Food can do so much more than nourish our bodies. It can bring people together, set them apart, and define personalities and cultures. It can say what words can’t. Food is a language all its own, and it’s personal — which is why we think culinary memoirs are a category worth exploring.
We (armchair) traveled and (vicariously) tasted food from around the world to find you the most recent, delicious book recs.
Truffle Hound by Rowan Jacobsen
Truffles are one of those things that elude straightforward description. Ask most people to explain what a truffle smells like and each one will give you a different answer, but most of them will start with, “It’s hard to describe.”
Rowan Jacobsen dives deep into the world of truffles, including all the different types found around the world, the fascinating people who “hunt” them, and the dogs trained to find them.
We were enraptured by these beautifully written chronicles that follow the mystery of truffles all over the world and include a number of descriptions that surpass olfactory, veering into the near spiritual. We give this food memoir a *chef’s kiss.*
At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips
This memoir with recipes takes readers to Taiwan in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s rich in history, transportive storytelling, and plenty of illustrations by the author (always a bonus).
We enjoy that it’s told in the present tense, as if we’re back in time, right there with the author as she finds her way through language barriers, falls in love, and experiences food in China as few Americans ever do.
Phillips’ writing is vivid and sensorial, and her illustrations are absolutely charming — it’s as much travel memoir as food memoir.
A Blissful Feast by Teresa Lust
Perfect for fans of Francis Mayes, Lust’s culinary travel memoir is part personal journey (from chef to home cook), part cultural and natural history, and part utterly delicious food descriptions that’ll make your mouth water. She takes readers through the Italian Piedmont, the Maremma, and then Le March, chronicling not only the food but also the culinary guides she meets along the way.
At its heart, this book is about home cooking. And, as Lust says, “learning to cook like an Italian does not come from memorizing recipes, but from making a meal from what’s on hand and in season.” Still, we’re pretty stoked that this book contains more than 35 recipes for home cooks to try.
Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen
Though you might not have heard of most of these women, you’ve certainly experienced their influence on modern American cooking. This biography chronicles the lives of seven women who spent much of their lives immersed in running restaurants, writing cookbooks, and teaching classes on cuisines from their respective cultures of China, Mexico, France, Italy, India, Iran, and Jamaica.
Most of these women weren’t recognized for their contributions, but because of them we have the term “stir-fry,” know that Italian food is so much more than red sauce and that Indian food is not just “curry” (TBH, we’re still learning this in the United States), and much more. Sen’s writing beats with the collective heart of these passionate culinary creators.
Plenty by Hannah Howard
Part food memoir, part travel memoir, and part personal journey, this essay-collection-like book is a tribute to the women and community in the food industry. Howard’s writing is transportive, insightful, and starkly honest. She takes us through what it’s like to navigate an eating disorder in the food world (she now mentors women recovering from disordered eating), as well as other steep hills and valleys along her path.
Ultimately this book celebrates the love of food, storytelling, nourishing the soul, and the friendships that see us through it all.
Content note: This book discusses disordered eating, miscarriage, sexual violence, and patriarchal misogyny.
To Boldly Grow: Finding Joy, Adventure, and Dinner in Your Own Backyard by Tamar Haspel
If you’re not great at gardening, that’s OK — Haspel wasn’t either, nor did she know how to raise chickens, forage, fish, or hunt. But she did all those things and more after leaving NYC and moving to Cape Cod. She and her husband sought to learn for themselves how to eat and live in a way that was closer to the land — “first-hand food,” as they call it.
Haspel writes with insight, wit, and humor. And even if most of us will never pluck a turkey and will only get as far as growing tomatoes in a pot on our windowsill, we’ve become markedly more curious about how to source our food creatively and sustainably.
My Ackee Tree: A Chef’s Memoir of Finding Home in the Kitchen by Suzanne Barr with Suzanne Hancock
Barr takes us along for a journey through the meals, recipes, and conversations of her upbringing and her path in becoming a chef, wife, and mother. Through all the twists and turns — from the ackee tree of her childhood home to NYC, Toronto, and beyond — it’s full of soul, heart, humor, strength, and food inspired by Caribbean roots.
Her passion for cooking permeates each chapter, and her zest for life is contagious. This book contains a dozen recipes, but instead of being sprinkled throughout the chapters, as they are in most culinary memoirs, they’re in a section of their own at the back, which we appreciate for ease of use.
Mango and Peppercorns by Tung Nguyen and Kathy Manning
This book’s colorful cover draws us in, but it’s the heartwarming tale of unlikely friendship, food, and perseverance through difficult times that grabs our hearts.
Co-authors Tung Nguyen (who escaped the fall of Saigon in 1975) and Kathy Manning (who took in Nguyen and other Vietnamese refugees) chronicle how their little restaurant near Miami’s Little Havana came about.
Together they raised Tung’s daughter and turned the tiny eatery into the popular restaurant Hy Vong, with their signature mango-and-peppercorns sauce. There are 20 delish Vietnamese recipes sprinkled throughout.
Love & Saffron by Kim Fay
We couldn’t resist adding this novella to the list! It’s a fictional food memoir, if you will. Yes, it’s fiction, but it warmly captures the spirit of two people who are incredibly passionate about food while building the kind of friendship that sustains them through dark times — the kind of friendship we can all only hope for in our lifetimes.
Most of the book is told in the form of letters sent between the two friends, who were greatly inspired by real people in the author’s life. Grab a snack — it’ll make you hungry.
Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.