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.
starlurker: (macarons)

From: [personal profile] starlurker

Thank you for this rec list! Reading about food is relatively new passion of mine, so it's wonderful to have such a comprehensive list. And hearty agreement with Nigella Lawson's cookbooks. Most people in my life don't often understand when I tell them that I read her cookbooks like I do non-fiction, so I'm always thrilled to find kindred spirits in that way.
starlurker: (I feel all googly)

From: [personal profile] starlurker

Not too many since it's new for me. I liked Bottomfeeder a lot, which is as much about conservation and travelogue as it is about food, which made it better for me. I've also read Mark Kurlansky's one food item specific books such as Salt and Cod, which were interesting if flawed, but I'd recommend them with a caveat or two.
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard

I haven't read Gold's book in question on hole-in-the-wall places to eat, but "Hole in the Wall", on Santa Monica & Sepulveda, is the best burger place I've been to. Happily, I now work two blocks away and eat lunch there all the time. It's probably mentioned in Gold.
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard

Oh, great! I'm glad you got to try something new.

Yeah, those burgers are juicy. I don't know if either of you tried the pretzel bun. It's the most popular, and it's definitely my favorite.
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger

Was it to you I recommended White Bonnet awhile back?
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger

Argh I jumbled the title. It's High Bonnet by Idwal Jones. A novel cast as the memoir of a trainee chef; first published 1945. It's funny and although it's fiction the details have the ring of truth.

Edouard de Pomiane is a classic food writer not read so much now, not sure whether he'd be of interest to you.

I think you would greatly enjoy owning and dipping in and out of Alan Davidson's The Oxford Companion to Food.
athenejen: iAthena (Default)

From: [personal profile] athenejen

I love Counter Intelligence and Kitchen Confidential; I will have to check out the rest of these.

From: [identity profile]

Ooh, some interesting stuff here. I love Heat and the Bourdain books, and have had my eye on The Sould of a Chef, so it's good to know that's worth my time.

I like Reichl, but after reading three of her books, I think I've read all I need to. And I have no need to own them.

From: [identity profile]

M. F. K. Fisher
Motherfucking Killer Fisher?

From: [identity profile]

I enthusiastically second "A Taste of India," and also the Bourdain.

I also very much enjoy MFK Fisher (although more for culture than for food—How to Cook a Wolf is more about WWII than it is about food), and most of the stuff by John Thorne, starting with "Outlaw Cook." (I didn't care at all for Reichl.)

From: [identity profile]

Never heard of Thorne - thanks for the rec. How to Cook a Wolf is my favorite of hers that I've read.

My favorite Reichl bit is early in her first book, when her mother throws a giant fundraiser and gives all the guests food poisoning.

From: [identity profile]

I enjoyed "Tender at the Bone," Reichl's first book, but wound up liking her less the more books I read.

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