9 Essential Food Books

January 13, 2016
Essential food books

I love reading about food almost as much as I love eating it. From delving behind the scenes in chef memoirs to learning the history of ingredients, reading stories of recipes to learning how to create the perfect pairing, there are few things I enjoy more than settling in with a good food book and a glass of wine. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites.

The Language of Food book

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky – Jurafsky is a genius. He uses linguistic analysis and history to show how the ‘toast’ we eat and the ‘toast’ we give are related, or how you can tell how expensive a restaurant is by looking at a few choice words (or lack of) on the menu. History lovers, language lovers, food lovers…this is a book everyone will enjoy. And Jurafsky really is a genius. He received the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2002.

What to Drink With What You Eat - food book

What to Drink With What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page – If you buy one food book this year, make it this one. One of the most comprehensive guides to wine pairing, put together in a fun, approachable way. It’s not only about wine though. They also venture into coffee, beer, sake, and even water. I am constantly learning from this book, and I love the interview snippets with sommeliers (including several from Chicago). Like they say in the book, a perfect pairing is a small thing that can bring immense pleasure, and you have three chances a day to experience that. Take advantage.

Heat Bill Buford food book

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave by Bill Buford – When an acclaimed New Yorker writer leaves his day job to slave away in Mario Batali’s kitchen at Babbo, a wonderful book is bound to come of it. Buford shows us how difficult working in a restaurant kitchen really is, profiles Batali in a not always glowing, but humanizing light, and takes readers on a journey to Italy where he searches for the history behind his favorite dishes in tiny towns and with generations of Italian chefs. Informative, engrossing, endearing, spectacular. One of my favorite food books of all time, from one of my favorite writers.

Kitchen Confidential food book

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – If you have ever worked at a restaurant, you will adore this book (and have probably already read it). You will smile knowingly, and your heart will ache for your service industry days. If you haven’t worked in a restaurant, you will still benefit from insider secrets, like when to order fish and why you should never order a steak well-done. A classic.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses food book

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage – Beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. What do these drinks have to do with history, agriculture, and globalization? Everything, it turns out. Written by an Economist editor it’s no wonder the book at times feels like a crash course in history and global economics. Don’t worry though – it’s also readable and entertaining.

The tummy trilogy food book

The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin – Trillin’s hilarious books about traveling and eating around America in the 1970s come together in one volume, perfect for those of us born later and just catching up. The New Yorker writer with vast food knowledge showcases America’s diners, BBQ joints, take on Chinese food, coleslaw, french fries, and more. Who says we don’t have our own food heritage?

Tender at the Bone food book

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl – This memoir from legendary New York Times restaurant critic turned head of Gourmet is intimate and warm. Join her on a journey from learning French and falling in love with soufflé to becoming one of the nation’s most respected critics. The best part though are her (admittedly sometimes over the top but I love them anyway) descriptions of food.

The Sweet Life in Paris food book

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz – I’m a big fan of Lebovitz’s blog, so obviously I adore his books as well. In this one, his stories about Paris remind me of my time living in Rome–often frustrating and perplexing, seemingly out of date, and yet utterly charming and with the ability to make you want to sacrifice convenience for comfort, good food, and the sweet life. Then, of course, are the recipes throughout (mostly using chocolate). Lebovitz was a famous pastry chef in San Francisco before he was a writer in Paris, so you can rest assured he knows what he’s talking about.


In Defense of Food food book

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan – I’m not sure if you can have a food book list without including Michael Pollan. The best food is real food, as Pollan defends, and carbs will not kill you. You’ve probably heard the book’s mantra “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” but even if you already follow it and think you get the gist, the book is worth reading for insights into the food industry you might not have expected.

I know I left out cookbooks – that’s for another post! What are some of your favorite food related books? Let me know and I will check them out!

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  • Reply Amy January 13, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Great selection, I’ve read several of these. I also really enjoyed Tender by Seattle chef Tamara Murphy, Animal Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (learned a lot fromthat one), and Blood, Bones and Butter by NYC chef Gabrielle Hamilton (admittedly in part because she was married for a while to an Italian, as I am too).

    • Reply curiosityandacarryon January 14, 2016 at 8:58 am

      Thank you! And yes – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has been on my list for so long I need to read it. I’ve also heard Blood, Bones, and Butter is amazing! So many more to read. 🙂 Thanks for reading the blog!

  • Reply Melissa Falk February 17, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Rebecca – I love Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito. True story of his family’s move from Naples, Italy to Albany N.Y. told through his love and business for wine and vineyards. One of my favorites.

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