Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table

Writers recall their most memorable meals.

Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table Edited by Amanda Hesser W. W. Norton, 204 pp., $24.95

No one can deny the power of a steaming, full plate to transport one to some other time or place. And yet food, or a meal, can also play a minor character in an intense drama.

Everyone has an expert opinion about food these days but it takes a good writer to decipher the emotions that surround the daily act of eating. Eat, Memory is a collection of 26 essays by noted authors who do just that.

The essays first appeared in The New York Times Magazine under its “Eat, Memory” column after being skillfully edited by Amanda Hesser, a former food editor there and a delightful writer herself.

Ann Patchett (“Bel Canto”) describes how nearly breaking up with her boyfriend in Paris’s celebrated Taillevent eclipsed any recollection of what they actually ate that evening.

Kiran Desai (“The Inheritance of Loss”) shares her childhood kitchen standoffs over prized ingredients with her family’s territorial cook.

Not all memories are delicious – bittersweet and ridiculous also have their place.

Allen Shaw (“Wish I Could Be There”) writes of his annual birthday meal with his institutionalized twin sister.

Gary Shteyngart (“The Russian Debutante’s Handbook”) contributed a hilarious essay titled “The Sixth Sense” about his upbringing on post-Soviet fare: “The nightly dose of farmer cheese was supposed to make you grow tall and strong. (I am five-foot-six on a good day.)”

And George Saunders (“The Braindead Megaphone”), jabs at consumption culture by including his recipe for “Light-As-Air Brunch,” which lists “Air, approximately 6 cubic feet” as an ingredient and instructs one to return the rest of the ingredients as soon as possible.

The essays also succeed in grounding famous personalities down on earth: Julia Child fumes after failing a basic exam at Cordon Bleu in “The Sauce and The Fury” and Tucker Carlson describes his encounter with a can of bad beans the summer he worked in a canning factory in “Bean There.”

These enjoyable, insightful, short essays may end too soon, but their memories will linger as if they were your own.

Kendra Nordin is a staff editor.

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