Fiction with food?
January 31, 2012 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for more fiction that features detailed or frequent mentions of food. For example Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea with its talk of "fresh hot buttered toast, with or without the addition of bloater paste". Bonus points if they're set in the UK, but I'd love any suggestions!
posted by teststrip to Writing & Language (50 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.
posted by milk white peacock at 6:46 AM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

I came here to say The Song of Ice and Fire too (which actually has a culinary site devoted to it, with menus, recipes, and everything), but I'd also suggest Frank Herbert's Dune. Just the first book in the series, really. The rest are good reads (mostly), but don't talk as much about food as that one does.

Granted, some of the foods mentioned in both of those books don't actually exist, and some of the foods they mention are really hard to come by--capons, anyone?--but whatever.
posted by valkyryn at 6:54 AM on January 31, 2012

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
James Joyce, Ulysses
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:56 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series is loaded with detailed descriptions of all of the food and drink the characters encountered at home, at sea, at inns, private clubs, and lavish banquets all around the world at the time of the Napoleonic wars.
posted by gimli at 6:59 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Redwall series of YA fiction are obsessed with food to a comical extent.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:02 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The answers to a similar question from 2009 might be of interest to you.
posted by misteraitch at 7:02 AM on January 31, 2012

Jane Brocket's Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer is a cookbook devoted to the food that appears in classic British children's books -- you might mine it for suggestions.
posted by apparently at 7:05 AM on January 31, 2012

I've been noticing that Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 gets very specific when talking about food. Any time a character eats, we are told their whole menu, often including descriptions of their prep work. It is not constant enough that you'd say the book is obsessed with it, or anything, but it jumps out at me while I am reading it.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:05 AM on January 31, 2012

Hemingway's Nick Adams stories have incredible little descriptions of fresh-caught cornmeal-fried brook trout and cowboy coffee. I find them absolutely mouthwatering in a rugged-individualist sort of way.
posted by Miko at 7:06 AM on January 31, 2012

All of Jim Harrison's novels, aside from being really excellent, have frequent discussions about food and wine.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 7:13 AM on January 31, 2012

The Harry Potter books mention food pretty often (the link goes to an HP cookbook).
posted by purlgurly at 7:18 AM on January 31, 2012

Nigel Slater's Toast fits most of your criteria very well (food, Britain, detailed description). However, as a memoir of childhood rather than fiction, it may not be what you're looking for. There are also a couple of matter-of-fact (although not graphic) accounts of sexual abuse experienced by the author, which might not be what you want if you're looking for a soothing read.

On the subject of childhood memoirs, memory suggests that Cider with Rosie has lots of food talk in it, but I haven't got a copy near me to check.
posted by howfar at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2012

Try Rosy Thornton's Tapestry of Love. English author and the protagonist is English, though she lives in France for the majority of the story. (Don't be fooled by the title, there is a romance in the book but it is not a "romance novel".)
posted by gudrun at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2012

I could be totally wrong, but I thought that The Sun Also Rises was pretty food-centric. Or at least it made me hungry a lot.
posted by wrok at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2012

Food is often a big part of mysteries. In addition to Rex Stout, I'd single out Donna Leon. There's a cookbook out related to her series. (Might sound kind of hokey but it's a really good series.)
posted by BibiRose at 7:22 AM on January 31, 2012

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis talks about expensive food (and clothes) to the point of obsession.
posted by Drexen at 7:26 AM on January 31, 2012

I agree that there's a lot of great consumption writing in Hemingway. The scene where Henry and his command share cold macaroni with lumps of cheese and sour wine in A Farewell to Arms is astonishingly evocative and memorable. There is other food in there too.
posted by howfar at 7:30 AM on January 31, 2012

Okay, so, it's not fiction, but if what you're looking for is gorgeous, evocative descriptions of amazing food then you will do no better than MFK Fisher. And for MFK Fisher you can do no better than The Gastronomical Me (which can be purchased separately or within the Art of Eating anthology). Again, not fiction, but it's a wonderful memoir and, frankly, probably heavily fictionalized.

"People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, about love, the way others do?. . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it. . . There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk."

-MFK Fisher, The Gastronomical Me
posted by AmandaA at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2012

Best answer: And of course there is Proust's madeleine:

"No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea."

Copied from wikipedia.
posted by mareli at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2012

Like Water for Chocolate is a novel all about food.
posted by hought20 at 7:38 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years has the protagonist working as a chef at a sort of avante-garde greasy-spoon, and has a lot of very British talk about food.
posted by Drexen at 7:41 AM on January 31, 2012

Richard Condon's Prizzi's Honor and sequels tend to be heavy on the Sicilian food porn.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:46 AM on January 31, 2012

Best answer: Not British, but Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy is filled with fantastic descriptions of food:

Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate the mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust. He demolished a tall heap of pale mashed turnips, and hill of stewed yellow pumpkin. Then he sighed, and tucked his napkin deeper into the neckband of his red waist. And he ate plum preserves and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon-rind pickles. He felt very comfortable inside. Slowly he ate a large piece of pumpkin pie.

While looking for a quote to use I came across the Literary Food Porn blog. It hasn't been updated in ages, but might be of interest.
posted by apricot at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Anne of Green Gables books spend an enormous amount on food (the women are often engaged in domestic tasks). There are cookbooks. And websites. And I asked a question about food in the books before.

In Anne of the Island, the girls mention another book with good eating:
"What are you reading?"


"That's a book that always makes me hungry," said Phil. "There's so much good eating in it. The characters seem always to be reveling on ham and eggs and milk punch. I generally go on a cupboard rummage after reading Pickwick. The mere thought reminds me that I'm starving. Is there any tidbit in the pantry, Queen Anne?"

"I made a lemon pie this morning. You may have a piece of it."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:55 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Pretty much any "identity" fiction that you encounter will talk about food (Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, House on Mango St. by Sandra Cisneros, etc.). If absence of food interests you, then Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and Vidas Secas by the Brazilian writer, Graciliano Ramos (made into a great film by Nelson Pereira dos Santos) are good books. For British film, Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover and Belly of an Architect are both good. For a bit of a spin, you could look at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Henry Miller likes to talk about food (as well as many other kinds of things that go in and come out of bodies). A lot of Caribbean fiction talks about food. There's a really great Japanese epic parody that I saw someone give a presentation on the other year. I think it's called something like, The War Between the Fish and the Vegetables. Unfortunately, the guy presenting it was also its first English translator, so that's still a work-in-progress. I think Chaucer has some good food scenes, and I know Pasolini's adaptation of Chaucer does (speaking of Pasolini, the short film, La Ricotta, is all about someone trying to eat food). Oh, and who could forget Alice in Wonderland. The book and the film. Indeed, the Walrus and the Carpenter scene from the Disney film may be my all-time favorite food scene in a movie.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2012

Oh, who could forget Rabelais!
posted by outlandishmarxist at 7:58 AM on January 31, 2012

Not to mention, my favorite food scene in a play: the muffin scene in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
posted by outlandishmarxist at 8:00 AM on January 31, 2012

Nora Ephron's Heartburn is about food and love, and has recipes.
Laurie Colwin's novels always have a lot of food description. She went on to write essays for (sadly defunct) Gourmet magazine, which have been collected as Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.
I recall Mary Wesley's Harnessing Peacocks having a lot of food in it.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 AM on January 31, 2012

Sunshine by Robin Mckinley. It's about a baker who gets tangled up with vampires. Lots of yummy descriptions of food throughout the book.
posted by jacindahb at 8:10 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I went to a great seminar on literature and food where one of the texts mentioned as emphasising food was Jane Eyre -
I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made a hasty retreat.
posted by paduasoy at 8:13 AM on January 31, 2012

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola is amaaaazing for intricately described food, although set in Paris rather than the UK.

I've read the Mark Kurlansky translation; but there are others kicking around.
posted by ambilevous at 8:16 AM on January 31, 2012

"Under the Tuscan Sun" has tons and tons of food, including recipes.

I think Jane Austen's "Emma" could qualify. Lots of talk about her father's frugal diet, eating on social occasions, the strawberry-picking expedition ...
posted by Occula at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2012

Roald Dahl anything - mostly candy, but meal descriptions too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:08 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I, too, came to recommend A Song of Ice and Fire, but while reading through the list, I remembered the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle. It's coffee-centric with quite a few desserts, but there are recipes in the back of the books.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 9:13 AM on January 31, 2012

Not exactly what your looking for perhaps, but the first part of Dracula, where Jonathon Harker is travelling through Romania/Transylvania, has a lot of local food comments. If you read The Annotated Dracula, co-author Leonard Wolf includes recipes for the dishes described in the text.
posted by elendil71 at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2012

Anna Karenina has a lot of food in it, IIRC. Balzac was well known for going on about food too. Like Water for Chocolate of course comes to mind. Babette's Feast? Definitely seconding the Song of Ice and Fire series (personal confession: out of morbid curiosity I began dogearing every page with a length instance of food description as I worked my way through the books...and it's literally every other page for the bulk of all of them. My books look ridiculous now and I'm too embarrassed to share them because of it, ha).

It's not luscious and if anything it's mundane and annoying, bur Murakami famously has people prepare simple dishes and make tea constantly in his novels.
posted by ifjuly at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2012

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester -- a darkly comic novel about a criminally insane British restaurant critic. Most of the action occurs in France but many of the characters, including the protagonist, are British. Lots of descriptions of food.
posted by mattn at 9:44 AM on January 31, 2012

Oh, and Brian Jacques' Redwall series.
posted by ifjuly at 9:45 AM on January 31, 2012

The Ill Made Mute is a fantasy by Cecilia Dart-Thorton has long paragraphs of food involved.
posted by Vaike at 10:27 AM on January 31, 2012

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joannne Harris
posted by orangemacky at 12:25 PM on January 31, 2012

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. I read the English translation and I've never craved Asian food as much as I did while reading that book.
posted by book 'em dano at 12:57 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a bit surprised that I am the first to mention Brideshead Revisited, as Waugh used to say often in interviews that there was a lot of food in the novel because he wrote it durin rationing.

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis has a lot of food talk; the protagonist is a restaurateur.

Angela Thirkell's comic novels also have food as a big theme, as do Monica Dickens's.

But the most amazing is James Hamilton-Paterson's comic trilogy, Cooking with Fernet Branca, Amazing Disgrace, and Rancid Pansies. The protagonist is a ghostwriter and opera buff who is obsessed with creating innovative (and nauseating) recipes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on January 31, 2012

Thirding Redwall. The way he lingers over the dinner sequences is sort of hilarious.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:05 PM on January 31, 2012

Somehow, I once wrote a whole paper about the food in Howard's End by Forster.

Also, I'm noticing the food descriptions in The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. The culture's Asian-influenced, so I want to get a passport over to this place right now!
posted by dragonplayer at 4:03 PM on January 31, 2012

Odd that you should single out Iris Murdoch for her detailed descriptions of food, as Murdoch and her husband John Bayley were famous for their incompetence in the kitchen. Peter Conradi's biography describes one dinner party where a 'surprise pudding' turned out to be a packet of Mr Kipling cakes. On another occasion Bayley served his guests a salad of ground elder leaves (Aegopodium podagraria, highly laxative), having mistaken it for basil.

Barbara Pym's novels have some hilarious descriptions of mealtimes in the culinary desert of 1950s Britain, as in this scene from Less Than Angels (1955):
In the dining-room Rhoda and Malcolm were already sitting at the table contemplating their salads.

'I had salad for lunch,' said Deirdre.

'Oh, did you, dear? I hope you don't mind having it again.'

'Well, it's not madly exciting, is it?'

'You could have an egg,' her aunt suggested.

'I don't feel like an egg,' said Deirdre unhelpfully. 'I'd like something different.'

There was an expectant silence round the table.

'Some rice, all oily and saffron yellow, with aubergines and red peppers and lots of garlic,' went on Deirdre extravagantly.

'Oh, well, dear, it's no good wishing for that sort of thing here', said her mother with an air of relief.
posted by verstegan at 4:23 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Currently reading Umberto Eco's "The Prague Cemetery" and am pleasantly surprised to see it loaded with gastronomical depictions of meals and recipes from late 19th century Europe.
posted by webhund at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2012

Less Than Angels is a fabulous choice, as another main character's greatest hobbies are cooking and reading lists from wine importers.

There is a huge genre of cooking mysteries, generally with recipes. I like Diane Mott Davidson's and Joanne Fluke's work best in this group. The OG cooking mystery is Rex Stout's Too Many Cooks, in my opinion. Of course, all the Nero Wolfe books have great meals in them!

There's a thread on this at Chowhound that might have some more resources.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:47 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been noticing that Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 gets very specific when talking about food. Any time a character eats, we are told their whole menu, often including descriptions of their prep work. It is not constant enough that you'd say the book is obsessed with it, or anything, but it jumps out at me while I am reading it.
this is not unique to 1Q84—all of Murakami's novels dwell on food like this.
posted by spindle at 7:32 PM on January 31, 2012

The Hundred-Foot Journey - ""That skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along once a generation. He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist."

And so begins the rise of Hassan Haji, the unlikely gourmand who recounts his life’s journey in Richard Morais’s charming novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey. Lively and brimming with the colors, flavors, and scents of the kitchen, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a succulent treat about family, nationality, and the mysteries of good taste.

Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. But when tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumière, a small village in the French Alps."

There is a small section set in the UK.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:44 AM on February 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all! There's so many good suggestions here, I'll be reading & eating for an age.
posted by teststrip at 3:13 AM on February 2, 2012

« Older I need to write to make money, and I need money to...   |   what to do in Seattle and Portland? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.