Read Harder 2016: Food Memoirs

A baker’s dozen of recommendations for Task 22 of the 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

Burnt Bread and Chutney by Carmit Delman (2002).

One of the things that I love about food memoirs is that they are such a great window into other cultures and Delman’s childhood was an interesting mix of two – her mother is from the Bene Israel community of Jews in Western India, her father an American Jew of Eastern European descent. If you ever though Shabbat dinners needed more curry, this is the book for you. I loved the food, the history of the Bene Israel, and Delman’s writing about growing up biracial and bicultural.

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey (2005).

It’s probably not surprising that acclaimed food writer Jaffrey has written a compelling, food-infused memoir of her childhood. Born in Delhi in 1933, Jaffrey’s childhood spanned a tumultuous time in India’s history, but good food and a close, loving family are a constant in her early years. It’s no wonder she grew up to write amazing cookbooks!

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo (2011).

American journalist, Ciezadlo spent a decade in the Middle East, reporting on politics and civilian life. Her memoir frames her time in Baghdad and Beirut through food – humanizing life in a war zone in a way that more straightforward reporting struggles with.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler (2011).

An Everlasting Meal is sort of a contemplation on home cooking. Tamar Adler has cooked at various restaurants (including Chez Panisse), but this book is really focused on making food at home with a goal making home cooking seem doable – not with any tricks, just by saying, food doesn’t have be complicated, here is how you make basic things. Here is what to do if things go wrong. There is even a whole chapter about what she does when she doesn’t feel like cooking. I liked this book a lot (although I’m not sure it would be at all helpful if you don’t cook at all and are looking for a place to start). It seem perfectly focused for me – the home cook who follows a lot of recipes, but could use some help figuring out how to cook efficiently, not waste food and who needs things to be not too time consuming. A great book to reinvigoration of your relationship with cooking.

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang (2013).

Huang writes about growing up in the South as the child of Chinese immigrants (not that easy, as you may imagine). He was a kind of wild kid, and the book definitely has a Bildungsroman quality, which I loved. I really appreciated how direct Huang was in his discussion of race, especially about racism again Asian Americans, which I feel like you virtually never hear discussed. Our life experiences are very different – I’m sure I missed a lot of the Hip Hop references and I only know who a few of the basketball players that Huang discussed are, but his desire to learn and to figure things out definitely resonated with me. Fresh Off the Boat has been adapted into a series on ABC, but I’ve never watched it, so I can’t say how it compares!

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl (2005).

I love all of Reichl’s memoirs, but this is a great one to start with. It combines great descriptions of food, with the challenge of finding and championing great new restaurants without being recognized during her period as food critic for the New York Times. Start here – but keep reading, Comfort Me With Apples and Tender at the Bone are also great.

Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton (2009).

I recommend this book to all parents of solids-eating kids, because if Amster-Burton who is an excellent cook with a flexible work schedule as a freelance food writer has a kid who goes through a “will only eat 6 things” phase, then we can probably let ourselves all off the hook. A fun look at introducing your kid to one of life’s great joys: FOOD.

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone (2007).

A perfect mix of food and family history, Schenone traces her family’s recipes back to coast of Liguria in Italy. This remains one of my favorite food memoirs EVER – just such a lovely mix of research and family and delicious sounding food and travel adventures.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen (2013).

Such an excellent memoir and look at Soviet history through the lens of food. Von Bremzen and her mother emigrated from Moscow to Philadelphia when she was 9, and she is now a cookbook-writer by profession. She goes through the Soviet Union by the decade – describing the food common to the era. This is much better than your average food memoir. Well worth picking up.

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss (2013).

A love story to both traditional romance (Weiss’ with her husband) and to Germany – the food and the people from Weiss’ childhood who she reintegrates when she moves back to Berlin after many years in the United States. As someone who was an exchange student in Germany, this totally fed my love and nostalgia for that time in my life.

A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-lien Tan (2011).

This is the book *I* read for Read Harder’s Task 22. Tan is from Singapore, which has a particularly strong food culture, so it was interesting and mouthwatering to read about all the dishes she learned to cook from her various family members.

Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim Sunee (2008).

This was a interesting memoir that touched on adoption, food, relationships, and expatriate life, among other topics. Kim Sunee was adopted from South Korea by an American couple and raised in New Orleans. This book focuses on her post-college life in France, however, and her search for a place where she “belongs”.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelson (2012).

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish family, and became a chef as a young man, eventually landing in New York City, so you can imagine that he has a pretty interesting life story to tell – and he tells it well. A great look at the process of interning and growing through the restaurant business and at family and belonging in a transracial adoptive family.

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Read Harder 2016: Food Memoirs

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