How is it possible that every year Adam Gopnik writes a book even better than his last one? And how is it possible, on the evidence in The Table Comes First (Knopf, $25.95), that he has so much time after his day job at The New Yorker that he makes three different rice puddings, each with its own meaning and savor? Who before Gopnik has rhapsodized about the English essayist Elizabeth Pannell, a stout Victorian food writer who reveled in gluttony as a “cardinal virtue”? A hedonist unabashedly addicted to discovering an infinite number of ways to combine saturated fat, sugar, starch, and salt to produce ecstatic pleasure, Gopnik is as pragmatic as he is humorous, a sophisticate with a favorite meal of salmon, broccoli, and brown rice. Anyone who enjoys eating will completely relish Gopnik’s report from the kitchen, a Manhattan workspace enhanced by the presence of the family dog, Butterscotch.
Balzac, the 19th-century French novelist, filled his massive Comédie humaine with meticulously observed details of people and their social contexts. In the vein of these “naturalist” works, Balzac’s Omelette: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honoré de Balzac (Other Press, $19.95), by Anka Muhlstein, focuses on the food and drink amply described in the fiction, from sketchy boarding-house fare to opulent multi-course dinners, to illustrate the society that so captivated Balzac. Balzac’s acute and entertaining descriptions evoke how strongly food and our feelings toward food affect character, relationships, and social standing.
If you’re one of those people for whom a neighborhood shawarma stand is as necessary as a coffeeshop or a WiFi hotspot (or a bookstore!), you will be delighted to discover Annia Ciezadlo’s memoir of living, reporting, cooking, and eating in the Middle East. Like all great food writing, Day Of Honey (Free Press, $26) covers more than cuisine—it’s the story of Ciezadlo’s marriage into a fractious Lebanese family and her career as a war correspondent in Baghdad and Beirut. But food is the foundation: as Ciezadlo confesses, “I am always, always hungry.” Whether she is zig-zagging Baghdad’s ancient neighborhoods to dine with her sources or shopping with the founders of Lebanon’s slow-food movement, Ciezadlo’s culinary wanderings provide an intimate portrait of daily life in wartime. Her recipe collection is a mouthwatering bonus.