Plenty of novels are good at making you hungry or inspiring you to cook. Sometimes lavish food details are stuffed throughout a book. Other times they contain specific food scenes that are hard to forget. Here are a few strange and remarkable fictional meals.

As befits its name, Oreo is food-obsessed. And one character in this dazzling and madcap satire of race relations is a comically over-the-top gourmet cook. Author Fran Ross devotes five full pages in the middle of the book to a nine-course menu, with six choices for each course. The abundance of dishes and cuisines (plus the assortment of fonts for the menu) is stupefying. For soups, for instance, there are: mtori, stracciatella, New England clam chowder, matzo-ball soup, Hühner Suppe, awase miso, yen-wo-t’ ang, canja, petite marmite, and rassolnik, to be washed down with Amontillado and Madeira.

Menu from Fran Ross' OreoThe effects of this meal resound far beyond the kitchen. “Five people in the neighborhood went insane from the bouquets that wafted to them from Louise’s kitchen. The tongues of two men macerated in the overload from their salivary glands. Three men and a woman had to be chained up by their families when they began gnawing at a quincaillerie of substances that wiser heads have found to be inedible. These substances—which blind chance had put within the compass of snatchability of the unfortunate four—ranged from butterfly nuts to galoshes, with a catalog of intervening items that good taste precludes mention of here.”

As with the rest of Oreo, this meal is delightfully extra.


The parts of A River of Stars set in San Francisco’s Chinatown are chock-full of food. A whimsical idea plants the seed for the main character, undocumented Chinese immigrant Scarlett, to ultimately run a thriving street food business. One Thanksgiving, she and her neighbors combine the offerings from a food bank and their own mishmash resourcefulness to create a unique Chinese American Thanksgiving dinner. “In the kitchen, the turkeys had been hacked in half to fit in the oven, and glazed in honey and vinegar, the crispy skin glittering. The spaghetti was boiled, then stir-fried with the canned vegetables into an enormous pan of chow mein; canned fruit cocktail was ladled upon luminous almond jelly, and the tomato sauce was thinned into a hot and sour soup.”

It’s during this meal that Scarlett invents the hanbaobao. This is a play on a hamburger that is dubbed a Chinese slider. It’s simple but effective: “Neighbors brought out their jarred condiments to add flavor to the turkey: red chili, mouth-numbing peppercorn, black bean, plum, and soy sauces. Scarlett spread plum sauce on an American roll, layered dark meat and sprinkled chopped scallions, and served it to Daisy.”


Am I the only person who read the medieval-esque kids’ fantasy series Redwall more for the meals than for the battles? The feast scenes are gratuitous but charming, making it unsurprising that Redwall spawned a cookbook. (But I’m still a bit disturbed by the image of mice banding together to catch and then consume a fish.)

These banquets are important for setting a scene of convivial, generous peacefulness—a gentleness that’s bound to be fractured by whatever villainous woodland creature is about to intrude. The original Jubilee feast features such delicacies as acorn crunch, devilled barley pearls in acorn purée, and peach and elderberry brandy.


The comic series Flavor could do for crepes what Chocolat did for, well, you know. It’s a candy-colored fantasy about people who take food seriously, though the comic itself is light. Particularly memorable is an early sequence in a grand arena, where a plucky upstart battles a hulking cheftestant in a cooking battle over crêpes suzette. Readers will come away knowing how to make crepes.

Crepes Battle from Flavor Comic


Water Music is endlessly entertaining. It follows a vainglorious Scottish explorer, the real-life Mungo Park, on his quest to chart the course of West Africa’s Niger River around the turn of the 19th century. The book is full of memorable eating scenes, from the trade deals of cannibals to a renowned beauty who eats and eats to maintain her attractive corpulence.

It also contains a recipe for a baked camel. This is a sort of desert turducken, with eggs stuffed into carp, which are stuffed into big birds, which are stuffed into sheep, which are then stuffed into the camel. This recipe is bound to come in handy for most readers.


Serves 400

500 dates
200 plover eggs
20 two-pound carp
4 bustards, cleaned and plucked
2 sheep
1 large camel

Dig trench. Reduce inferno to hot coals, three feet in depth. Separately hard-cook eggs. Scale carp and stuff with shelled eggs and dates. Season bustards and stuff with stuffed carp. Stuff stuffed bustards into sheep and stuffed sheep into camel. Singe camel. Then wrap in leaves of doum palm and bury in pit. Bake two days. Serve with rice.



Chronicling the lives of an Indian diasporic family, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is full of dosas, idlis, and other South Indian dishes. Food oozes out of its pages, and carries many meanings. For one character, it’s a talent and a source of respect: “Like plumage that expanded to rainbow an otherwise unremarkable bird, Kamala’s ability to transform raw ingredients into sumptuous meals brought her the kind of love her personality on its own might have repelled.”

And as shown by one 13-dish meal, in honor of a family member with cancer, worrying about what to cook and eat is a way to express concern about a loved one, when it’s hard to articulate that in words. Those are some powerful samosas.


But my most noteworthy fictional meal comes not from a novel, but from a short story. The last eating scene in Stephen King’s “Survivor Type,” plus the cumulative effect of all the others, is an image I wish I could shake. Best not to read it over a meal.

By , January 2

9 Food-Based Fantasy Books to Feast On

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Food is, quite simply, magical. If you’ve ever eaten a spoonful of a wonderfully decadent chocolate mousse, sunk your teeth into a ripe, juicy plum, or taken a bite of [enter your favorite food here], you know what I’m talking about. Food has the ability to inspire emotion, recall memories, and please the senses. Even the process of preparing it is magical: transforming separate objects into something completely new. The books below, however, take the magic of food to a whole new level.

The cover of the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Rose Edelstein receives a gift on her ninth birthday, but as is the case with so many magical gifts, this one turns out to be a terrible curse. You see, she can taste the feelings of the people who have prepared the food she eats. While this might not sound so bad at first, this “gift” lets her in on all sorts of devastating knowledge — from her cheerful mother’s internal despair, to her father’s feelings of detachment. This bittersweet book of magical realism will have you longing for lemon cake and secrets of your own.


The cover of the book A Spoonful of MagicA Spoonful of Magic
This is the first book in a new urban fantasy series from established fantasy writer Irene Radford, and is just as delightful as it looks. Baker and barista Daffy Deschants’ life is thrown into chaos when she discovers that her perfect husband is not all that he seems — he is sheriff of the International Guild of Wizards, and she has a knack for magic herself. When someone from her husband’s past returns to threaten their future, this kitchen witch has to whip up some serious power, and fast.


The cover of the book Like Water for ChocolateLike Water for Chocolate
This sumptuous tale of magical realism infuses food with the power of repressed emotions. Tita, born among spices and flour, falls desperately in love with a man named Pedro but is unable to to act on those feelings due to a family tradition. Her emotions make their way into the world through the food that she cooks, manifesting in illness, lust, and more. Peppered throughout the novel are recipes from Tita, but be careful when you make them at home — you never know what magic lingers on.


The cover of the book Pies and PrejudicePies and Prejudice
Ella Mae LaFaye moves back to Georgia after a messy separation from her husband, returning to her love of baking. She soon discovers, however, that the pies she bakes are enchanted. Her emotions are transferred to the people who eat them, inspiring some interesting reactions. When her childhood nemesis’ fiancé turns up dead with Ella’s fingerprints on the rolling pin murder weapon, she has to pull out all the stops to clear her name and keep her Charmed Pie Shoppe open for business.


The cover of the book The Mistress of SpicesThe Mistress of Spices
Trained as a mistress of spices, Tilo is now trapped in an elderly woman’s body, immortal but bound to a small spice shop in Oakland, California. She fills her days by helping those who come to her shop with their ailments, but a chance encounter with handsome stranger may change her fate, for better or worse.




The cover of the book ChocolatChocolat
Light on magic but heavy on decadence, Chocolat is the story of a chocolatier named Vianne Rocher, who may or may not be a witch. Her magic comes in the form of her uncanny insight into the lives of her customers. Not everyone is thrilled about her arrival in the small village of Lansquenet, however — Vianne’s chocolate shop is at odds with the village priest Reynaud’s beliefs in Lenten self-denial, and he will work hard to keep his parishioners from her hedonistic pursuits.


The cover of the book Brownies and BroomsticksBrownies and Broomsticks
Another sweet story of baked goods and mystery, this series revolves around Katie Lightfoot, whose aunt and uncle own a bakery that serves magically-enhanced baked goods. When a customer is murdered just outside the bakery, Katie’s uncle becomes the prime suspect, and it’s up to her and her witchy Aunt Lucy to clear his name.



The cover of the book Garden SpellsGarden Spells
The Waverley’s garden provides the family with more than just nourishment; the fruits and flowers are imbued with magical properties. The apples aid in prophecy, nasturtiums help keep secrets, and snapdragons discourage amorous attentions. It has been so for as long the Waverley’s remember, and they have tended to its soil for generations. Only three Waverley sisters remain, however, and when one of them returns home after years away with a daughter of her own, their carefully tended lives are thrown into chaos.


The cover of the book Last Call at the Nightshade LoungeLast Call at the Nightshade Lounge
Magical drinks, not food, fill the pages of this book, but you’ll need something to wash down all those bewitching bites. At the Nightshade Lounge, the bartenders hold all the power — literally. Demons stalk the city by night, but these bartenders concoct magical cocktails to help them fight back. Each spirit has a property of its own: vodka for super-strength, rum for fire-blasting capabilities, whiskey for telekinesis. It’s up to this group to defend the city against the forces of darkness.


Feed Your Soul and Mind: 8 Books on Eating for Smart People

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Cookbooks and books about food can all tend to look and feel the same, which means we all wind up with dozens we never end up using or reading. But approaching cooking literature does not have to be this way; If you’re looking for a more intellectual way in, here are some great cookbooks and reads that will surely leave you inspired, and feed both your soul and your mind.

The cover of the book The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great ChefThe Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef

Marco Pierre White

If I have learned nothing else from watching every season of “Top Chef” multiple times, it’s that chefs are rock stars. And if you’ve ever wondered who was the original badass of the culinary world, here is your answer. White, and his infamous temperament, pack every page of this book with a punch; in no other food book will you so closely link passion, cuisine, and insane genius. If you’re game to go back for more, grab his classic cookbook, White Heat, which features incredible recipes, photographs and stories.


The cover of the book Generation ChefGeneration Chef

Karen Stabiner

People always say the first year of marriage is the hardest. But most of them probably haven’t tried opening a restaurant. Now that is a hard first year. Food journalist Karen Stabiner follows up-and-coming chef Jonah Miller during the opening year of his restaurant. It’s a story full of turmoil, luck, ambition and suspense, and it will make you appreciate every successful restaurant you walk into.


The cover of the book The Case Against SugarThe Case Against Sugar

Gary Taubes

It can be hard to keep track of what is bad for you and why, especially foods and ingredients we’ve accepted as part of American diets for so long. Taubes’ book about the dangers of sugar is both understandable and scientific. It’s very helpful in presenting not just the scary list of “do not eats” but the history, information, and yes, misconceptions about our relationship to sugar. With a product so present in the diets of both adults and children, this is both an engaging and important read.


The cover of the book Coming to My SensesComing to My Senses

Alice Waters

This gorgeous memoir is the personal account of how Waters (the first woman to win the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award) became the creator of one of the most significant restaurants in America – all at the age of 27. This book has everything, from politics to bohemian culture, photography to, of course, recipes. If you aren’t familiar with Waters’ story, it’s probably time to introduce yourself: you may not realize just how much your taste buds owe her.


The cover of the book The Art of FlavorThe Art of Flavor

Daniel Patterson and Mandy Aftel

Besides the fact that the experience of both food and perfume often begin with your nose, what else do these two things have in common? The artistry of blending ingredients. The Art of Flavor brings together a chef (Patterson) and a perfumer (Aftel) to help home cooks understand not just how to make a great meal, but how to get the most from their flavors working together. Rather than just present you with a step-by-step recipe, Patterson and Aftel’s book is an intellectual look at why things work the way they do: allowing you, the cook, to not just create, but also tell a story with your food. Think of it like the best chemistry class you’ve ever taken – you get to eat the results.


The cover of the book I Hear She's a Real BitchI Hear She’s a Real Bitch

Jen Agg

Being a woman in a career that has been declared a “man’s world” is a specific type of challenge, and that shouldn’t be news to anyone, but Agg’s humorous, genuine insights into the culinary industry supply a fresh voice to the narrative. The memoir details Aggs own journey making her way through an already tough business, all the while calling-out the small insights she’s gleaned from playing in what is still, in many respects, thought of as a boy’s game.


The cover of the book Out of Line: A Life Playing With FireOut of Line: A Life Playing With Fire

Barbara Lynch

“Feisty” is a word that has been used to describe Chef Barbara Lynch and her memoir about growing up in South Boston. A wild child in many ways, Lynch offers a story free from any restraints: her voice comes sailing off the pages as she details personal hardships and showcases the self-determination needed to become the award-winning chef she is today. Lynch’s book is arguably less refined than some of the others you’ll find on this list, but it makes reading it an all the more authentic experience.


The cover of the book Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting InvolvedFeed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved

Julia Turshen

Food can communicate so many things. In it lives history, emotions, and even politics. Understanding that more people than ever are looking for ways to show their activism, Turshen has created an instructive book full of recipes, resources, and ideas for how you can use food to engage with your community and express yourself.