Summer Reading List with Sofia
Oh, hey there. I’m Sofia Levin, a food and travel journalist based in Melbourne (more so than ever given international travel is currently off the cards!). I write for publications such as Good Food, SBS Food, Lonely Planet and Broadsheet, but I spend most of my time encouraging people to #EatCuriously, that is to learn more about other cultures and celebrate diversity through food.
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My website, Seasoned Traveller, is on track to be live early 2021 and will feature lesser-known restaurants, food experiences and culinary travel advice that you won’t find elsewhere. It comes as no surprise that I’ve decided to compile a list of fiction and non-fiction food books for one of my favourite labels, Obus.
Rest assured that these are not just for food lovers; they contain stories that will transport you to other countries and centuries, enlightening information and ways to broaden both your mind and kitchen skills. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Here are some of my recommended reads...
The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan
This is a beautiful tale about Noor, an Iranian woman living in San Francisco who returns home to visit her aging father at his cafe in Tehran. Three-generation-old Cafe Leila has been a rock and home for many during Iran’s turbulent history, and this moving story of food, family and identity is simultaneously heart warming and heart wrenching. Make sure you have the nearest Persian restaurant on speed dial to make a booking – you’ll want to eat jewelled rice and fesenjan (pomegranate chicken stew) after reading.
Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pasco
This is such an important book for every Australian to read. Aboriginal author and academic Bruce Pascoe released it in 2014, but it’s been the topic of much conversation since. Through research, original journal entries and other means it re-examines first encounters with First Nation Australians and turns everything we were taught in school on its head; evidence suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not “hunter gatherers”, but instead heavily involved in agriculture and cultivating the land.
Appetite by Philip Kazan
This novel is widely regarded as the taste equivalent of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume (another of my all-time favourite books). It’s a historical novel set in Florence and Rome that follows Nino Latini, who can taste what others can’t, from teenager into adulthood. His experiences are intertwined with a love story and the food descriptions are gluttonous and stunning. Nino’s palate in an age of consumption and hedonism is both a blessing and a curse, but I don’t want to give too much more away!
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Last year American food writer Ruth Reichl released a memoir called Save Me The Plums: My Gourmet Memoir. It’s a brilliant insight into the evolution and excitement of food writing, but I recommend you first read Garlic and Sapphires (actually, read all of her wonderful books). Garlic and Sapphires is one of my favourites because it’s a real-life romp. It details the efforts Reichl went to remain anonymous when reviewing for the New York Times, during which she completely embodied her characters. She’s clever, fun, overtly sensual and most importantly, makes you want to eat.
New Voices on Food edited by Lee Tran Lam
I’m involved in a group of journalists who gathered during lockdown to brainstorm ways to improve the diversity of food writing in Australia. This book, published by Somekind Press and edited by my unstoppable friend, Lee Tran Lam, is one of the results. It’s an anthology of deeply personal food stories from people of underrepresented backgrounds that will lend a dose of perspective and give you an insight into other cultures through food. Expect to see more of this sort of thing in the future – our culinary landscape is richer for it.
In Praise of Veg: A Modern Kitchen Companion by Alice Zaslavsky
If Obus made a pattern from a cookbook, it would be this one, so I’m sneaking it into my reading list. You might know my mate Alice Zaslavsky from her MasterChef days or her cooking segment on ABC News Breakfast, but it doesn’t matter where she’s been or that I might be a little bit biased, because this bible of a cookbook belongs on the shelf between your Ottolenghi and Stephanie Alexander – and you’ll probably use it more. Vegetable-forward but not at the exclusion of meat and seafood, it’s organised by colour and is as vibrant as the author. For example, if you have onions to use up, flick to the brown section and make the ‘Any kind of Onion’ Tarte Tartin. If it’s good enough for Nigella Lawson, it’s good enough for you.
ABOUT SOFIA LEVIN
Sofia Levin is a culinary travel journalist and the founder of Seasoned Traveller. She encourages people to #EatCuriously in order to celebrate difference and learn more about other cultures through food.