In these fictional tales, food feeds the heart.
Plenty of us love to cook food, and even more of us love to eat it. But from sweetly baked delicacies to savory, hearty meals, food can speak to us in ways that go far beyond the meager need for physical sustenance. Anger, sadness, joy—even love—can all emerge from our relationship to and relationships around food. So what happens when what we eat doesn't just light up our taste buds but something else within us? Can cooking or dining be a means of filling both a hungry stomach and a hungry soul? Here are nine novels that attempt to answer those questions by exploring the personal and profound relationship between food and one of our most powerful experiences: romance.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
As the youngest daughter in the De La Garza family, Tita is the sole soul responsible for looking after her mother, a fate she has accepted reluctantly. That is until she meets Pedro, who she charms with both her spirit and her cooking. To avoid parting, Pedro marries into the De La Garza family, but not to Tita, thrusting the lovers into a complicated, seemingly ill-fated love triangle in this global, best-selling phenomenon.
Like Water for Chocolate, $9 on amazon.com
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert
In this quirky romance about mistaken identity and love in unexpected places, budding Milwaukee restaurateur Lou and her worst critic, British transplant and pseudonym-using newspaper food writer Al, accidentally meet up after a whirlwind day. A pact made at a bar to explore the best of Milwaukee between two seeming strangers turns into a mutual attraction, but can it weather the eventual truth once Lou learns Al's true identity?
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, $9 on amazon.com
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
After widowed food writer Maggie McElroy learns of a paternity challenge to her late husband's estate, she travels to Beijing to address it and work on her latest assignment: a profile of rising culinary star Sam Liang. As Maggie physically unravels over the life she never knew her husband had, Sam unveils a new kind of life she didn't know she could in this story about the transformative power of history, identity, and cuisine.
The Last Chinese Chef, $9 on amazon.com
La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior
Within the kitchen of her family's grand estate and within the heart of a young man, a young Rosa Fiore—known for her own masterful cooking—found solace. But when tragedy befalls her young heart, Rosa retreats from the kitchen, becoming a librarian. Her heart and love for food are reawakened when the mysterious chef I'Inglese wanders into her library, looking to research the heritage of Sicilian cuisine.
La Cucina, $9 at amazon.com
Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch
In Lynch's debut novel, Abbey returns to the small Irish dairy farm her mother whisked her from when she was a child. Meanwhile, Kit, an overworked New York stockbroker who is down on his luck, finds himself joining her. The two, in search of something new, converge on the farm just as the older, twinkly-eyed Corrie and Fee, dairy farmers and cheesemakers, are in need of successors.
Blessed Are the Cheesemakers, $23 at amazon.com
Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber
Nearly 40 and never married, Arab-American Sirine is a chef at a Lebanese restaurant in the bubble of Los Angeles, content living her life out with her dog, King Babar, and her passion: cooking. Sirine's live-in Iraqi-immigrant uncle and her prying boss, Umm Nadia, are less content about the never married part. Lucky for them (and Sirine) an Arabic literature professor and Iraqi exile walks through the restaurant doors. Suddenly, her contentedness about identity, work, and love are all questioned.
Crescent: A Novel, $12 at amazon.com
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Easily one of the best-known pieces of food-inspired fiction, Chocolat explores the sensual awakening of a small town in the South of France. After chocolatier Vianne Rocher opens up her chocolate shop in the tiny community of Lansquenet, odd things being to happen to its straightlaced inhabitants. As the shop owner finds the perfect chocolate to heal their private ails, a new kind of joy is bestowed about the town—but not before some question the power of her smooth, rich confectionaries.
Chocolat, $11 at amazon.com
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
In this cross-cultural tale, the lives of a documentary filmmaker and the wife of a TV show ad man become entwined while filming the Japanese TV show My American Wife!. As Asian-American documentarian Jane Takagi-Little uncovers the distasteful truth about industrial agriculture, Japanese housewife Akiko Ueno uncovers the former's episode about lesbian vegetarians bringing them both together for a wacky tale full of romance, humor and the ethics of meat.
My Year of Meats, $11 on amazon.com
Idlewild by Jude Sierra
Recent widow Ashner Schenck has just fired his entire staff in an effort to save his Detroit gastropub. Among the new hires is Tyler Heyward, a 23-year-old recent college graduate trying to put himself through medical school. As Ashner attempts to pick up the pieces of his life and business, his budding friendship with Tyler takes a healing turn as the possibility of dreaming—and loving—once again become a possibility.
Idlewild, $14 on amazon.com