A good novel is kind of like a meal for the mind and soul. Okay, that might sound a little silly, but you know that when you’ve read a good book, you have this filled feeling that just doesn’t go away in a hurry.
It’s your head processing (or perhaps, digesting) a good story, and savoring the best moments in your head. So, what if the latest food for thought book that you read also contains plenty of details about actual food too?
Let’s be honest for a second here: Food in books is kind of the best, isn’t it? And not just for food lovers, either. The emphasis on the cooking process and all the meticulous details.
The amazing descriptions of smell, texture, and taste. How it makes a character feel in a book. It employs pretty much every skill a writer needs to bring a reader into a situation, and, like a delicious meal, savor the moment.
A book with incredible food descriptions is arguably one of the greatest pleasures in any novel, whether it’s high fantasy, or just an everyday, slice-of-life romance.
So, I’m more than happy to share with you my favorite titles where food plays a big part in proceedings. And hopefully, once you’ve read a couple of them, these will be your favorites too!
Like a good meal, we’re starting this list with a perfect appetizer book for you to sink your teeth into. (Obviously, don’t eat your book. You won’t be getting any amazing food descriptions that way!)
Sadie is a professional cook that is slowly making her way up in the Seattle restaurant scene, with her distinct and creative ways of adding new spins to her favorite Jewish dishes.
However, an accident and a public falling out with her boss at her latest job mean that she may have to kiss her dream job and career behind her. Until that is, she lands a role on her favorite cooking show, Chef Supreme.
A chance at a gig like this and a proverbial middle finger to her awful last boss mean that Sadie feels like she’s got her eye and focus on the contest.
But when she starts finding love in New York on the plane ride over, she may find her will to win challenges. Especially when she finds out who the love of her affection is when she turns up in the studio for the first day.
If you’re a person who loves their protagonists easy to root for, as well as the easy-to-grasp contest style of Top Chef that lets you pick and back your favorite characters/contestants, then this is a super-easy book for you to read.
- A main character that you can’t help but get behind!
- Incredible descriptions of amazing food, befitting a story based on a cooking competition!
- A relatively light read that doesn’t shy away from some tougher issues, such as misogyny in the restaurant business.
- Some great LGBTQIA+ representation too.
- Who doesn’t love New York as a setting?
- Some people may find the book too predictable. But for a light romance culinary romp, that’s hardly an issue!
As you’ve hopefully started to see with the last entry, food is not just a concoction of delicious treats to savor the flavor of or a way to show your love for that special someone or someone’s in your life.
I mean, it is all of those things. It’s probably why food is a universally appealing subject matter! But food can also be just as much a cultural cornerstone for a person or family as it can be a very personal, individual affair.
It’s an aspect of food and cooking that Richard C. Morais understands more than well enough, and it is on full display in their book The Hundred-Foot Journey! Let’s walk through the premise, and see what this book has going for it.
The short answer is plenty! Hassan Haji and the Hjai family are forced to flee from the modest restaurant they had set up in India after a family tragedy means that being there is no longer safe for them.
Setting up an inexpensive Indian restaurant in the French Alps, they find that their boisterous personality and amazing classic Indian dishes go down a treat with the local townspeople.
This is much to the frustration of the esteemed French chef Madame Mallory, head chef of the esteemed French restaurant she runs, who isn’t super-stoked about the competition.
However, what started as a bitter-tasting rivalry between Hassan and Mallory eventually turns into a very productive apprenticeship, as not only does Hassan learn all there is to know about french cuisine, but Mallory learns a thing or two about Indian cuisine and flavors at the same time.
Naturally, with a setup like that between these two main characters, love is sure to blossom between them two! It’s little wonder that this became a movie when it was first released!
If you love both the colliding of culinary worlds, as well as the locales of bustling Mumbai and a quaint little French village, this is a book that you need to order as soon as possible!
- A class of cultures, both with people and cuisine.
- That mishmash of cultures gives you some incredible food descriptions from classic French and Indian cuisine, as well as some fascinating fusions too!
- The characters are written with a vibrancy that memes them easy to understand and root for.
- Some leaps in logic have to be done to fully immerse yourself in this work of fiction.
If you love your cooking stories with just a little heartbreak in them… Well, firstly, who hurt you, exactly?
(Obviously, that’s a joke. A little somberness or melancholy, even pain, just makes the good moments taste that much better!) But secondly, we have the perfect story for you to enthrall yourself in!
Lars Thorvald is forced to raise his baby daughter Eva as a single dad, after his partner, Cynthia, prioritizes her career over being a mother and runs off with a sommelier in New Zealand.
With help from his brother and his partner, along with the rest of the extended family, Eva does grow into a young prodigy, cooking up everything from hydroponic chocolate habaneros to Scandinavian Lutefisk.
And, before long, she’s becoming a world-famous celebrity chef of her own. However, that also means that there is less time for the people in her life to live and be with her.
The book is a fascinating story about how those old memories, food included, can become the thing that connects us to others. You know, just simple subjects.
Joking aside, there’s an undeniable melancholy and longing in this book, but one that is also colored with the knowledge that happiness is just as much a key feature in this work too.
The story manages to maintain a consistently slow burn throughout the book. From setting up the many characters to watching as young Eva overcomes the difficulty in her early life. It’s hard not to get behind her, honestly!
- A fascinating read about how food becomes central to some of our core memories as a child, as well as how it connects.
- The circumstances of the book lead to a massive cast of characters, many with their own interesting quirks and stories for you to fall in love with or get riled up against.
- These characters all give their own unique perspective.
- While the way that the narrative presents Eva is definitely appealing, the lack of perspective from Eva herself (outside of one chapter), might be a little frustrating for some readers.
Most of the books that we have covered take place in contemporary settings, usually in the late 20th or 21st century.
This book spices things up, both metaphorically and literally, by setting itself at the beginning of the 20th century instead. That’s right folks!
You’re getting a dash of historical fiction along with your main course of… well, main courses!
The owner of the De La Garza, Mama Elena, is kind of a tyrant of the house, being incredibly controlling of her many daughters, and also making sure that traditions are followed no matter what.
It’s one of the reasons that she is chopping onions when she unexpectedly goes into labor and gives birth to her youngest daughter, who she names Tita.
So, in case you’re wondering what exactly the vibe of this book is, there’s your answer! Tita has an incredible hand for cooking as she grows up, and has fallen madly in love with a man named Pedro.
However, Mam Elena instructs Tita that she is not allowed to marry until she dies (per family customs), and instead marries her middle daughter, Rosaura, to Pedro, who only accepts so that he is allowed to be close to Tita still.
What follows is a story about tragedy, bad strokes of luck, and the tension between family members and tradition, as this simmering romance boils over to affect not just Tita and Pedro, but the entire community as well.
- A fascinating look at turn-of-the-20th-century cooking and life in Mexico!
- An amazing tale of the sacrifices and hardships faced in the name of young love.
- Esquivel has a way with words that leaves you stuck on every page!
- Combines this historical setting and cooking with a hint of magical fantasy too.
- This one might be a little dense if you’re new to the romance genre.
Ireland might not be the first palace that many people think of when they hear the phrase ‘culinary wonderland’. Mind you, we’re not sure how many people use the term ‘culinary wonderland’ in the first place…
The point is, Dublin isn’t a city that is usually associated with stunning cuisine, at least not in the same way that France and Italy are.
However, as prolific Irish author Maeve Binchy shows us, that’s a misapprehension that will only mean that we lose out on remarkable food, like the ones that we see in Quentins.
The story follows the story of the titular fictional restaurant in the heart of Dublin, as aspiring documentary maker Ella Brady wants to create a documentary about this cornerstone of Dublin life and culture.
However, as the story unfolds, Ella will soon find out that some secrets should be kept buried in the past. Are you intrigued? Of course, you are!
The way that Binchy writes characters, particularly in this time and setting, feels very visceral like you could run into them on a street corner in Dublin. (Well, if you had a time machine back in the 1970s, at least…)
So, if you’re looking for a book that combines amazing food descriptions and recipes that are set in Ireland with a little mystery (a niche combination, but a great one all the same), then you’re going to love this book!
- Full of amazing Irish takes on classic cuisines around the world.
- The story also documents an important time in the Republic of Ireland’s capital city’s history.
- Binchy’s characters jump off the page and into your imagination.
- Functions as a phenomenal mystery story too!
- Some plot points and beats might feel a little predictable to some.
We’ve already touched on one or two books that like to include a little magic and mystery in their delectable dish descriptions. (Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you to go back and check which ones!)
This next entry in the list combines both of these elements, with a setup and character archetypes that many fans of folktales and fantasy might be familiar with. Especially those with a Middle Eastern origin to them!
Esteemed chef Owen Wedgwood has been taken captive by the feared pirate mad Hannah Mabbot and her crew of cutthroat pirates.
The deal is simple: either he makes his amazing dishes of delectable delights for her and her crew, or he will be put to death the next morning. And with next to no ingredients to boot. So, no pressure on you, Owen.
As some of you keen-eyed readers may have already spotted, that this setup almost sounds a little like Scheherazade and the 1,001 Arabian nights.
Only here, it’s a gender-bent take with a culinary eye for detail that keeps our main character alive!
Plus, with a band of other characters for both Owen and you to get to know and bond with, you’ll be unable to put this book down, in the same way that Mabbot can’t put down a fork when it’s Wedgwood’s cooking!
- A novel and interesting take on a classic fairy tale setup.
- Tons of amazing food and characters to fall in love with.
- The spin on this tale adds an appealing tension between the captive chef Wedgwood and Mabbot’s crew, as well as for where this story ends up.
- While engaging most of the time, it can sometimes feel like the plot is dragging its feet to get to the next, more interesting beat.
New York is practically synonymous with good food when it comes to… Well, pretty much anywhere in the world. Heck, it’s where the first book in this list was set!
That incredible fusion of flavors around the world with US-cooking sensibilities makes a truly incredible melting pot of flavors to appreciate, you know?
Well, it’s also the reason my next entry takes us back to the Big Apple, with Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl. It’s a book that puts the cooks and restaurants of this amazing city in the foreground and tells their stories.
Billie Breslin is a writer for the popular food magazine Delicious, moving from her native California to work here in New York City.
But when the magazine shuts shop, Billie is offered a new job: To keep open the Delicious Guarantee, a hotline for people to ring into the now-defunct magazine with complaints and questions about the many recipes.
It keeps the lights on for Billie, but it’s also so much more lonely than the work family that she had built around her.
It’s going through the old archives of this library of recipes and culinary queries that Billie fiend the letters of a young girl that wrote to James Beard, the legendary chef from World War Two.
These letters not only help Billie process her issues and grief but also the crippling anxiety that she experiences every time she needs to cook.
It is impressive how this story not only makes us feel deeply sympathetic for Billie (something that some authors can struggle with), but also shows us a window into the history of cooking itself a little, and even the history of New York itself.
All without feeling like some dusty old textbook about ‘The history of restaurant cooking in America’, or anything obtuse like that. It’s an easy recommendation, as far as I’m concerned!
- A window into New York’s history, both general and cooking-wise.
- A very sympathetic, if not relatable, main character.
- The book manages to weave the past and the present together masterfully.
- Some might feel that the events that set up the rest of the story are a little contrived.
Now if you loved that last magic-infused food novel that I had on this list, just wait until you see it in Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet!
While the idea of magic and food coming together is a fun idea that has been around for a while, it kind of takes a back seat in Like Water for Chocolate.
Here, however, the wonder of combining magic and baking is a central appeal of this novel!
Maire, our protagonist in the book, has always had the amazing ability to imbue her creations with magical properties and emotions.
She doesn’t quite know how or why she can do this, or even where she originally came from.
However, the invasion of her village and her selling to the strange Allemas, who wants to use her abilities for sinister and evil purposes, will force her to not only learn how her powers work, but also where she comes to form, and what she will do once she finds out.
Now, I can’t promise that the food in this book is going to be infused with some magical power if you try to recreate it in your kitchen.
However, I can say with some confidence that this book is both whimsical and moving in a way that many other fantasy books might struggle to be. This isn’t a tale of a noble knight slaying a dragon.
The homely vibes of a kitchen are about as far away from that as you can imagine. Instead, it’s the story of a simple woman who is trying to do right where she can.
And honestly, that’s a much more real story and example to follow than many real-world stories can be. Plus, who knows?
Maybe the versions of Maire’s dishes that you make for yourself will taste like magic when trying them out!
- A phenomenal combination of classic baking and cooking recipes, with a healthy helping of magi to boot!
- There’s even a mystery to solve at the root of our main character!
- Despite the high-fantasy concepts, the emotional core of the novel is very grounded and introspective.
- There are some scenes of pretty graphic violence. This is a book intended for an older audience, not for younger children.
You know what else Like Water for Chocolate gave us? Besides a very fun way of incorporating magic into its story, of course. It was also a great look at the familial aspect of cooking that many of us get our love for food.
It’s an idea that is built on amazingly by Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club, a book that takes 2 perspectives, one of an older generation of mothers, and one of their daughters.
The story starts in 1949, when four Chinese women, having just moved to San Francisco, find friendship and hope with each other, meet up to talk to each other, play mahjong together, and eat dim sum together.
(So much good dim sum…) Through this company and shared experience, the four women decide to found the ‘Joy Luck Club’ and continue meeting decades into the future.
It’s 40 years on when we come back to this club, and the daughters have started joining it as full adults.
Given how widely popular Chinese food is, as well as how food plays such an important role in daily and communal Chinese life, this book feels like a match made in heaven.
However, it is also a meditation on the connections between kindred spirits, and the relationships between mothers and daughters as they both enter different stages of their lives.
The generational gap is no joke when it comes to understanding the different perspectives of how generations of immigrant parents and children change, and Tan captures that perfectly here.
- A phenomenal story of four women finding comfort and joy in each other, and how their daughters relate to them.
- Plenty of good food descriptions can be found here too!
- A touching introspection on how mothers and daughters impact one another, in all the best and worst ways.
- While food is undeniably a part of the appeal here, there isn’t as much focus on it as others on this list. Obviously, not a deal-breaker for many people, but if you came here for food first and foremost, you may find it lacking.
As we mentioned, the last novel is phenomenal, but the food is more of a feature of its excellent story, rather than the main draw. That’s an aspect that’s easy to fix once you’ve read it, however.
Just pick up Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan once you’ve finished the last book, and you’ll find that itch more than scratched here!
The story focuses on 32-year-old Polly Waterford, who has just broken up with her boyfriend amidst one of the worst financial crises in living memory and has since moved to the Cornish west coast to start somewhere fresh.
While recovering from this breakup, Polly starts to find that she has quite the hand for baking.
It’s a pastime and hobby that she soon finds becomes more than just a way to deal with the breakup, but a business all of its own.
Pretty soon, she’s even opened her bakery in the little Cornish town that she now calls home. This also includes getting locally sourced ingredients from her new neighbors.
Including honey from the local beekeeper, who also happens to be quite a looker to boot… Is that a new romance I smell brewing? It certainly looks like it, that’s for sure!
If you’re someone who loves the idea of a romance novel unfolding in the quaint English countryside, then this is the book for you.
If you love romances unfolding in the English countryside with tons of beaches as well, this book is even more for you then!
- This is a light-hearted comedy baking romance by the English seaside.
- The bakery skills that you’ll find in this story sound delicious, and makes you want to pick up baking for yourself!
- This book will make you fall in love with the sandy coastal Cornish countryside.
- Some people find this book too clichéd.
As the title of this book suggests, I’d say that this book was a reading essential for food lovers out there. Especially if they’re looking for characters with heartfelt connections and romance to boot!
Eight students gather in Chef Lillian’s restaurant every night to learn from the chef in question about the art of cooking, many of them coming with their baggage to the table, so to speak.
From single mothers and newcomers to America to widowers and plenty more. Many of them come to these lessons not just to learn how to cook better, but to also help deal with the hand that life has given them.
Slowly, they all begin to fall in love with the art of cooking itself. However, for many, there is an ingredient in their lives that no amount of cooking could fill on its own.
What might that missing ingredient be, you might ask? Well, you’ll just have to read the book yourself and figure it out!
(I mean, I did say at the top of this entry that romance was on the table, so use that information however you like…)
This is a tale of finding human compassion and love for each other through cooking, and it’s a beautiful message that I can get behind! And it is safe to say that it’s one that you’ll find comfort in reading about too!
- A ton of amazing kinds of food are talked about in delicious detail here.
- This is a moving tale of finding connections with one another through the art of cooking.
- The first in a phenomenal two-part series.
- Because it is the first in a duology, you may find that some aspects of the story go unanswered in this book.
It’s back into the realm of fantasy we go with our next entry!
Akata Witch, often touted as ‘the Nigerian Harry Potter’ (so it’s got some big shoes to fill!), the story of this book unfolds around a young 12-year-old girl named Sunny.
She is Nigerian, but she is also albino. She loves sports, but her skin means that it’s dangerous for her to practice outside.
In short, it’s kind of the worst feeling for sunny, feeling like she doesn’t belong, even where she wants to do things. Feeling different from others. Hm. Where have I heard that before?
However, she finds that her life changes when she realizes that she is what is known as a ‘free agent’ of magic, and begins to learn alongside fellow free agents about controlling her reality-warping powers, and finding a place in the world where she can feel like herself.
Again, there’s that familiar feeling… Jokes aside, this incredible coming-of-age book by Nnedi Okorafor has a distinct flavor of magic all of its own, as well as a non-western setting and cast as its main characters.
That extends from slang to aphorisms, to even, yes, the foods that the characters will eat from time to time throughout the story (there’s the food-related part we were looking for!)
In short, if you’re looking for a YA novel that enjoys both its unique setting and magic, this is the one for you!
- A phenomenal story about finding yourself, and connecting with the people who care about you.
- When you have acclaimed authors like John Green and Ursula K. Le Guin as fans of your book, you know you’ve done something right!
- There are some truly mouth-watering descriptions of traditional Nigerian and other West African foods.
- You’ll notice that we haven’t talked all that much about food with this entry, and that’s with good reason. It features, definitely, but is by no means the main reason or core theme of the book.
If you love a good story as bittersweet as blueberry jelly, then you’ll want to take a look at this next book I’ve got here by Mary Simses. (Actually, scratch that analogy. Blueberries aren’t all that bitter…)
Ellen Branford has an incredibly successful career as an Attorney working in New York, and even a dashing husband to boot.
However, upon the news of her grandmother passing away, Ellen returns to her sleepy seaside hometown in Main to deliver her grandmother’s last letter to her childhood sweetheart.
However, Ellen is unexpectedly saved from drawing by a carpenter, and suddenly she finds a mystery about her grandmother’s past unraveling right in front of her.
Simses’ way with words means that pretty much everything in this book is described in gorgeous detail, from the idyllic seaside town in Maine where Ellen comes from, to, of course, the cozy small-town foods that we see Ellen eat.
- A gripping mystery tale, wrapped up in a little cozy cottage-core and tasty treat romance to boot!
- Simses’ description leaves everything looking beautiful.
- It’s an enjoyable, but arguably predictable, plot line that unfolds. Ellen isn’t always the most likable or sympathetic character, either.
I mean, the title speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Who hasn’t felt at some point like they want an instruction manual on how to make a great life, even if only for a second?
Though that seems to be a recipe that even acclaimed professional chef Ramona Gallagher has at the beginning of this story.
After having a child so young, and a family feud that seemed to go on forever, Ramona managed to use her masterful skills in baking to make a little bakery business for herself. Everything is great.
… Okay, that’s kind of a lie. It’s not so great. It feels like her bakery is about to crumble around her, both figuratively and literally.
So, the last thing that she needs is her daughter running off to see her injured son-in-law, and for her to leave her step-daughter Katie at the door of Ramona’s house, right? Well, that’s where you’d be wrong, fellow readers!
While there is a rocky start to this relationship (Ramona is a little out of practice at being a mother), she can share her love and affection for baking with the young rebellious 12-year-old, and the child finds herself opening up a little more to this maternal figure.
At a time when she is already feeling dejected and discarded by her parents, that means more than the world to her (a fact that Ramona knows all too well).
And when an old flame from Ramona’s younger years comes back into her life, things can only get more complicated from here!
You know the drill at this point. Food and love go hand-in-hand with each other, and make for perfect symbols of affection between characters, many of which feel alive and pop right off the pages!
- Who doesn’t love a good story set in a bakery?
- O’Neal’s love for baking and attention to detail easily bleeds through the pages, with a palpable, mouth watering array of confectionaries shown throughout the book.
- A feel-good story of finding a connection with estranged loved ones.
- That attention to detail also carries over to the sex scenes this book has. You have been warned.
What To Look For In A Food Novel?
I’ve talked about all of these amazing authors and writers in this guide, at length. But I haven’t explained to you how you can look for a good food novel for yourself, have I? Well, that won’t do!
How else are you going to be able to walk into the next Barnes & Noble near you, and pick out a food fiction book for yourself?
While the general list of things that people will look for in genre fiction or fiction of a specific theme can be different from person to person, this is a list of the things that I look for when considering buying a book that is about food in some way.
Listen, I’ve got to get this point out of the way first, as this is arguably the defining feature of these kinds of books, and why people like them in the first place.
After all, if your book’s descriptions of food are no good, can it even really be considered a food book?
As I mentioned all the way back at the beginning of this guide, look for books that have descriptions of food that appeal to you in some way or another.
Many people like the tidied appearance of a good recipe and how it looks when fully baked. Some people love the texture or smell of the food as it is being prepared.
And, of course, there are many ways to describe a good meal too! They don’t always have to be long and cover half a page. Sometimes short and breezy descriptions work well too.
So long as they convey the idea that “Hey, this food right here? It’s delicious, and if you want to eat it”, then that’s all you need.
Failing all else, and if you want to avoid spoiling a book for yourself, or don’t want to have to waste tons of time checking, looking up reviews online and seeing what people are saying about the descriptions will be more than enough.
Thankfully, this is an issue that none of the books in this list have, so you can read to your heart’s content, without needing to worry about that here!
Type Of Cooking
Great descriptions are all well and good, but that only gets you to the good books in this pretty wide-spanning genre. How exactly do you pick a book that has a style of cooking that you’ll appreciate the most?
This one can be a little trickier, as quite a lot of books show an appreciation for many different kinds of cuisines. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
A broad appreciation for food is always welcome here! Still, it isn’t impossible to find particular books that will focus on just one or two types of cooking styles.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a great example of this, taking a closer look and appreciation at Indian and French cooking methods.
This point is similar to my last one, but more for the tone of the story as a whole.
This will often be the best indicator of whether or not your food forays come with some light romance or humor or a mystery plot that unfolds around the food itself.
(Or the people that make the food, at least. How mysterious can Black Forest gâteau be on its own, after all?)
As an example from the books on this list, Quentins is an amazing example of how to use food and setting, a fictional restaurant in central Dublin, to help establish the locale of the book, as well as a way to introduce crucial characters as the plot unfolds.
Meanwhile, in a book such as Like Chocolate for Water, the nature of the titular character Tita lends itself to a somewhat more fairytale-like fantasy element that becomes more relevant as you read further.
Okay, so you’ve picked your book. It’s got great food descriptions, your favorite style of cooking, and even a good subgenre to it. Everything’s on track for this to be an amazing book for you to start reading.
Food, while an amazing topic in itself, is important to writers, and people in general, because of what other things we think of when we think of food.
The people that we think of when thinking about a desert from our childhood. A particular drink that we may be drank a little too much of in a dark spot. All of these conjure up a sea of emotions that can spark inspiration in anyone.
In short, when looking for the kind of books in this genre that is perfect for you, don’t just think about the food itself. Think about what kind of emotions are being conveyed alongside it.
Is it a comfortable nostalgia from a childhood that has long been over? Is it an exciting new flavor, and a testament to the character cook’s skills and how far they’ve come?
This can turn a good book into a new favorite. So keep that in mind when reading your next food fiction novel.
Each one of these books is filled with enough food to fill your literary appetite for months to come! So, which one will you read first?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is Food Important In Novels?
Hopefully, our previous section helped answer this particular question. The importance that people, families, and groups of people as a whole, put on food, means that it can serve as an excellent metaphorical device.
Maybe food given by a person is a symbol of acceptance or a way of remembering a lost loved one that loved to cook. It can mean pretty much anything!
Is Food Fiction Considered Its Own Genre?
Food fiction as we’ve described in this list is less of a strict genre like romance or horror, and more of a broad collection of food-centric stories, with perhaps a few characters that focus on cooking and food in some way.