Can you show me some amazing literary descriptions of the pleasures of tasting food?
January 5, 2008 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Can you show me some amazing literary descriptions of the pleasures of tasting and eating food?

Hi all, happy new year!

I'd like to host a dinner party as a January blues-buster. I'm toying with different forms of invitation. One idea is to pirate any amazing descriptions I can find of *how* it feels to taste and eat good food. I'd like the descriptions to be vivid, feelgood and, perhaps, literary. Does anyone have any suggestions?

NB - I'm not really interested in descriptions of outlandish food, per se. I'm only really interested in descriptions of the sensation of tasting, eating and quaffing (potentially outlandish) food and drink. Bonus marks for descriptions that hit the other senses, too!
posted by laumry to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The first volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time has a great description of eating a madeleine. In part:

"Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. 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. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?"
posted by ecab at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2008

This is about resisting the eating of food, but maybe you can work it in (it's my favorite food-related passage). All about food and fruit as this licentious temptation to impurity and self-indulgence (it's a sexual allegory). Christina Rosetti's Goblin Market (excerpt):
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:19 AM on January 5, 2008

There's an orgasmic eating scene about 150 pages into Tom Jones (? haven't read it since college). Probably one of the most famous eating scenes in literature.
posted by nax at 11:47 AM on January 5, 2008

In Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses, the chapter on taste blends the scientific and sensual, the historical and the anthropological. If you look for the book on Amazon, you can search inside the book for the word "taste" and the chapter starts on page 127. After many years of reading, the book is still engaging to me and the prose still gives me goosebumps.

"Taste is an intimate sense. We cannot taste things at a distance."

A man and a woman sit across from one another in a dimly lit restaurant. A small bouquet of red-and-white spider lilies sweetens the air with a cinnamonlike tingle. Oysters on the half shell, arranged on a large platter of shaved ice, one by one polish the woman's tongue with silken saltiness. A fennel-scented steam rises from the thick crabcakes on the man's plate. Small loaves of fresh bread breathe sweetly. Their hands brush as they reach for the bread. He stares into her eyes. They both know where this delicious prelude will lead. "I'm so hungry," she whispers.

posted by jeanmari at 12:10 PM on January 5, 2008

Ben Jonson's "Inviting a Friend to Supper" comes to mind:

Tonight, grave sir, both my poor house and I
Do equally desire your company;
Not that we think us worthy such a guest,
But that your worth will dignify our feast
With those that come, whose grace may make that seem
Something, which else could hope for no esteem.
It is the fair acceptance, sir, creates
The entertainment perfect; not the cates.
Yet shall you have, to rectify your palate,
An olive, capers, or some better salad
Ushering the mutton; with a short-legged hen,
If we can get her, full of eggs, and then
Lemons and wine for sauce; to these, a coney
Is not to be despaired of, for our money;
And though fowl, now, be scarce, yet there are clerks,
The sky not falling, think we may have larks.
I'll tell you more, and lie, so you will come:
Of partridge, pheasant, woodcock, of which some
May yet be there; and godwit, if we can,
Knat, rail, and ruff too. Howsoe'er, my man
Shall read a piece of Vergil, Tacitus,
Livy, or of some better book to us,
Of which we'll speak our minds, amidst our meat;
And I'll profess no verses to repeat;
To this, if ought appear which I know not of,
That will the pastry, not my paper, show of.
Digestive cheese, and fruit there sure will be;
But that which most doth take my Muse, and me
Is a pure cup of rich Canary wine,
Which is the Mermaid's now, but shall be mine;
Of which had Horace or Anacreon tasted,
Their lives, as do their lines, till now had lasted.
Tabacco, nectar, or the Thespian spring
Are all but Luther's beer to this I sing.
Of this we will sup free, but moderately,
And we will have no Pooly, or Parrot by;
Nor shall our cups make any guilty men,
But at our parting we will be as when
We innocently met. No simple word
That shall be uttered at our mirthful board
Shall make us sad next morning, or affright
The liberty that we'll enjoy tonight.

Granted you'd have to slaughter a small barnyard's worth of animals to serve all that, and it's not mostly about the taste of the food per se, but it's appropriate to the occasion.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 12:44 PM on January 5, 2008

Or this, from Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" (about wine):

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth.
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2008

It's not "literary," but I can't think of a better ode to the pleasures of tasting than Ratatouille.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2008

The Cannoli is amazingly delicious.
posted by bru at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2008

You need a copy of Life is Meals: A food Lovers Guide to Days
The book is written by James and Kay Salter, who describe their passion for food, anecdotes from dinner parties, and other fascinating trivia. Jean Prescott sums it up as "Fond food memories are what make James and Kay Salter’s Life is Meals a volume to savor. It’s all about keeping a record of good food, good times, good friends."

“Life is Meals is partly a memoir of parties [James and Kay Salter] have hosted together over the past 30-some years, partly a cookbook, partly a historical and literary food guide, and wholly an homage to the pleasures of creating and eating a meal.”
–Aspen Home magazine

I highly recommend it.
posted by special-k at 2:36 PM on January 5, 2008

Food for Thought: An Anthology of Writings Inspired by Food.

I also like Peter Mayle's meal descriptions in A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence.
posted by JanetLand at 3:06 PM on January 5, 2008

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester.
posted by drinkcoffee at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2008

ANYTHING by MFK Fischer. she is absolutely one of the best 'food writers' anywhere, but her stuff really spills over the genre and is just about life. she also has fantastic descriptions- not just of eating fancy stuff like escargot, but also simple stuff like tangerines....reading her stuff totally changed the way i think about food.
posted by genmonster at 5:06 PM on January 5, 2008

There's a scene in Little Men by Lousia May Alcott where Daisy is given a stove and small kitchen set up and she cooks a dinner party. I was obsessed with food as a young girl as now and I must have read that scene about a hundred times. Perhaps not as orgasmic as you're looking for though.
posted by peacheater at 6:13 PM on January 5, 2008

I definitely remember Daisy's dinner party. Brian Jacques' Redwall series and C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are more children's lit with amazing, hungry-making descriptions of food. In fact, answering this question made me think of the fish breakfast in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and damn if I'm not going to go make myself some amazing fish for dinner now, and have the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:32 PM on January 5, 2008

There's a collection of stories by Italo Calvino called "Under the Jaguar Sun" (wikipedia article here) which was intended to be a collection of five stories, one for each sense (he died before completing vision and touch). The taste story, which lends its title to the book, is just what you're looking for. A review at the New York Times is here, it includes a quote from the book about chiles en nogada, which are described in the story as ''wrinkled little peppers, swimming in a walnut sauce whose harshness and bitter aftertaste were drowned in a creamy, sweetish surrender."
posted by tractorfeed at 2:24 PM on January 6, 2008

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