In case anyone is looking for holiday gift ideas, for oneself or others, I have assembled a brief rundown of my very favorite food literature. (When writing it up I realized that about five of my all-time favorite works of food writing were in the Time-Life Food of the World series; I’ll do a separate post on those later.) Every one can be read strictly for pleasure, even if it’s technically a cookbook.

Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles, by Jonathan Gold, the only food writer to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. If you like reading this blog, you’ll love this book – he’s like a more talented, or at least more polished and experienced, version of me. This guide to hole-in-the-wall, eccentric, wonderful, old-fashioned, cutting-edge, and quirky Los Angeles restaurants can be read with great pleasure as a travelogue even if you’ve never been to LA and never plan to go.

A Taste of India, by Madhur Jaffrey. Atmospheric, beautifully written and photographed guide to Indian regional cuisine, nostalgic, personal, and lovely.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.), by Anthony Bourdain. Gonzo chef turned food journalist Bourdain’s funny, scabrous, macho, politically incorrect memoir of a (frequently high, drunk, and/or stoned) life in the kitchen.

A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, also by Bourdain. While still preserving his jackass, testosterone-overdose charm, this book, about his world travels shooting a show for the Food Network, is better-written and more thoughtful and atmospheric, at times even poignant. The warning for political incorrectness stands, but I appreciate Bourdain’s lack of condescension, genuine love and appreciation for a whole lot of places and cuisines, and recognition of the backbreaking hard work that goes into food production.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries) and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin. Very humane, sweet, gentle, and cozy essays on (mostly American) food and living, cooking for children and invalids and the jetlagged and homeless shelters – the written equivalent of comfort food. The recipes are extremely simple and come out well.

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection. I like a lot of Michael Ruhlman’s books but this is my favorite, three long essays on the CIA Master’s exam, an inventive Cleveland chef, and Thomas Keller. Great journalism, especially the first essay, which contains an account of terrine preparation that had me literally biting my nails in suspense. Fans of Top Chef would enjoy this.

Feast: Food to Celebrate Life, by Nigella Lawson. Mostly a recipe book but with excellent essays, multicultural (though primarily British) without pretending to insider knowledge, sensual and often funny. I especially liked the touching, practical essay on cooking for funerals and for people in mourning.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany (Vintage). A solid, well-written, often funny account that reads like a good, albeit lightly plotted, novel.

Before everyone leaps up to inquire – I like M. F. K. Fisher but not enough to put her on an all-time favorites list. Ditto Ruth Reichl.


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