As the blistering heat of summer subsides, giving way to cooler temperatures and changing leaves, there’s no better time than the present to cozy up with a good book. And if you’re looking for a novel or some nonfiction that will make you hungry, this fall’s line-up of new releases offers a real bounty of food-related reads that will satisfy any appetite.
This guide to fall’s best books for food lovers includes binge-worthy fiction like C. Pam Zhang’s decadent novel Land of Milk and Honey as well as charming children’s books, including chef Eric Adjepong’s Sankofa. There are also some really great nonfiction reads out this fall, including Mark Kurlansky’s deep-dive into the history of the onion, and a memoir from New York Times book critic Dwight Garner that explores the inextricable link between eating and reading. With books like these, you won’t mind being cooped up inside.
The best food books in nonfiction
The Lost Supper: Searching for the Future of Food by Taras Grescoe
Greystone Books, out now
When we think about what eating in the future will look like, the picture is often pretty bleak — Soylent Green, those weird protein bricks made from bugs in Snowpiercer. But this new book from Taras Grescoe insists that it doesn’t have to be that way, especially if we look to ancient foodways as a way forward. Grescoe himself is a man who likes to eat, but feels frustrated by the industrial food complex and the concerning decline in biodiversity across the globe, thanks to factors like climate change. And so he sought out increasingly rare traditional foods, including 45 species of edible insects in Mexico and heirloom olive oil in Puglia.
Whether or not you’re especially excited about eating bugs in the future, Grescoe does manage to make it sound pretty darn compelling when he describes the crispy chapulines (grasshoppers) and rich ahuatle (water boatman eggs) he ate in Mexico as research for his book. Mostly, though, The Lost Supper is a fascinating look at the people who are keeping these ancient food traditions alive against the odds, while offering a rough roadmap toward a more sustainable food ecosystem. —Amy McCarthy
Little, Brown and Company, October 17
There’s a reason so many successful pieces of media (Succession, Arrested Development, Fresh Off the Boat, Six Feet Under, to name a few) are set within family businesses: They’re the perfect microcosm for exploring family dynamics and telling coming-of-age stories. Asian American Writers’ Workshop co-founder Curtis Chin offers his contribution with a restaurant-kid memoir that’s also an ode to Chung’s, the Chinese restaurant that his family ran in Detroit from the 1940s to 2000.
Chin’s vivid writing makes it easy to imagine him and his siblings hanging out at Chung’s and observing all the people who come in and out. Chin brings a combination of earnestness and levity to even more serious topics, like experiences of racism or denying his sexuality as a kid. This natural and engaging approach to storytelling is emphasized in Chin’s narration of the audiobook; it’s worth listening to if that’s your thing. —Bettina Makalintal
The Last Supper Club: A Waiter’s Requiem by Matthew Batt
University of Minnesota Press, October 24, 2023
Struggling under the weight of his six-figure student loan debt in the midst of a year-long sabbatical, 40-something associate English professor Matthew Batt makes a return to the only job that he knows will bring the quick, consistent cash he needs to keep the bills paid: waiting tables. This charming memoir reads sort of like if Ned Flanders wrote Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, a hopeful, occasionally naive recollection of a long, sporadic career in working at restaurants of all kinds, culminating in a stint at Minneapolis’s Surly Brewing Company. There’s an impressive level of detail here, as Batt explains how point-of-sale systems work and the intricacies of “side-work,” offering insight into the nitty-gritty of restaurant labor for those who’ve never worked in hospitality, while still feeling intimately familiar to those who have done their time in the service industry. —AM
The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading by Dwight Garner
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, October 24
As its title indicates, New York Times book critic Dwight Garner’s new memoir is an obsessive reflection of how reading and eating have intertwined over his life as an “omnidirectionally hungry human being.” The Upstairs Delicatessen is a smart, fast-paced combination of Garner’s memories, thoughts on how and why we read, as well as a compendium of memorable-to-him bits of writing (in one tight paragraph, Garner references Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Food52 founder Amanda Hesser’s recipe writing, and Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold). It’s a book worth reading with a highlighter (or a notebook) in tow, and one I already know I’ll be turning back to in the future. —BM
Endangered Eating: America’s Vanishing Foods by Sarah Lohman
W. W. Norton & Company, October 24
In her first book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, culinary historian Sarah Lohman used eight flavors to explain the trajectory of eating in the United States. Lohman takes a similar approach in her new book, Endangered Eating. In it, she identifies eight foods and ways of eating that are essential to culinary traditions across the US but which are, disconcertingly, disappearing. These include Coachella Valley dates, Hawaiian legacy sugarcane, heirloom cider apples, and an Indigenous method of salmon fishing called sxwo’le. Lohman deftly combines history and people-forward accounts of her travels across the country to learn from food producers. The result is a thoughtful, compelling read about why these food traditions matter and are worth preserving. —BM
The Core of an Onion: Peeling the Rarest Common Food by Mark Kurlansky
Bloomsbury, November 7, 2023
In cuisines across the world, there are few ingredients more ubiquitous than the humble onion. And there are few authors better suited to exploring the history of the onion than Mark Kurlansky, who has penned deep-dives into salt, salmon, and oysters (among other subjects). The book begins with an explanation of what, exactly, an onion even is. (Did you know that onions are actually flowers? Me neither.) Kurlansky manages to make the cultivation and culinary use of the onion feel like an epic tale as he follows the beloved allium across history, across the globe, and of course, across our plates. Once you’ve learned all there is to know about the onion — and worked up an appetite — Kurlansky’s book includes a slew of recipes that showcase this most versatile of alliums. —AM
The best food books in fiction
Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang
Riverhead Books, September 26
C. Pam Zhang’s second novel reads, at times, like the literary equivalent of Chef’s Table: downright gluttonous with its detailed imagery of fine dining. Its perspective on food, however, is more like that of last year’s The Menu: invested in the craft of it all, but also disgusted by its own decadence. Zhang imagines a climate-crisis dystopia in which global food systems have collapsed. Her unnamed chef narrator, tired of her unfulfilled cravings and of eating only for sustenance, goes to work in an ultra-exclusive compound where nearly everything she misses is available. Naturally, she learns that having everything doesn’t mean you no longer want. Zhang offers a luxurious, if at times nauseatingly indulgent, feast of a book, full of lush food descriptions and thought-provoking ruminations on hunger, pleasure, and desire. —BM
Family Meal by Bryan Washington
Riverhead Books, October 10
After the release of his short story collection Lot and debut novel Memorial, Houston-born author Bryan Washington has quickly emerged as one of the most evocative writers in fiction — especially when it comes to food. Washington has demonstrated an exceptional ability to write about cooking and eating in a way that always feels natural and hunger-inducing, even in the most emotionally devastating scenes. That’s especially true in his latest, Family Meal, a novel that follows the combative trajectory of Cam and TJ, two estranged childhood friends trying to find a way forward in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy.
Cam’s back in his hometown of Houston following the death of his boyfriend, numbing his pain with various drugs and a litany of nameless sexual partners as he works in a queer bar owned by a friend. He unexpectedly encounters TJ in the bar, which sets off a chain of events that reunites the two at the bakery owned by TJ’s parents, where Cam worked during his youth. Set across Osaka, Houston, and Los Angeles, Family Meal is not explicitly a food book. It’s a book that uses food and eating to punctuate a wide range of human experiences, from the nuances of queer relationships and familial ties to what it really means to be “at home.” In Washington’s hands, a bite of injera or a plate of eggs or a simple cocktail can be so much more. —AM
Good Taste: A Novel in Search of Great Food by Caroline Scott
William Morrow, November 7
First released in the United Kingdom last year, this charming historical fiction bills itself as being for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set during the Great Depression, Good Taste follows dejected author Stella Douglas as she tackles the unexpected opportunity of writing a sweeping, national morale-boosting tome about the merits of English food. The task is harder than Stella initially realizes: “We are not a country that cooks in primary colors,” she notes. But in the process, Stella finds her footing in the world and learns to follow what she wants. Stella is an endearing protagonist, and Scott’s sentences fly by, with great descriptions of foods and places. Devour this one during a rainy weekend, ideally paired with several cups of tea and maybe some oatcakes. —BM
The best food-focused children’s books
Chinese Menu by Grace Lin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 12
Chinese Menu, the Newberry-winning children’s book author Grace Lin’s newest is a stunningly illustrated book that digs into the myths, misunderstandings, and legends that surround the most iconic dishes in Chinese cuisine. Though it’s technically intended for young readers, Chinese Menu is a fun read for anyone who loves to learn about the stories — whether true or fanciful — behind beloved favorites like crispy fried dumplings and scallion pancakes. If you do buy it for your child, don’t be surprised if you find yourself thumbing through these vibrantly colored pages. —AM
Sankofa by Eric Adjepong
Penguin Workshop, October 3
Chef Eric Adjepong’s debut children’s picture book, Sankofa, uses the accessible topic of food to broach the bigger, harder topic of belonging. Adjepong tells the story of Kofi, a kid from a Ghanaian family, who feels nervous about his school potluck, in which each student is encouraged to bring in a dish that represents their family’s culture. Having been born in the United States, “home was a place he had never been to,” Adjepong writes.
Kofi’s grandfather decides to amend this situation by taking Kofi (and kid readers) on a trip to the market to teach him about his culinary heritage. He explains how spices, plantains, and rice symbolize the resilience and resourcefulness of Kofi’s ancestors — how Carolina Gold rice, for example, was brought over to the US by enslaved people. Through food, Kofi connects with his culture. Sankofa opens the door for important conversations with its easy to understand storytelling and adorable illustrations by Lala Watkins. —BM