This list of food books about new to you cuisines for the 2020 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.
One of the best ways to get to know a different country is to follow the food. If 2020 is the year you’re aiming to live—or perhaps eat—more widely then you’ve come to the right food books challenge. Or maybe you’ll just learn a little bit about someone else’s food. Either way, who doesn’t like food?
This particular task demands you read a “food book” about a cuisine you’ve never tried before. What are food books, anyway? Is that the same as a cookbook? Can it be a chef’s memoir? Does it have to be just about food? And in true Book Riot fashion, I’ve decided to go with…all of the above.
I think that any book that inspires you to try new things is going to fit into this category. Any book that gets you thinking, “y’know what, when he puts it that way, snails don’t sound half bad…” qualifies as a “food book” to me. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list and it doesn’t even explicitly cover all the major continents where our world’s cuisines come from. But it’s a great start for the task. So in the spirit of your future culinary adventures, or at the very least, the pursuit of knowledge, here are some suggestions to get you on your way.
It was difficult for me to restrict myself to just one book in the realm of French cooking. It’s way too easy to find good ones. Elizabeth Bard has written multiple memoirs about her life in France (as a transplant from New York) and the foods that have marked each transition and major event along the way. In this memoir, she talks about moving with her husband to Provence and having a baby in France. There’s a cookbook style recipe nestled between each chapter, and while I said it’s related to French cooking, I’d venture to say it’s more about French eating. Bard has a lovely way of talking about food and relating so many events in her life to specific dinners and things.
Kwame isn’t kidding with the word “young” in his book title—he wrote this memoir before turning 30. His experiences as a youth in America, being sent to Nigeria for…let’s call it character education, falling in love with food, opening and having to close a restaurant, fame from Top Chef—all of this with some recipes in the mix might get you in the mood to try something different.
This one is a sliiiiiight stretch as far as calling it a food book, but I’m including it anyway for a few reasons. In this travelogue, Christine details her trip to Japan at the age of 15 to get to know her birthplace, visiting her grandparents, and doing a lot of firsts. I find that in general, many folks kind of lump certain Asian countries together, and it’s easy to have misconceptions. Christine’s book is lovingly detailed and full of illustrations as well as photographs, and of course that includes food. She talks about street foods, festival foods, typical dishes, and all sorts of other details from her visit. After reading, consider selecting something that isn’t teriyaki chicken or a California roll from your favorite Japanese food spot.
I mentioned Japanese food already, but this manga series-turned-animation delves in more fusion than anything else. It’s also the only recommendation on this list that is not one single book but many food books. Soma winds up in an elite culinary school where regular competitions between students occur, so he needs to constantly come up with amazing dishes. Gourmet food with a Japanese twist, or Japanese food with a gourmet twist? You decide.
This is a dense memoir that requires time and attention to get through. A quote from the book’s copy really stands out in terms of getting a feel for its tone, though: “Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who ‘owns’ it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race.” Twitty delves deep into the topic of Southern food as it relates to slavery, racism, and his own identity.
Though this is a travelogue, it definitely qualifies best in the category of “a little bit of everything,” because in it Lee shares his account of travels all over the U.S. where he tries all sorts of foods (read: the melting pot cuisine) that are unique to the area and the people who inhabit it, and then tells you about it, even including recipes. Readers will have ample opportunities to feel food inspired while also learning a thing or two about people around the country today.
This cookbook is a tour of Filipino foods as well as an education in the culture, which makes for a great introduction to anyone who is unfamiliar. It covers geographical differences in techniques and styles as well as notes on key ingredients and what certain things may be called in different places. It’s also the sort of cookbook that people have no problem just reading, whether they plan on cooking any of the recipes at home or not, which appeals to what I understand is a huge audience of people who watch cooking videos on YouTube with no intention of replicating the meals.
Samin uses plenty of humor, illustrations, and infographics to deliver all the kitchen science that a home cook needs to cook like they’re the wizardest kitchen wizard that ever wizarded. She breaks down all cooking into its most basic elements and sets up readers for success. Of all the food books on this list, this one is really a celebration of all foods and how anyone can cook them well.
Jamie has written loads of cook books, but this one stands out because it’s as much a cookbook with wonderful recipes as it is a handbook in how to live and eat well. And one of the things I love most about Jamie Oliver is he always talks about where any idea or ingredient he uses comes from. He covers all sorts of topics such as drinking water, voting for health, and where to get your proteins. Don’t skip it because of the big name label.
Find all the Read Harder 2020 content here.