognizably thin and under a different identity, St. Burl’s Obituary will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. While the story is rich, erudite, hilarious, and thought-provoking (it’s also a great exploration of what it means to be obese in today’s society), the scenes involving food (of which there are many) are so detailed that they become one of the book’s primary focuses.
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
The legendary Les Halles food market in Paris is the setting for this 19th century classic from Emile Zola. Following a fish inspector at the market, we gain insight into not only the French working class of the era, but also what was being sold at the market during this time. From cheese to charcuterie and everything in-between, some of the most luxurious descriptions of food ever committed to the page can be found in The Belly of Paris.
The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
Part novel, part cookbook, part treatise, part jigsaw puzzle, part travelogue, this hilarious and captivating book takes us inside the head of pretentious epicure Tarquin Winot as he travels from Portsmouth to the South of France, filling us in on his philosophy of food and discussing everything from the history of the peach to much darker topics like how well blood works as a binder. The deeper into his head we travel, the more we realize that there are darker forces at play here, making this one of the best dark comedies you’re likely to ever read.
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
Best known for her novel Lost in Translation, Mones shifts her attention to food in this novel about a food writer who, reeling from her husband’s death, learns about a paternity claim filed against him from Beijing. Before traveling there to investigate, her editor assigns her a story about a Beijing chef who plans to enter a food competition there, and as she investigates the paternity claim she also learns everything there is to know about Chinese cooking and culinary history, and so do we.
High Bonnet by Idwal Jones
The high bonnet is the tall white toque worn by the highest-ranking chefs, and this 1945 novel follows a young chef as he works his way from apprentice to chef de cuisine at one of France’s most renowned restaurants. This book, and all of its characters, revolve entirely around food: eating it, enjoying it, discussing it, and living for it.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
This magical novel is about a little girl who discovers that when she eats something, she can taste the emotions of those who made the food. Simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, this story follows the girl as she gets older, gains unwanted insight into others’ deepest emotions and learns that it’s not always easy to love someone when you know too much about them. Food remains a central focus of the novel, and serves as a literal window into the soul.
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
Food plays a central role in the lives of the four elderly Chinese women who make up the book’s titular club, and it also plays a central role in this book. As they get together to play mah-jongg and gossip, food is never far from the center of the story, in the form of special occasion fare, symbols, and a metaphor for the entire Chinese-American experience.
Babette's Feast by Isak Dinesen
This classic short story from the author of Out of Africa is about two pious Norwegian sisters who open their home to a mysterious woman named Babette. While the book’s main theme is about puritanism’s restriction of pleasure, the feast that Babette brings with her helps to completely transform the sisters and shows us everything that a great meal can accomplish.
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
In this book, the world’s most renowned restaurant critic is on his deathbed, longing for one last, perfect bite. This introspective journey through the mind and career of a true gourmand discusses not only what it’s like to wield true power (this critic has ruined many careers with only his pen), but also charmingly lets the reader revel in the glory of food, thanks to some of the most florid writing about eating that’s ever been done.