Life’s journey is full of twists and turns, and nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. From the rich aromas of an indulgent feast to the feeling of accomplishment after creating a delectable dish, exploring the culinary world in books can be an adventure like no other. From recipes to delightful anecdotes, “Food Adventures on the Page” is an exploration into the culinary journeys presented in books throughout history.
1. Tasting the Pages: Exploring the Culinary Wonders of Literature
Literature isn’t just for ghost stories or romances—it’s a medium for exploring the culinary art of the written word. Whether it’s protagonist’s Gatsby-esque dinner feasts or Santiago’s magical catch in The Old Man and the Sea, often readers are tantalized with descriptions of food, drinks, and legendary recipes that make our mouths water. Here’s a look at some of the mouth-drooling dishes from literature that have found their way onto our plates.
The Temptations of Antwone’s Kitchen
Antwone Fisher’s memoir, Finding Fish paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to grow up in a fundamentalist Southern family. Along with the detailed descriptions of relationship and family dynamics, the kitchen and food are core metaphors for how his family operates. He chronicles a seemingly endless array of homemade dishes, from rice and gravy and beans to oxtails and sugar-drenched peaches…all served with generous dollops of love and kindness.
Dorothy’s Plateful of Soul-Food Favorites
Dorothy Allison’s novel, Bastard Out of Carolina chronicles an impoverished rural childhood in South Carolina. The protagonist’s mother whips up delectable dishes meant to bring the family together, such as creamy grits, cornbread and collard greens. These traditional dishes provide the reader with a window into the rich culinary heritage of the South—and just how necessary food can be to bring hope into a difficult situation.
Breakfast at Magic Café
Famed Spanish author, Jose Saramago includes a scene in Blindness about a Magic Café that serves as a refuge for people suffering from a mysterious epidemic. As the café’s patrons feast on a vast array of dishes, their troubles are momentarily forgotten. Throughout the novel, readers can feast vicariously on savory dishes, such as veal with mushrooms, linguini with cream sauce, and puffs of candy and meringue.
Traditional Recipes from Around the Globe
Furthermore, readers can take their taste buds on a culinary journey around the world.
- Italian-American author Adriana Trigiani provides readers with her family’s classic recipes such as ravioli with ricotta and toasted hazelnuts in her novel, Big Stone Gap.
- Stephen King’s The Shining features a delectable recipe for roast-elk loin, a dish made famous by the hotel’s chef Hallorann.
- Jamaican-born Marlon James’ novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, brings readers right into the sizzling street scene of Kingston, with dishes like goat curry, souica, and mannish water.
No matter what type of cuisine readers are interested in, literature serves up a unique variety of delectable dishes. And while readers may recognize the riveting plot lines, often it’s the cleverly-written descriptions of food that feed our stomachs, our hearts, and our minds.
2. An Appetizing Way to Travel: Modes of Transport in Culinary Literature
For many, the clickity-clack of train wheels is a nostalgic sound, a reminder of passing time and spaces that brought you to where you are today. But for some of the best authors of culinary literature, the train is also a source of gastronomic inspiration. In her 2019 book ‘Far Afield’, award-winning chef and author Fuchsia Dunlop recounts her travels along the railway lines of China, from dining car finds to station stops. Her adventures take her down the wild tracks of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces – a perfect entry point for the rookie traveller. Here’s an example of Fuchsia’s experiences:
- At Lichuan station in Hubei she feasted on ‘steamed cobs of corn, doused in fiery chilli oil, and platters of cold, crunchy bean shoots, flavoured with fleshy, fragrant chunks of Chinese- style bacon’.
- At Xian station, she devoured cakes and pancakes, pretzels and ‘lan que ping’, doughy spun sugar cakes filled with black sesame paste.
- Finally, a stop at the state-run restaurant close to the Great Wall of China – where she dined on delicate seafood dishes and mountain vegetables.
The bus may not be the most glamorous mode of transportation – but its ubiquity in fiction makes up for it. In novels like ‘The Little French Bistro’ by Nina George, the journeys undertaken by characters often illuminate new and surprising dimensions of the country they’re travelling through. In this case, Sylvia – the main protagonist – sets off on a bus from Paris to Brittany, ‘a dreamy blur of golden wheat, red poppies, green meadows, and tiny hamlets of gray stone’. Gastronomically, she experiences a number of culinary revelations, including:
- Cheese and hearty vegetable stews served up in hotspots off the beaten track
- ‘Confitures de lait’ – a classic Breton treat consisting of a caramelised custard served with pastry
- Savory pancakes with bacon, egg, and cream
The romanticised image of air travel is often framed through the culinary experience. Anthony Bourdain’s book ‘Appetites’ is a great example of this – framed through his many travels as a professional chef. Though reliable airline food is often hard to come by, his journey serves up some delicious treats:
- Grilled seafood dishes served on the plane from Madrid to Tokyo
- The hotdog cart of Long Beach Airport – known to deliver the ‘Rolls Royce of hot dogs’
- The spicy kick of kimchi noodles served in Seoul
No matter what mode of transport you opt for, each journey provides a unique opportunity for culinary exploration and discovery. Even the airplane experience, once hailed as the domain of stale sandwiches and pre-packaged snacks, can provide a tasty surprise – if you know where to look.
3. A Literary Palate Cleanser: Exploring the Aesthetic and Metaphor of Food in Books
Tisla. What a powerful name for the titular character of Grant Morrison’s literary romp through self-discovery. Each page of this dark exploration of the human psyche and its connection to food speaks to us of a timeless truth: food is central to the human experience.
Throughout history, authors have tapped into the power of food as a metaphor for understanding the human condition. Whether it is Herman Melville’s emphasis on “whale oil and sugared spermaceti” in Moby Dick, or Charlotte Bronte’s use of a typical Victorian breakfast as a symbol of autonomy, food has been used to convey powerful messages on the page.
These allusions to culinary delicacies allow us to explore different perspectives on the aesthetic of food in literature. Authors have drawn upon food to create vivid scenes with powerful imagery, such as J.K. Rowling’s description of “steaming stacks of bread” in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, or Harper Lee’s memorable depiction of fried chicken with “amber-hued patina” in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Food in literature can also be used to craft relatable, multi-dimensional characters. For example, The Great Gatsby is a vivid illustration of food being used to contextualize the lives of the wealthy and how their excessive consumption reflects decadence and excess. F. Scott Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of the parties that take place at the magnificent mansion of Jay Gatsby, where guests indulge in delicious delights such as shrimp, caviar, and champagne.
Food also serves to bring cultures and communities together, be they physical or metaphorical. One of the great examples of this is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, in which the sisters come together over a shared meal. In doing so, they not only share physical sustenance but also mental and emotional nourishment. This is a subtle reminder that despite our differences, food can often be the glue that binds us together.
At its core, the use of food in literature is an exploration of the human condition. Through the creative crafting of language, authors are able to convey powerful messages, create unforgettable scenes, and shape memorable characters. Ultimately, this is why food continues to be an integral part of literature for generations to come.
4. Our Favorite Dish: Highlights of Memorable Food Journeys in Paperback
If you’re looking for an unforgettable food journey without ever leaving the house, a paperback book is just the ticket. We have compiled some of our favorite dish-focused titles for those with an epicurean appreciation. Choose from the list below and start your journey getting to know delightful cuisines and cultures from around the world.
- A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg – Follow Molly’s story in this intimate account of how the author assembles a collection of delicious recipes with narratives she learned from her parents, grandparents, and also from trial and error. The book opens with soup – a tradition for celebrating birthdays and life’s successes.
- Four Kitchens by Love & Lemons – An ode to living well, this book celebrates vegetarian cuisine in all its forms. In it, Jeanine Donofrio presents an array of gluten-free, vegan and paleo recipes inspired by different cities and cities. From breakfast dishes to dinner party mains, this book covers all your kitchen needs.
- Dinner for Everyone by Mark Bittman – Written by the Ministry of Food’s former columnist, this cookbook emphasizes modern and creative family-friendly meals. The recipes are beautiful, healthy, and easy to follow, making them perfect for busy parents and those who need help finding easy meals to make.
- Ottolenghi SIMPLE by Yotam Ottolenghi – Chef Ottolenghi’s approach to simple cooking entails pairing beautiful ingredients with signature Ottolenghi flavors. The recipes are complemented with stunning photography to make even the most delicious dish look picture perfect.
- The Vegetarian Flavour Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg – This book suggests unique ways to combine ingredients to explore an incredible range of flavor. Along with showcasing classic dishes, author Page also introduces unusual vegetable varieties like cardoons and winter squash, and provides helpful descriptions for each.
- The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young – This book blends Young’s love of literature and her passion for cooking. It contains a wonderful collection of classic recipes, presented in a chic way, that is both nostalgic and exciting.
Whether you are experimenting in the kitchen or adding to your bookshelf, any of these books will no doubt provide happy, delicious memories of your own food journey.
As pathfinders for culinology, readers can embark on epic recipes, enjoy delectable narratives, and discover infinite flavors, through the words of the greatest authors. Food adventures on the page are a tasty treat for the mind and soul, as you traverse lands and explore new tastes in imaginative worlds. Bon Appétit!