AtoZ, Blog Challenge, Books

Gastronome – 5 books with food as the hero


A gastronome or gourmand is someone who is an expert on food with impeccable cuisine knowledge. My interpretation from this prompt is a list of books with food as the main protagonist of the tale. In essence, food is the central theme of the book. 

Growing up, I was extremely nit-picky about food. It was only when I began to live on my own and travel around that I began experimenting with food. Then I discovered some amazing books with food as the core theme, which blew me away. I began to look for more and more such reccos from my reading circle.

Sharing a list of five such books that any wannabe or would-be gastronome would love to devour.

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Chocolat by Joanne Harris

This was my first book with food as the hero and I was thoroughly beguiled by its gastronomic flavors.  A young, single mother Vianne Rocher  arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes at the beginning of Lent with her six-year-old daughter, Anouk. She opens a chocolaterie in the town square and offers intriguing insights along with her fabulous chocolate creations. She awakens the joys of sensuality in the routine dulled lives of the village residents. Acceptance of anyone different or not following the rule is something the Parish has been taught to ward off. As a result, Vianne faces issues in integrating herself into the village life. But the lure of chocolate begins to win them over one by one. This one is a timeless novel, perfect escape for a holiday read.

Like Water for Chocolate with Laura Esquivel

A book richly layered with magical realism combined with emotions. The tale of ghosts mixed with the manifestations of passions makes from an extremely captivating read. There is an enormous love of magic, food and words in this tale.

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake is a multi generational drama with roots in the Carribean with Chinese antecedents. All the characters and the storyline is joined together by the tradition of Black Cake and a love for the sea.

Eleanor Bennet has left behind a recorded message for her two children- Benny and Byron and her lawyer/friend Charles Mitch is walking them both through her last wishes and her reveal of her family history and her past. In the wake of their mother’s sensational history telling, both the children begin to ruminate on their lives and come to the conclusion that their mother had a very hard life but she was the ultimate fighter and survived against all odds.

I loved this book for its liberating flow in the writing, punctuated with great emotion and drama. The tracing of history through the Carribbean region and the sea is mesmerizing to read. There are genuine and heart warming friendships and some great characters throughout the book.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Set in the early 1960s, we are introduced to blatant gender discrimination at the workplace which in this case is a  research laboratory. Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant chemist who braves not only the misogyny but sexual assault as well. When she falls in love with the star scientist Calvin Evans at the lab, the gaslighting shifts to immorality and brazen behavior. All of its is directed to Zott who is totally unaware of her beauty and doesn’t understand her effect on men.

Fate overtakes life and Zott finds herself a single mum and out of a job soon. In desperation she accepts hosting an afternoon cookery show on television. This turns to be a boon as Zott brings her chemist personna to the show. She not only does what she knows best but she also becomes a voice for women. The show soon becomes one of the biggest thing on telly and Zott’s stock skyrockets.

In between all this, she raises her daughter to be an intelligent and speak-her-mind person. Elizabeth is also training her dog, Six Thirty to recognize words and has built up his vocabulary to over 500 words.

This book is filled with immense wit and sarcasm that induces a few chuckles. Overall its a book about resilience and sticking to your guns. One of the finest contemporary fiction that I have read in this year so far.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

The Bastard of Istanbul reads almost like a a historical fiction. Elif Shafak has drawn the most eloquent family tree  of two families and then interconnected them vis-a-vis a shared culture and history. She has deftly folded history into fiction with such graceful deception that one is mesmerized from the word go, often wondering how much of it is real.

Each chapter of the book is named after an ingredient of the famous Turkish dessert Ashure and that itself ties down the entire story in a bittersweet narration. In this largely female dominated story, there is one man Mustafa who could have been the center of the tale had he not chosen to seek oblivion from his past by hiding out in the present. Ashure was his favorite dessert in which he sought sweet salvation from all of his childhood torments. Its this dessert that results in his downfall in the end.

“Family stories intermingle in such ways that what happened generations ago can have an impact on seemingly irrelevant developments of the present day. The past is anything but bygone.”― Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

I also loved the way the cuisine has been talked about with great flavor and texture in the narration. I could visualize the preparations and certainly wanted a bite of it all.

The women are all strong and self-reliant with some amazing contrast in their belief systems. Yet they remain bonded for life and that was really lovely to read.

The anecdotes of real time history woven into the fictitious tale makes for a zesty reading while the seductive background of the city of Istanbul stands out vividly as a character of its own.

Well that is it for me about books with food as the hero of the tale. I would love to know if you have any such books on your list and would share them with me. Do drop your recommendations in the comments below.

Other notable mention of books for this category are:


If travel and food intrigues you too, then have a look at some of these posts from my travels around the world.

5 must visit cafes in Goa

Best breakfast from around the world

Delicious food bytes from Uzbekistan

H is for Hackneyed!

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For the uninitiated, AtoZ challenge is a blogging challenge wherein one has to write on every alphabet from A to Z and post on all days of April, except Sundays. Usually its better to devise a theme as it makes it easy to write the posts. Plus readers have a reason to stay hooked too.

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8 thoughts on “Gastronome – 5 books with food as the hero

  1. I loved reading chocolat and bastards of Istanbul. I would put five quarters of the orange by Joanne Harris in this category as well. I think the central theme in all her books is food. Would definitely check out kitchen by banana yoshimoto ..thr name itself is appealing.

    1. Yeah I quite enjoyed Joanne Harris’s entire series with the food theme as the story continued with the daughters. I confess I am head over heels in love with Roux and searched for him through every book too 😉

      Some of Elif Shafak’s books are just magical and this one is one of my favorites by her.

      Do tell me what you thought of Kitchen whenever you get around to picking it up.

  2. Bastards of Istanbul is lying unread on my book-shelf. Will check it out. You must read Sourdough by Robin Sloan. The Restaurant of Love Regained is lovely read!

    1. Sourdough sounds interesting just by the title and I shall check it out. Yes the Restaurant of Love Regained was a well written book too. It’s on my top 10 food based list Shilpa 🙂

  3. I don’t read books, but I didn’t know that books with food as heroes exist too. Loved some of these as you described around them talking about the cuisine & flavors. It’s difficult to talk about food and convey what you feel to the readers.

    1. Yes its quite an uphill task but if you can find one delicious enough, the pleasure of reading that book is unparalleled. Thanks for dropping by Atul.

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