Food and France: A Love Story in Books

Culture Travel Tuesday

by Jessica Voigts

Destination: France

Books: Several about food–read on.

Dessert Plate at Mariage Freres
Dessert Plate at Mariage Freres tea room, Paris

France. What’s the first thing you think of? If you’re anything like me, it’s all about the food. I dream of luscious cheeses, mouthwatering chocolates, special meals, and of course ANYTHING I can get at a boulangerie. Blame it on Molly Wizenberg, Alexander Lobrano, Patricia Wells, and David Lebovitz. Whenever I read books on food and France, the Proustian moment pops up (as expected).

To start this new year off well, I’d like to share my very favorite books on Food and France. Soon, I imagine that you, too, will be trying recipes, reading deep into the cold dark winter nights, and dreaming of walking through the door of your favorite chocolatier or boulangerie, tossing off your order in flawless French.

Long Ago In France: The Years in Dijon, by MFK Fisher
This started it, for me…that life-long love of France and French food. This book is both is a memoir of three years in Dijon as a postgrad student and an ode to exploring, learning, and loving food, by America’s foremost literary food writer. While still on chapter one, I ran to the store and bought a huge jar of Dijon mustard. I put it in vinaigrettes, main dishes, on sandwiches – and also, just opened it and smelled FRANCE. I still remember her descriptions of how the smell of Dijon mustard wafted through the town, and wanted it for myself. This book is, yes, still on my nightstand.

Eat Smart in France: How to decipher the menu, know the market foods, and embark on a tasting adventure, by Ronnie Heiss.
Eat Smart in France is filled with recipes (!), gorgeous photos, the history of French cuisine, tips for shopping, resources for finding ingredients, helpful phrases, a menu guide, food and flavor guide, and a reference guide to the food establishments. Want to know more? You can read our interview with author Ronnie Hess – an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in France .

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vols. 1 & 2, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
Need I say more? This is THE classic — cookbooks that have inspired movies, books, blogs, and more meals than we can count. It changed the way that Americans cooked, and thought about global cuisines. I haven’t worked my way through them one recipe at a time, but have chosen the dishes I love most to prepare. If you buy one cookbook set, let it be this.

The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz
After I read the review here on A Traveler’s Library, I had to get this book for myself (thank you, ATL!). I was not disappointed – great recipes, marvelous stories of living in France, and pure joy at reading the life of an expat foodie in Paris. Finding spices can be difficult, depending on what you’re looking for. Finding great food? Not so difficult. A glimpse into life in a tiny apartment in Paris? Both cautionary and inspiring. A great, great read. Extra Bonus: LOTS Of chocolate references and recipes.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg
Not a book about food and France, per se. But the chapters that talk about food and France both inspire and get you in the kitchen. Author Wizenberg (if you haven’t been to her popular blog, Orangette yet, go there first) shares stories and recipes, including of her time in France. I love this kind of book, where you read a bit, and then delve into a recipe. Yes, I’ve made her father’s potato salad, and the dark chocolate ginger banana bread, and, well, almost all of the recipes in the book. Definitely worth a read, for more than the France sections. Want to know the backstory? We talked with Molly at Wandering Educators.

Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants, by Alexander Lobrano
Renowned food writer Lobrano seems to be all over the place – on tv, in the New York Times, Saveur, and a whole host of food magazines. He’s based in Paris. Need I say more? He’s your inside guide to eating well in Paris. Hungry for Paris also addresses cultural aspects of French Cuisine – including manners, mores, history, reservations, and more. Each restaurant Alec recommends is a gem – I almost had to stop reading after each entry, to think about what I’d order, and to visualize its location, chef, and menu for myself. Whether you have a large or small meal budget in Paris, a taste for classical French food or leaning toward ethnic or bistro fare, this book covers it. One key aspect of this book is that it teaches the reader about food in France in “The Happy Eater’s Almanac: How To Have a Perfect Meal in Paris.” Definitely a must-read, and a necessity for your next trip to Paris.

The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, by Adam Gopnik
I’ll read just about anything by Adam Gopnik (love his articles in the New Yorker). He spent years in Paris, and is a true foodie. The essays in this book cover a variety of topics (to eat meat or not; how the modern restaurant started; contemporary French cuisine; history; culture), but it is his paean to food and family, of eating together, of the pleasures of the table (wherever that table may be) that has drawn me in.

And a kids book (because it is never too young to start either cooking or traveling)…

Crepes by Suzette, by Monica Wellington
Monica Wellington is a beloved children’s book author and illustrator. Yes, we’ve read all of her books. But this one, it is something special. Crepes by Suzette follows a crepe maker throughout her day, moving around Paris and making crepes for her customers. You’ll see your favorite Paris landmarks, of course. Wellington is truly creative, though, and works in pictorial references to great works of art. It’s fun, simple to read, teaches about a place and art, and also inspires young chefs. The crepe recipe in the book is a classic – and is the first recipe that our daughter (then 3) ever made. She’s gone on to master many other recipes (and been featured in a cookbook), but this is her very favorite.

Thanks, Jessie. 

Disclaimer: Book cover links that take you to Amazon enable you to shop and although you spend no more, A Traveler’s Library earns a few cents with everything you buy.The photo at the top is Ken’s property. Please do not copy without express permission. Thank you.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

12 thoughts on “Food and France: A Love Story in Books

  1. I have most of the books listed above — I love MFK Fisher’s writing and her stories of “long ago in France.” Recently I found two others that I want to share with you and your readers, Vera, and this gives me the chance. “When French Women Cook” by Madeleine Kamman is a memoir of the author’s relationships during her lifetime with eight French women. She discusses the role of food in their lives and then gives many recipes from each of them. Originally published in 1976, the paperback reprint is dated 2002.

    “Auberge of the Flowering Hearth” by Roy Andries de Groot is rather odd. It is the story of an inn located in the French Alps and its restaurant, and of the author’s time there in the 1960s. The author was a famous food critic, and he created this book, which he says is “just a cookbook,” during the course of several visits to the Auberge. The book is more than a cookbook. It shares with readers a way of life that has probably disappeared. It’s true subject is the very French attitude toward food shared by the two women who own the inn and the extraordinary dishes they created and served. Originally published in 1973, this title is still in print.

    Both of these books provide insights into the lives of women in France in the 20th century, and the way some of them related to food.

  2. Jessie, MFK Fisher is my all time favorite food writer, and I keep David Lebovitz’ Sweet Life in Paris close at hand for when the hungries strike. Besides he was a great guide to French culture when we went to Paris. This is a great collection. Although I’ve read most, I’m adding the others to my list.

  3. What delightful recommendations!!!! (I was just going to stop with that- but apparently the internet is telling me I have not typed enough words- I hope this is enough).

    1. Ah, Connie, you fell afoul of a new attempt by Comment Luv to stop spam. Besides, we want people to respond in the comment section, but we want them to actually engage in conversation rather than say, “Good post!” or something inane. Not that YOU would ever be inane—but exclamation marks don’t count as words, unfortunately. I know that your responses are generally incredibly thoughtful so it is really ironic that you got caught in this. Don’t be discouraged form commenting, please.

  4. I love MFK Fisher’s books and I love the French attitude towards food – a true romance and celebration, as opposed to the neurotic love-hate relationship we so often have in the U.S. Thanks for all these book suggestions. It’ll hard to figure out when to read them though — not when I’m hungry, which leaves out most of the day, but after dinner, when I’ve had a few glasses of wine, I’ll probably be too sleepy….

  5. It is bad when you can’t tell if the ‘pang’ you feel from reading a post is caused by hunger or the travel bug! Thanks for some great sounding reading/cooking/eating/travel suggestions!

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