9 Indulgent Fiction and Food Pairings

What’s better than a good book … except good book and food pairings? If you’re anything like me, your meals are always enjoyed with a book, and your books often spiced up with some tasty form of brain fuel. Pick chamomile with The Notebook and you’ll have a warm, cosy evening; sip it with Patricia A. McKillip and–much as I love The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Gryphon’s Chamomile Dream sent me a little too deep into dreamland. The right nutrients can calm the soul, or sharpen the mind, and the right flavours can stimulate the imagination to enrich a good story. So, if your stomach’s growling and you’re looking for a new sensory experience to indulge in, here’re some of the best–and worst–book and food pairings I’ve tried. (Other than coffee, that is. That’s a given constant.)

Classics

The Human Comedy by Honoré de Balzac

Pairs well with:

A good Bordeaux and a decadent spread of cheeses. What better way to immerse yourself in luxurious 19th century Paris, when gastronomy after the Revolution had just begun to flourish? It’s a book of short stories, so by the time all that food lulls your brain you would have finished a story. Now pat your stomach with a happy sigh, and go to sleep.

The Odyssey by Homer

Pairs well with:

Lamb kebabs! I like them dipped in tzatziki. For something lighter, go with persimmons or fresh red dates (both juicy contenders for ‘the fruit of the lotus’ that intoxicated Odysseus’ men).

People in The Odyssey are always feasting. ‘Hunger is the sorriest way to die,’ says Eurylochos, and feasting is a trope that represents living life to the fullest. Let’s also drink life to the lees with the kinds of food the Greeks would’ve had: wine, bread, cheese, and lots of meat! If you’re fussy you can check out this list of Greek wines, but really any good hearty red would do, to complement the lamb. Of course, too much and you can forget about reading altogether, so know thy limits–or not. 😉

Contemporary Literature

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Pairs well with:

Earl Grey and scones–what else? I like it with fig jam–and don’t forget the cream! This will transport you immediately to stately England, where Stevens, the protagonist, worked as a butler under the service of the nobleman Lord Darlington.

Appetite by Philip Kazan

Pairs well with:

Peaches. Soft and juicy, with their fuzzy skins on. Read the excerpt here and you’ll know why.

Pairs poorly with:

Chips, gummies, and Cadbury bars. I thought these were the go-to snacks of everyone–or at least, of the modern non-health-obsessed consumer–but Kazan gave me dreams of such gastronomic delights that the monotonous, artificial taste of these processed foods, even the fancy black truffle-flavoured potato chips, just tortured me even more.

Fantasy

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

Pairs well with:

TWG’s Silver Moon Tea. This is a blend of green teas, with a berry and vanilla bouquet. Sounds so magical, doesn’t it–‘silver moon’? Perfect for a book about the power of a name!

Pairs poorly with:

Chamomile. You know how your favourite music can put you to sleep? Yeah.

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Pairs well with:

Some would suggest wine, since Tyrion or Cersei seem to perpetually have a glass in hand. It’s a sign of their power and profligate but sadly empty lifestyle. But with Game of Thrones I knew I was in it for the long haul, so I went with grapes instead. The dark purple kind, because it reminds me of royalty and decadence (one of Dionysus’ symbols being the grapevine). The constant low dose of natural sugar worked wonders; I sat still for hours, and now even with the TV series I must have with grapes.

If you’re in the mood for extravagance, you can pick any sweet snack from one of Game of Thrones’ lavish menus. Even the salads will make you feel like royalty.

Pairs poorly with:

What with all the times Martin describes food more erotically than sex (hell, even the dragons chargrill their own steaks!), you’d think meat is the way to go. I tried beef jerky; but unless you’ve the stomach of a Dothraki, I’d save the meaty stuff for another day. When faces get bitten off, you don’t want anything tasting even remotely like flesh in your mouth.

Romance

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Pairs well with:

Set in the world’s most food-obsessed culture, this book will make you hungry with everything from nonya kuehs to scones with homemade lemon curd. My kopi-O went very well with the book and the local snacks. For something lighter, Chinese tea works too; I’d recommend oolong or Dragonwell.

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Pairs well with:

Hot chocolate–either the French kind, or the milky Max Brenner kind. Make it a mocha to sharpen your mind for the witty, moving exchanges between the novel’s intellectual, sharply playful, yet deeply passionate characters. It’s a long, spiderwebbing novel that should be read slowly, so set the chocolate over a candleflame and settle down for a few warm, cosy hours with Byatt’s Victorian poets. 🙂

Horror

Goat Dance by Douglas Clegg

Pairs well with:

Whisky. Something strong to fortify you against all that gore. Not anything with a smoky flavour though; the monster’s appearance is always presaged by a stench of gas and smoke, so unless you want to start hallucinating the taste of burnt or rotting flesh, I’d go with something sweeter. The Balvenie 12 Year Old Doublewood is great for its nutty, fruitcake sweetness, its oak, cinnamon and dried-apricot aromas providing a nice, warm counterpoint to the horror.

Pairs poorly with:

Almost everything else. Even the teaspoon of cream in your coffee will curdle in your gut.

Well, enjoy! If you’ve any book and food pairings to recommend (or warn the world against), I’d love to hear about them!

Head to your next book club or board meeting in literary style! Buy any tote, get a notebook free.
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