Melville waxes ecstatic about a bowl of clam chowder in Moby Dick — in fact, he devotes a whole chapter of his epic novel to it.
“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt…..we dispatched it with great expedition.”
Turducken, except with camel and antelope from I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal
Food and feasting is lustily described by Czech writer Hrabal.
“Two assistants brought two huge cutting boards into the middle of the dining room, fastened them together with clamps, set the camel down on this enormous table, and brought in the knives and sliced the camel in half with broad strokes, then cut each half in half again. A stupendous aroma spread through the room. In every slice there was a piece of camel and antelope, and inside the antelope a slice of turkey, and inside the turkey some fish and stuffing and little circles of hard-boiled eggs . . . A government counselor, a well-known epicure, was so enraptured with the barbecued camel that he stood up and yelled with an expression of bliss on his face. But it tasted so delicious that not even that yell was enough, so he did what looked like a gymnastics routine, then started pounding his chest, then ate another piece of meat dipped in the sauce.”
Boeuf au Daube from To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Woolf herself often had to be coaxed to eat, which you wouldn’t guess from this sensual description from To the Lighthouse.
“…an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine . . . ‘It is a triumph,’ said Mr. Banks, laying his knife down for a moment. He had eaten attentively. It was rich; it was tender. It was perfectly cooked.”
Hot Chocolate and chicken sandwiches from “The Long Rain” by Ray Bradbury
This desperate story in The Illustrated Man follows a group of men facing a maddening, ceaseless rain. They fantasize about food as much as they dream about being dry.
“A big pot of coffee for me,” panted Simmons, smiling. “And a pan of cinnamon buns, by God . . . Simmons yanked the door wide. “Hey!” he yelled. “Bring on the coffee and the buns!”
“He stood for a few moments, looking about. Behind him the rain whirled at the door. Ahead of him on a low table, stood a silver pot of hot chocolate, steaming, and a cup, full, with a marshmallow in it. And beside that, on another tray, stood thick sandwiches of rich chicken meat and fresh cut tomatoes and green onions.”
Cupcakes from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
There’s a lot of gross-out food in this book; the life-altering cupcakes are sweet and sinful.
“The cupcakes were full of butter and frosted with a butter frosting. After he’d washed his hands and opened a bottle of Chardonnay he ate four of them and put the uncooked fish in the refrigerator.…He lowered the blinds and drank the wine and ate two more cupcakes, detecting peppermint in them, a faint buttery peppermint, before he slept.”
Turkish Delight from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Embarrassing to admit? For years we thought Turkish delight was a magic food that only existed in Narnia.
“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmond and never tasted anything more delicious.”
Gizzards, giblets, liverslices from Ulysses by James Joyce
Forget tea and scones. Leopold Bloom opts instead for mutton kidneys which smell a little like piss.
“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
Toasted almond bride-cake from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens’s goose in A Christmas Carol is memorable, but not more so than the abomination of a wedding cake in Miss Havisham’s mouldering manse.
“As I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it . . . ‘I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.’ ‘It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!'”
Bird egg sweets from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s books are peppered with food, from human beans in The BFG to peach juice dripping from the ceiling in James and the Giant Peach. Sweets are the thing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“Mr. Willy Wonka can make marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds as you suck them, and little feathery sweets that melt away deliciously the moment you put them between your lips. He can make chewing-gum that never loses its taste, and sugar balloons that you can blow up to enormous sizes before you pop them with a pin and gobble them up. And, by a most secret method, he can make lovely blue birds’ eggs with black spots on them, and when you put one of these in your mouth, it gradually gets smaller and smaller until suddenly there is nothing left except a tiny little DARKRED sugary baby bird sitting on the tip of your tongue.”
The feast cooked by an Italian mother from The Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante
Fante, hailed as the Italian-American Hemingway, writes rich, funny-sad books about family and food.
“The kitchen. La cucina, the true mother country, this warm cave of the good witch deep in the desolate land of loneliness, with pots of sweet potions bubbling over the fire, a cavern of magic herbs, rosemary and thyme and sage and oregano, balm of lotus that brought sanity to lunatics, peace to troubled, joy to the joyless . . . the altar a kitchen range . . . the old children, lured back to their beginnings, the taste of mother’s milk still haunting their memories . . . the wicked world receding as the old mother witch sheltered her brood from the wolves outside. Beguiled and voracious Virgil filled his cheeks with gnocchi and eggplant and veal, and flooded them down his gullet with the fabulous grape of Joe Musso, spellbound, captivated, mooning over his great mother.”