The Best Books That Celebrate Food

The Books I Picked & Why

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

By Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

Why this book?

I loved Michelle Zauner’s essay by the same name when it came out in The New Yorker in 2018. I teach this essay in my Intro to Food Writing Class, and my students find it as moving and transporting as I do. Zauner’s new memoir—it came out in April—chronicles the decline of her mother's health and her own journey in finding her sense of self, often through the Korean dishes, ingredients, and flavors that connect her to her mom. The mother-daughter relationship is complex, full of love and pain, and the writing is gorgeous and sparkling.


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Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

By Gabrielle Hamilton

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Why this book?

In her memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton’s journey from wayward teenager to New York City chef unfolds in tandem with ecstatic meals and poignant flavors. The book opens with her dad’s lamb roast for the whole town, six baby animals skewered with branches from their ash trees and left to spin on a spit in their expansive, wild yard in Lambertville, New Jersey. The roast is more than a mere party but a lesson in “how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends.” Eventually, Hamilton opens the beloved 30-seat Prune in New York’s East Village, taking this ethos with her and weaving a beautiful story along the way.


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Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

By Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Why this book?

This now-classic catapulted Bourdain to celebrity status when it came out in 2000. I devoured it in high school, and it played no small part in my decision to pursue a career in restaurants. It glamorizes the crazy, counter-culture chef life without over-sentimentality—it remains refreshingly real. Bourdain’s quick punches, humor, and vulnerability make Kitchen Confidential a true joy to read even more than two decades later. 


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Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India

By Madhur Jaffrey

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India

Why this book?

Growing up, my mom was often cooking something from one of Jaffrey’s brilliant cookbooks. Jaffrey’s memoir about her childhood in Delhi and Kampur is just as delicious. It begins on the high mango trees, where the older cousins and siblings climbed to pick and slice the juicy fruits and the younger kids dipped them into salt, red chilies, and smoky cumin. Elaborate meals were served for a boisterous extended family, presided over by the benevolent but moody patriarch Babaji. Jaffrey writes with insightful precision about the Hindu, Muslim, and British influences that shaped her country, and the devastation of partition and its aftermath. When teenage Jaffrey leaves for acting school in London, her “palate had already recorded millions of flavors” from her home—and we’re so lucky it did.


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Heavy: An American Memoir

By Kiese Laymon

Heavy: An American Memoir

Why this book?

Heavy is brilliant, poetic, and…really heavy. Laymon writes candidly and gorgeously about growing up Black in the South, struggling with weight, and a legacy of poverty, violence, and racism. Heavy is a personal, heartbreaking dive into American racism and America's deeply problematic weight obsession. The whole book is written as a letter to his mother, a prominent political scientist, and their relationship is incredibly complicated and painful. Heavy reminds us that food writing isn’t always about sweet nostalgia; it can be much darker and more profound.


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