Hats off to Sona

‘Best Food Writing’ is the place to find what we all like to read

By
November 6, 2008

The best food writing is that which reorients us as readers. I thought I knew how to eat (doesn’t everyone?) — and then I read Shauna James Ahern’s book, Gluten-Free Girl, and I came to realize anew that everyone eats in her own way, everyone thinks about food singularly.

Sona Pai’s “Mangoes, memories — and motorcycles” is that kind of food writing, and we are fortunate to feature it on Culinate. Fortunately, the piece will live on in print as well, in Best Food Writing 2008. It’s a story of mangoes from India:

best food writing
A book to savor.
They’re the mangoes my dad — back when he was a naughty little boy in Gujarat — used to steal from his neighbor’s tree. I’ve visited his old house during each of my four trips to India, and each time I imagine him, skinny and barefoot, scrambling up for a treat.
They’re the mangoes my grandfather would haggle for at the bazaar. He’d ignore small talk from the fruit wallah as he scrutinized the rows of fragrant fruit, squeezing this one, smelling that one, accepting a sample, pretending it was no good.

Sona’s piece joins work by Dan Barber, Michael Pollan, Fuchsia Dunlop, Molly O’Neill, and many others. We congratulate her — and we’re celebrating by giving away three copies of the book to three lucky readers.

Leave a comment below by 10am (PST) on Friday, November 14, telling us who your favorite food writers are (cookbook or otherwise). We’ll pick three winners randomly from all the comments received.

Thanks, everyone, for participating in this book giveaway. We’ve chosen our winners: Holly, Kathy, and Margaret. Their books are on the way!

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1. by Fiksu on Nov 6, 2008 at 2:43 PM PST

I could reread MFK Fisher about 1,000 times.

2. by Nicole on Nov 6, 2008 at 3:03 PM PST

I just finished In the Kitchen Alone with an Eggplant. So many great writers there. My favorite of all time is probably Barbara Kinsolver however.

3. by foodgeek on Nov 6, 2008 at 3:25 PM PST

Marion Nestle for factual, science-y goodness, Moosewood Collective cookbooks for making me want to cook and eat. I’m just getting into M.F.K. Fisher, but I’m pretty sure she’s made of awesome.

4. by amusesbouche on Nov 7, 2008 at 9:47 AM PST

Without question, Ruth Reichl. Her books are transformative.

5. by Blue-eyed wonder on Nov 7, 2008 at 1:10 PM PST

Calvin Trillin wins a prize for bringing the funny to the table, and Julie Powell gets high honors for her Gen-X quest of a book.

6. by Hank Sawtelle on Nov 7, 2008 at 9:27 PM PST

pollan, steingarten, mcgee!

7. by cabbagesandkings on Nov 8, 2008 at 8:02 AM PST

Locally, Jess Thomson and Molly Wizenberg. Nationally, Mark Bittman and Ruth Reichl.

8. by simona on Nov 8, 2008 at 2:46 PM PST

MFK Fisher, Deborah Madison, Jeannette Ferrary

9. by Meggie on Nov 8, 2008 at 9:41 PM PST

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is my favorite chef at the moment. I love that he is so passionate for homegrown and foraged food and I’m hooked to his TV show in the UK, River Cottage. Wish they aired it here in the US.

10. by Christa on Nov 9, 2008 at 5:14 AM PST

Michael Ruhlman, hands down. I like Ruth Riechel’s first two books as well. I also really enjoy the History of Food, but I cannot remember the author’s name, and Calvin Trillin writes about food in a way that is most unique. There are so many great books out there that focus on one ingredient that I’ve really enjoyed int he last year: Salt, Caviar, etc.

11. by elysek on Nov 9, 2008 at 9:38 AM PST

I enjoy Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg,
Michael Pollan, Ruth Reichl, Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher, Michael Ruhlman, and many others.

12. by EmmaC on Nov 9, 2008 at 12:32 PM PST

Michael Pollan, Ruth Reichel, and Anthony Bourdain - they each speak to a different part of what I love about food and cooking!

13. by cathyandmel on Nov 9, 2008 at 4:37 PM PST

Hard to pick just 3, but ok, if I have to....
Karen Page, Deborah Madison, Julie Powell

14. by Kathryn H on Nov 10, 2008 at 10:39 AM PST

There are so many...Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and Deborah Madison all give me great mental and physical nourishment. Of course there are several writers on this site that I never pass up--Harriet Fasenfest, Sarah Gilbert and Cynthia Lair are favorites here.

15. by That's nuts! on Nov 10, 2008 at 2:10 PM PST

From blogs I love Deb from SmittenKitchen and Heidi from 101 Cookbooks and Super Natural Cooking. I also really enjoy Michael Pollen. I am still new to the whole food world and look forward to reading more of these authors.

16. by mickey on Nov 10, 2008 at 2:55 PM PST

I would have to go with Ruth Reichl, M F K Fisher, and Laurie Colwin.

17. by Rebecca Winters on Nov 11, 2008 at 10:29 AM PST

Hmm. there are so many...
For the glorification of french gastronony: MFK Fischer & Julia Child.
For the w-holistic view of food and culture: Michael Pollan, Dan Barber & Eric Schlosser.
For blogs: Deb from Smitten Kitchen & Heidi from 101 cookbooks
For vegan dishes with a humorous twist: Isa Chandra Moskowitz
And finally, for food industry gossip: David Kamp.

18. by ekarlins on Nov 11, 2008 at 7:53 PM PST

I really like the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. It’s one of my cookbooks that I sometimes just read even when I’m not about to cook from it.

19. by Mark Hall on Nov 12, 2008 at 8:41 AM PST

All the mainstream books are taken now, but from a farmers’ perspective, try these:
For common sense writing about the food we eat, read Real Food by Nina Planck
For great commentary about food and the farmers who raise it read The Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes. Easy recipes that bring out the best in small-farm meats
And if you’re Canadian be sure to read Margaret Webb’s Apples to Oysters.

20. by Mark Hall on Nov 12, 2008 at 8:44 AM PST

Oh, I forgot Pig Perfect by Peter Kaminsky. Everything you’d want to know about pork production outside the factory farm -- and tons of interesting commentary on pork products. You’ll want to start smoking your own hams before you’ve finished reading this book, or at least sign up for the Bacon of the Month club!

21. by manchand on Nov 12, 2008 at 10:40 AM PST

MFKF all the way!!!!!!

22. by Cheryl Berkowitz on Nov 12, 2008 at 10:45 AM PST

I love Shirley O’Corriher... I have learned so much from her, from cracking an egg to baking vitamin C tablets into my bread!

23. by baltimoregon on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:06 AM PST

Molly Wizenberg and Culinate’s own Ivy Manning:)

24. by Honest Day on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:10 AM PST

My first encounter reading Nigel Slater hit me like a bombshell: this man made sense! I appreciate both his recipes (they work) and his overarching approach to preparing and serving food. An English food writer and chef, his philosophy toward food is at once pragmatic and indulgent. There is a parallel in the larger attempts we all now seem to be making to simplify our lives and live responsibly while increasing or highlighting the quality and pleasure of that life. Live like Slater cooks and eat, and you’ll live very well indeed.

25. by kaleforsale@blogspot.com on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:14 AM PST

I love Ruth Reichl, MFK Fisher, Anthony Bourdain and all for different reasons.

26. by mary on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:15 AM PST

Bill Buford, for his humor.

27. by misformargaret on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:18 AM PST

I enjoy Michael Pollan’s “big picture” writing, not just describing the food or recipes but putting it into context.

If you enjoy baking, then Rose Levy Beranbaum is fabulous. She answers all the whys and hows of the chemistry of baking without being dry about it. You learn what really matters in recipes, where you need to be precise and where you can improvise.

28. by Alejandra on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:20 AM PST

I love Molly from Orangette, Ruth Reichl, and Amanda Hesser. Also Dom Deluise. He’s hysterical!

29. by Patti Pitts on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:21 AM PST

My favorite writer/radio host is Lynn Rosetto Kaspar of the Splendid Table on public radio. After reading the excerpt from Mangoes, memories and motorcycles, Sona Pai has been put on my fave list. Her memory of her father brought to mind my childhood adventures in the neighbor’s apple tree...I’m intrigued with the motorcycle part. Patti

30. by Patrick on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:25 AM PST

Without a doubt I’d have to offer up Amy Goldman’s name to this great list. Her books on melons, squash, and not tomatoes are almost erotic reading. They make you crave summer in the winter. And her photographer Victor Schrager’s work is the perfect compliment. I also love Farmer John Peterson’s CSA cookbook for not only does it have his voice throughout, but also those of the members who contributed recipes over the seasons.

31. by lauriel on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:28 AM PST

Dorie Greenspan and Mark Bittman are my favorite cookbook collaborators/authors!!

32. by neha on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:30 AM PST

It would have to be Madhur Jaffrey! Her style of crisp writing (including the prelude) makes you want to actually want to make the recipe while also giving you the sense that you are going to excel at it. Her book World Vegetarian is one such gem that every foodie must have!!

33. by pixframe on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:36 AM PST

I’m a Madhur Jaffrey fan too. Twice I saw her at Macy’s Degustibus.

34. by Josh on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:37 AM PST

Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Jamie Oliver but this is a tough question. It’s like asking what your favorite Beatles song is! There’s just too many.

35. by Alissa on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:44 AM PST

I thoroughly enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”

36. by anonymous on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:46 AM PST

I just finished a new book by Sarah Katherine Lewis called “SEX AND BACON: Why I love things that are very, very bad for me”. She’s a former sex industry worker with very poignant insights into the business. She also discusses the human need for nourishment and how it is related to our hunger for love and connection. It’s raunchy and riveting and I highly recommend it!!

37. by Eric on Nov 12, 2008 at 11:57 AM PST

I love Mark Bittman, Barbra Kingsolver and Michael Pollan. I could read about food forever!

38. by jessicadridgeway on Nov 12, 2008 at 12:06 PM PST

My favorite food writers now are Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. I like to read about food issues and food culture.

39. by martha on Nov 12, 2008 at 12:41 PM PST

Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl, but really, I’ve loved almost every food writing I’ve ever come across.

40. by Lisa on Nov 12, 2008 at 1:09 PM PST

I’ve just gotten into REALLY cooking in the last year. The book that got me started by teaching me the basics was The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. She owns Chez Panisse in Berkley and is a really wonderful chef. The other book I’m loving right now is Nourishing Traditions. I’ve had the book for a couple of years but it all seemed too hard. Now I’m reading it and realizing it’s not that hard, it just takes planning ahead and being prepared.

41. by Richard Yarnell on Nov 12, 2008 at 1:33 PM PST

I’ll dispense with the folks who write about food in only descriptive fashion as part of their fictional narratives and pass up those obvious choices, most of them already mentioned multiple times, in favor of a guy who editorializes in at least one (I’ve so far been strong enough to resist their insistant soliciations to subscribe to sister publications) of the Cook’s many titles.

Chris Kimball writes beautifully and often thoughtfully about food and things tangential to food.

42. by dgreenwood on Nov 12, 2008 at 1:39 PM PST

MFK Fisher for literature; Julia Child; Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver; Molly Stevens for the most wonderful book on braising; Harold McGee for the geeky things; Calvin Trillin for the laughs, Rose Beranbaum Levy for cakes; Nancy Silverton for bread and Amy Sedaris for entertainment.

43. by Elis on Nov 12, 2008 at 2:24 PM PST

Deb from www.smittenkitchen.com and David Leibovitz.

44. by hollyw on Nov 12, 2008 at 2:37 PM PST

Michael Pollan, Lynn Rosetto Kasper, and Alice Waters. Pollan and Waters inspire us to nourish and replenish our selves, others, and the land from which we bring forth our food. Lynn Rosetto Kasper is such a zealot! A more romantic connection with food would be difficult to find.

45. by bitemefrg on Nov 12, 2008 at 2:55 PM PST

M. K. Fisher to fire the imagination and Julia Child to make it real, as she always manages to bring even the most exotic to the table with ease.

46. by Gayle on Nov 12, 2008 at 2:57 PM PST

Michael Pollan is a wonderful writer - but my #1 has to be M.F.K Fisher. She sets a standard for all of us!

47. by Bhavana Singh on Nov 12, 2008 at 3:14 PM PST

I like Michal Pollan. I also love reading David Lebovitz’s blog

48. by Barrie Petersen on Nov 12, 2008 at 3:51 PM PST

Love Deb from Smittenkitchen.com
Julie on Julia by Julie Powell is a fun read, I am currently enjoying Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, short essays about a specific dish and then a tried and true recipe that follows, I chose this based on Deb at smittenkitchen often referring to it

49. by makemeapancake on Nov 12, 2008 at 5:36 PM PST

Ruth Reichl ranks as my favorite food writer today. She writes candidly, but most important in an incredibly captivating and devourable fashion. Julia Child remains my favorite culinary author of yesterday. Her style is hilariously honest and her voice like champagne, bubbling and a special treat - the best way to get your mouth watering before a delicious dinner.

Ruth Reichl and Julia Child: two strong women worthy of food writing herodom.

50. by lifeumd on Nov 12, 2008 at 7:11 PM PST

Susan Belsinger - aka the garlic lady is my favorite.

51. by shannon123 on Nov 12, 2008 at 8:18 PM PST

If I could write half as well as Ruth Reichl, I’d be a happy camper. She rocks.

52. by bakerone on Nov 12, 2008 at 8:26 PM PST

Mark Bittman is my food writer pick. I am fascinated by anything Mark Bittman writes about and taste. As a armchair traveler, I even get a history lesson about where the food or recipe originated from. I imagine that I am sitting at the table with him on one of his many international trips and enjoying the best cuisine in the world.

53. by KaarenB on Nov 12, 2008 at 8:56 PM PST

Julia Child and Marcella Hazan.

54. by hhuiping on Nov 13, 2008 at 2:41 AM PST

Ya Barrie, I love Deb too!! :) I haven’t read many food writers but I liked ‘The making of a chef’ by Michael Ruhlman and ‘Clementine in the kitchen’ by Samuel Chamberlain.

55. by Kristin Schwab on Nov 13, 2008 at 5:42 AM PST

definitely michael pollan

56. by learnoff on Nov 13, 2008 at 7:11 AM PST

Heat by Bill Buford was one of my all time favorite books. It gave unbelievable insight into the “back of the house” as well as the background, training and genius of Mario Batali. An incredibly entertaining read!

57. by pmacott on Nov 13, 2008 at 7:11 AM PST

Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Lynne Rosetto Kaspar, Anthony Bourdain; but also specific novels, like “La Cocina: an Novel of Rapture” by Emily Prior and Chocolat by Joanne Harris

58. by Kyrias on Nov 13, 2008 at 9:59 AM PST

Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Fisher of Tiger and strawberries
and Laurie Colwin

59. by anonymous on Nov 13, 2008 at 11:46 AM PST

MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, and Michael Pollan.

60. by cavalletta on Nov 13, 2008 at 1:14 PM PST

The Moosewood Collection has been a wonderful adventure for our family.

61. by Stephanie B. on Nov 13, 2008 at 4:12 PM PST

Though not a traditional “food writer,” the novels of James Joyce demonstrate an extremely close attention to food, depicting it as both sumptuous and grotesque.

In Ulysses, Joyce wrote, famously, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

If there’s another food passage in the English canon as simultaneously appealing and revolting as that one, I don’t know it!

62. by Lauren Kessler on Nov 13, 2008 at 9:09 PM PST

Alan Richman (“Fork it Over”) rules.

63. by Eliz M on Nov 13, 2008 at 9:21 PM PST

I enjoy Michael Pollan, Clotilde Dusoulier, Heidi Swanson, Harold McGee, and the writers of Cooks’.

64. by cwho on Nov 13, 2008 at 10:38 PM PST

MFK Fisher, Edward Espe Brown, and Madhur Jaffrey are all so deeply thoughtful. They’re my favorites.

65. by rgbarnes on Nov 14, 2008 at 6:24 AM PST

It’s Calvin Trillin for me.

66. by iBatard on Nov 14, 2008 at 4:56 PM PST

Daniel Bouloud - Letters to a young chef
Andrew Dornenburg/Karen Page - Becoming a Chef; Culinary Artistry; The Flavor Bible
Alton Brown - I’m just here for the food
Jacque Pepin - Cooking w/Claudine; Complete Techniques; The Apprentice
Barrons - The food lovers companion
CIA - The professional chef

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