Make it your new year’s resolution to read five of our favourite books for foodies.
Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
Take it from Anthony Bourdain himself, who said, “Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.” Written by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef-owner of iconic East Village restaurant Prune (also boasting an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan), the food writing here is so vivid, it literally made us salivate. The first section, Blood, deals with Hamilton’s childhood, growing up in rural Pennsylvania with a French mother who inspired her love of food, and this is the part that’s the most poignant for us. Some might say that, by the time we get to Butter, which details the opening of Prune, Hamilton has acquired a self-centred, holier-than-thou attitude that niggles, but we appreciate the ride she’s taken us on and her gritty honesty.
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
We don’t know why people don’t talk more about this book. Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork is as absorbing as it is informative. Sure, Bill Bryson’s At Home dedicates two whole chapters to the kitchen, scullery and larder, but Wilson’s tome proves to be an equally entertaining, much-expanded work of research that answers droll questions like these: how long have sieves been around? Why do diners in the Western world eat with forks and knives, while nations like China, Japan and Korea favour chopsticks? Who invented the spork? And what in the world is a knork? All this and more in one hilarious book.
Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner
If you haven’t been to H Mart, the glorious Korean-American supermarket chain in the USA, we pity you; not catering to just Korean-Americans, you can find just about every Asian ingredient and product imaginable there, more than what we can find even here in Hong Kong. Michelle Zauner is a musician with indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, and in this memoir, she describes H Mart as “a beautiful, holy place”, a place of escape from being one of the few Asian-American kids at her school in Oregon. But Crying in H Mart (crying because her beloved mother has passed away) is about so much more than just food. First and foremost, it’s about family, particularly the unique bond of mother and daughter (we love the inclusion of Zauner’s family photos), culture and identity. We shed a few tears reading this one.
Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking by Bill Buford
Determined to master the art of French cooking, Buford leaves his comfy life in New York City, with his wife and three-year-old twin sons in tow, for a move across the world to Lyon, France, believed by many to be the capital of French gastronomy. He doesn’t speak a word of French at first, but his sense of humour and determination are unflappable. He studies at the esteemed Institut Paul Bocuse, and he moves on to seemingly never-ending, rigorous days at Michelin-starred La Mère Brazier, ending up spending half a decade living and loathing his dream in Lyon. Salty and self-deprecating, American journalist Buford also wrote an earlier culinary memoir, Heat, set in Italy, described as “an amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta maker and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany”. Both Dirt and Heat make for transportive, escapist reading.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
If you haven’t read the words that dearly departed Anthony Bourdain used to describe food, you haven’t lived. Kitchen Confidential is the rare sort of unputdownable book that grips you, from the very first pages until you shake yourself out of a trance when the exhilarating ride’s over and realise you haven’t slept in a few days. There’s a reason that chefs and cooks from all walks of life have referred to this memoir as a bible of sorts; it’s filled with a level of familiarity and understanding that resonates soundly with the underworld of kitchen staff, making them feel a little less lonely in their questionable pursuit of slugging it out in unbearable heat during 16-hour days. Attack this as ravenously as you would a T-bone.
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