Food in Fiction


Feasting on Romantic Comedy is now a weekly column over at the fabulous Novelicious – a site for readers and writers.

But it all started with Sally and tiramisu.

The following article appeared on the International Chick Lit Month blog in 2011.

Have you ever read a book and got so into it you are experiencing everything the main character is feeling? Your toes curl when they embarrass themselves. You smile when they get some amazing news and cry when they’re upset. Living their emotions. Walking a mile in their shoes. And most tantalizingly, tasting what they’re eating.

I do. Often. This is why I love contemporary women’s fiction so much. It feels real. The emotions, the situations. And the food. I started to re-read Sally, the debut novel by Freya North, a few weeks ago and by the time I’d finished chapter seven I was incredibly hungry for Italian food.

I adore it when authors use food to enhance a scene. In this particular chapter food has been used by the author and by Richard, for real purpose. To seduce Sally and in so doing, seduce the reader.

Sally, a primary school teacher from Highgate, has purposely decided to become some sort of femme fatale, turning up at Richard’s flat with one thing on her mind. Richard, meanwhile, is going to captivate her through food.  He has prepared and cooked a chic but simple meal for them consisting of five courses which meant as soon as Sally entered Richard’s flat, it was she who was seduced….It was the smell of cooking: a mellow base of tomato…laced with top notes of garlic and basil. This, right at the beginning of the chapter, is where my own mouth started watering.

Freya North goes on to describe each course, cleverly building and layering the food, sexual tension and emotions in her own unique style.

To begin Sally and Richard have Prosciutto S. Daniele rolled around grissini. I was unsure what that was (Italian ham around breadsticks doesn’t sound quite as alluring) but as Sally debated whether to eat it suggestively or not I didn’t care. She opted to simply enjoy it for what it is. And so did I.

Then came the starter. A warm salad of rocket and baby spinach with roasted red peppers and individual goat cheeses. Dressed, by Richard, with vinaigrette. I don’t even like rocket but that sounds delicious. Meanwhile the chemistry builds up another notch as Richard finished before Sally. He watched. She stared back, eating all the while.

We are then, with stomachs rumbling and mouths drooling, led on to the main course. It’s a bed of pappardelle woven throughout with porcini and chicken. Yes I had to google pappardelle (it’s a type of pasta, of course it is) but that didn’t matter. I was properly drooling by now. My increase in drool directly in proportion to the increase in chemistry between Sally and Richard.

Then the dessert. The finale. Where Sally tries Tiramisu for the first time and Richard feasts on her reaction. The dark matt brown of the cocoa powder, the soft ivory of the mascarpone, the glistening sponge, speckled through with espresso coffee.

Her response to that first, sensuous taste, is perfect. Still holding his gaze, she slowly pushed the loaded spoon into her mouth. It was like a trigger, a chemical reaction: her eyes snapped shut and simultaneously Richard grinned broadly.

OK. That’s enough. We all know what’s going to happen next for Sally and Richard. Meanwhile I have an incredible urge to make Tiramisu.



4 Responses to “Food in Fiction”

  1. Hannah August 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    I love this page idea!
    India Knight indirectly talks about making roast dinners in her book Don’t You Want Me? and it always sends me into the kitchen.

    • Helen August 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

      Thanks Hannah. I’m going to check out India’s book now. Thanks for the tip off!

  2. Stephen Jarvis January 10, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    Dear Helen

    I came across a post of yours on Novelicious about serialised fiction – I was searching for readers who like The Pickwick Papers. I am not clear from the post whether you have read Pickwick, although you do refer to its pioneering role in the history of publication in serial parts. However, I then clicked on your name at the bottom of the post, and was led to this website – and I was delighted to see that you are fascinated by the role of food in fiction. Food plays a big role in The Pickwick Papers – and it does too in my own forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which explores the origins and afterlife of The Pickwick Papers.

    I do hope you will take a look at my novel, if you get an opportunity. It will be published in May 2015 by Jonathan Cape, of the Random House Group (in the UK) and a month later by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA). Further information can be found at:

    Best wishes
    Stephen Jarvis

    • Helen January 12, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

      Hi Stephen. Thank you so much for clicking through from Novelicious. I haven’t actually read The Pickwick Papers, but as I’ve challenged myself to read more classics this year I will add it to my list – especially as you say there is a lot of food mentioned. I’ll look out for your book in May. Best of luck with it. Helen

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