An Appetite for fiction: 5 must-reads in culinary fiction

There is a thrill in finding the perfect book. Sifting through the books that catch your eye, hunting for the perfect plot from the predominantly half-baked blurbs…it can get tedious at times. Much like cooking, it requires patience and an eye for detail, as well as the appreciation for subtleties and nuances.

As such, in order to diversify my reading in the short span of free time that I have, I decided to sample different subjects by reading 5 books from each of the chosen subjects. First up in the list, as you can see, is culinary fiction.  With their intricate descriptions and flavorful story-lines,  these books are sure to whet your appetite.

1. John Saturnall’s Feast, Lawrence Norfolk



Palm trees gave dates and honey flowed from the hives. Grapes swelled on the vine and every creature thrived. There the first men and women sat together in amity and no man was master or slave. At Saturnus’s table did every Adam serve his eve and in his garden they did exchange their affections.

This  tale has it all.

The story draws parallels between the creation and the fall of mankind in Eden and the long lost garden of Saturnus (from Roman mythology) where ancient philosophies and traditions once thrived- and how the conflict between the church and the so-called God-fearing people and those who are tasked with keeping the feast of Saturnalia affects generations. The tale proceeds like a gentle dance yet is full of life and vibrancy,bringing the reader back to the 17th century. There is the archetypal hero-the golden boy with a silver tongue (you will understand how cool the pun is if you read the book). There are the almost-comical terrifying antagonists. There are romantic portions that make you mellow and riveting portions that make you wonder. But the best portions are those that describe the making of food. It literally makes your mouth water. Despite the plethora of exemplary characters, my absolute favourite was the heroine-Lady Lucy. Unlike the portrayal of female characters in other such stories, we see her grow as a person- from Lucy into Lucietta. As such, I was a bit disappointed by her portrayal towards the end of the novel, otherwise, this exemplary novel is truly a feast for the mind.

There is food as seduction, food as art, food as disguise; cooking as alchemy, as everyday grind. Hunger and its satisfaction stand against Puritan repression and the strict social hierarchy. The feast is ultimately a political act: it brings people together.

The Guardian


2. Chocolat, Joanne Harris


Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or torturous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.

Another tale where we get to see the hypocrisy of men as they twist religion to suit their needs. While chocolate serves as the medicine for the soul for some, chocolate is sin for others. The author makes evokes sympathy for even the most despicable characters with her skill in words. As Vianne and Anouk breeze through the town breathing new life into it, the light up the day both in and out of the book. With its impartial depiction of notions of folly and the potency of food, this tale is truly as bittersweet as chocolate.

an enchanting novel about a small French town turned upside down by the arrival of a bewitching chocolate confectioner, Vianne Rocher, and her spirited young daughter.



3. Delicious! A Novel, Ruth Reichl


A great meal is an experience that nourishes more than your body

In this tale, we see how food helps one get through tough times and also and in moving on from tragedy. We meet a plethora of bigger-than-life colourful characters, each carefully crafted to cater to your romantic cravings. A book where Patrick Rothfuss meets Sophie Kinsella, it is sure to mesmerize any reader.

In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine’s deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the “Delicious Guarantee”-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn’t know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine’s library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu’s letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu’s courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.

– Goodreads


4. The Mistress of Spices, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


I am Turmeric, who rose out of the ocean of milk when the devas and asuras churned for the treasures of the universe. I am turmeric who came after the nectar and before the poison and thus lie in between.

The most important ingredients in any Indian dish are spices. Spices, in Indian culture, are not only used for cooking but also as remedies for ailments and in prayer. As such, in this tale spun by Chithra Divakaruni, the magic is not only in the spices but also in her words. It is definitely a must read for any reader seeking to diversify their reading.

Magical, tantalizing, and sensual, The Mistress of Spices is the story of Tilo, a young woman born in another time, in a faraway place, who is trained in the ancient art of spices and ordained as a mistress charged with special powers.  Once fully initiated in a rite of fire, the now immortal Tilo–in the gnarled and arthritic body of an old woman–travels through time to Oakland, California, where she opens a shop from which she administers spices as curatives to her customers.  An unexpected romance with a handsome stranger eventually forces her to choose between the supernatural life of an immortal and the vicissitudes of modern life.  Spellbinding and hypnotizing, The Mistress of Spices is a tale of joy and sorrow and one special woman’s magical powers.

– Goodreads


5. Sugarbread a novel, Balli Kaur Jaswal


There is a sense of homecoming when you read a local book. In a land where the food is as diverse and mixed as the people, in a culture where food is revered, in a home where the food speaks the mind of the cook, young pin, in all the quaintness and naivety of her childishness, brings us through her world where tradition collides with liberalism, where racism and sexism peek out from the old who refuse the new ways and the young who are yet ignorant and where the social structure brings about as much elitism and materialism as opportunities. The author brings alive the chaos and the orderliness, the simplicity and the lavishness and the propriety and the discrimination that exist in Singaporean life to the dot. This is a book that deserves to be on the bookshelf.

Pin must not become like her mother, but nobody will tell her why. She seeks clues in Ma’s cooking when she’s not fighting other battles—being a bursary girl at an elite school and facing racial taunts from the bus uncle. Then her meddlesome grandmother moves in, installing a portrait of a watchful Sikh guru and a new set of house rules. Old secrets begin to surface but can Pin handle learning the truth?


Till next time…


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