Reading

Books about Food

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I read a lot of books about food.  I love them.  Here’s some of the ones I’ve read this year that are set outside of the United States.

Nonfiction

Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and ForgivenessLife from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook—and eat—a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother, to a string of foster homes, to the house from which she launched her own cooking adventure, Martin’s heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal—and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream OrchidVanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid by Tim Ecott

 

From Papantla in Mexico-“the city that perfumed the world”-to the Indian Ocean islands, Vanilla traces the story of the vanilla plant and its secretive trade. From the golden cups of Aztec emperors to the ice-cream dishes of U.S. presidents, Vanilla has mystified and tantalized man for centuries. The only orchid that produces an agriculturally valuable crop, vanilla can mask unpleasant tastes and smells, but also makes pleasant tastes stronger, smoother, and longer lasting. Because it has over four hundred separate flavor components, choosing premium vanilla beans is as complex as judging the aroma and taste of fine wine. Vanilla finds its way into over half of all dessert products sold worldwide, as well as the finest perfumes, well-known brands of rum and vodka, and even Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Yes, ChefYes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations.

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors RemixedAfro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

African, Caribbean, and southern food are all known and loved as vibrant and flavor-packed cuisines. In Afro-Vegan, renowned chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry reworks and remixes the favorite staples, ingredients, and classic dishes of the African Diaspora to present wholly new, creative culinary combinations that will amaze vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.

This is the only cookbook I’ve ever seen that comes with book recommendations for some of the recipes.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the WorldBanana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are what keep millions of people alive. But for all its ubiquity, the banana is surprisingly mysterious; nobody knows how bananas evolved or exactly where they originated. Rich cultural lore surrounds the fruit: In ancient translations of the Bible, the ‘apple’ consumed by Eve is actually a banana (it makes sense, doesn’t it?). Entire Central American nations have been said to rise and fall over the banana.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese FoodThe Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

If you think McDonald’s is the most ubiquitous restaurant experience in America, consider that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys combined. New York Times reporter and Chinese-American (or American-born Chinese). In her search, Jennifer 8 Lee traces the history of Chinese-American experience through the lens of the food.

Fiction

Soy Sauce for BeginnersSoy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gretchen Lin, adrift at the age of thirty, leaves her floundering marriage in San Francisco to move back to her childhood home in Singapore and immediately finds herself face-to-face with the twin headaches she’s avoided her entire adult life: her mother’s drinking problem and the machinations of her father’s artisanal soy sauce business.


Where to Start

I loved Banana!  I still drop random banana facts into conversation and now I only buy organic bananas.  Actually, all these books were really good.  Try them all!

This is a good time to announce that I am taking over the Foodies Read Challenge in 2016.  If you like reading about food, this is a great place to get more recommendations and to link up your reviews.  Stay tuned for more information in November.

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19 Comments

  • Brona

    This is one of my non-fiction obsessions. I’ve read most of the Michael Pollan books in recent years and tend to lean towards the healthy/sustainable living food books.
    But your lists has reminded me that I have a few cook book/memoirs on my shelf that would be great to try out during Non-fiction Nov.
    Banana and Vanilla both sound like my kind of thing – my TBR wishlist is expanding at a rate of knots!

  • momssmallvictories

    Oh yay, glad you’re doing the Foodies Read challenge. I’ve been bad about reading foodie books bit you gave a great list here. I want to read Banana and Vanilla. Thanks for sharing with our Travel the World in Books Readathon and our Small Victories Sunday Linkup. Pinned to our linkup and readathon boards!

  • thebooktrailer

    I need the banana book right now! Just the kind of book I would enjoy. Funnily enough there has just been a programme on tv here about how supermarkets get their bananas to ripen in the store so they are the right shade of yellow. There is a whole new world out there it seems!

    Those other books seem good and I was not aware of many so thanks for bringing them to our attention 🙂

    • Beth F

      BTW: have fun with your challenge hosting! I don’t do reading challenges any more, but the foodie one was (duh) one of my favorites.

    • heather

      I didn’t have strong opinion on vanilla before I read this book. Now I’m making my own extract and spent way too much time trying decide between the varieties of beans available on Amazon.

  • Trish

    So the other day my husband was telling me that the variety of bananas that we find in the grocery are actually not the same that were consumed a few decades ago and that the current variety is going away, too–maybe blight or I don’t know. Know anything about that? But yes–does make sense that the apple really was a banana! LOL!

    Life from Scratch is one I’ve been curious about, too. Great list Heather!

  • looloolooweez

    Great recs. I love this recent (?) trend of books about 1 particular ingredient or type of food. They’re like little culinary biographies.

    I’m glad you’re taking over Foodies Read for next year. I’m still trying to decide whether i want to do it again next year. Actually I’m still finishing up my reviews for this year, haha! Love that new logo you came up with, it’s VERY nice.

    • heather

      I love the books about 1 ingredient too. I have a lot of them on my nonfiction TBR list. Non-book people always look at me funny when I mention reading them though.

      Of course you want to do Foodies Read again! It will be a little different with a new page for reporting every month and probably some random prizes for linking reviews throughout the year.

  • Savvy

    I knew the #TTWIBRA would increase my reading list. I am adding all the nonfiction food selections you featured. Also look forward to learning more about your foodies reading challenge.

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