Novels that feature food often make us put down the book and get in the kitchen...or at least grab a bag of chips. Likewise, these same novels are often hard to put down as they stimulate not only our imaginations, but our appetites as well. Here’s a list of delicious novels to celebrate the brand new Starz series Sweetbitter. Like the new series based on the bestselling novel of 2016, several of these novels have also been adapted to screen. In no particular order, each novel in this list features eating or cooking as a main part of the story.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Sweetbitter is a coming of age novel set in one of Manhattan’s nicest restaurants in the early 2000's. The protagonist comes to New York to discover herself and largely becomes molded by the highs and lows of the restaurant world. The nuance of flavor and its complexities pepper the novel and influence how Tess comes to see herself. Despite the author's best attempts, the world that Tess inhabits is often more interesting than the protagonist herself. Despite the novel's flaws, read it if you ever wondered what your waiter thought of you.
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gail Parkin
Baking Cakes in Kigali is just as sweet and satisfying as the cakes that Angel Tungaraza makes for her customers in the rapidly changing capital of Rwanda. Set in the year 2000 after the Rwandan genocide, Angel and her professor husband are Tanzanian expats who live in an international compound in Kigali. The stories in this very sweet and funny novel are all told in confidence by customers to Angel. As they order her famous and one-of-a-kind cakes, she learns their life stories and often gives subtle, but important advice. This is a novel about the healing power not only of food, but of having your story heard.
Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
The best restaurant in town is run by two brothers. What happens when their youngest brother comes home and wants to start his own restaurant? Will his brothers respond well to the competition? This novel works in brotherly rivalry in a way that makes sometimes reckless behavior justifiable. Overall, this novel introduces the reader to interesting characters that you would want to invite to dinner and plenty of swoon-worthy descriptions of meals.
Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
Like several of the books in this list, Free Food for Millionaires explores identity and tradition. Casey Han disappoints her Korean immigrant parents when she chooses not to pursue a traditional job after graduating from Princeton. Casey wants to “find herself” rather than go to law school and is more concerned in traveling in yuppie New York social circles than fulfilling her parents' wishes. A relatable story about fitting in, finding yourself and honoring your heritage, Free Food For Millionaires is as much about how culture and food define us whether we like it or not.
A Good Year by Peter Mayle
The one novel on this list about drinking rather than eating, A Good Year is all about reevaluating your life. One of the first novels by the prolific francophile memoirist, it’s not perfect. It is part love letter to Provence, part international mystery. It is fun and worth a cozy read when you’re wishing to be in a French chateau rather than at home. Plus, it will make you wonder about how much that bottle of wine is really worth.
The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
A sweet novel about family and tradition, The Hundred Foot Journey is a testament to creativity and fluidity of cooking. When an Indian family moves to a small French town, flavors mix and drama ensues. But this novel is not simply a cozy story of clashing figures. It also addresses discrimination and alienation experienced by immigrant families. Once you read this novel, you’ll be itching to make an omelette.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Como Agua para Chocolate)
A modern classic for a reason, Like Water For Chocolate introduces the magical quality cooking can possess figuratively and, in the case of Tita’s cooking, literally. Tita is raised in the kitchen and finds her identity and power there. This novel explores tradition in all its positive and negative forms. Seductive, heartbreaking and captivating, it’s a must-read.
White Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby
This novel tells the story of the groundbreaking French chef and writer, Auguste Escoffier in his final years. Flashbacks and stories of his youth and young love are woven through the novel as the ailing chef teaches “fine cuisine” to his young house cook. Though she is more interested in men and pleasure than the strict principles of French fine dining, Escoffier bonds with the young woman while also making amends to his loyal wife.