Eat, Memory, Edited by Amanda Hesser

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The Independent Culture

When she was made food editor of the New York Times Magazine, Amanda Hesser broke away from the recipe/review formula by asking writers to contribute essays "about an important moment in their life that involved food".

More dim sum than a feast, the resulting collection is memorable and piquant. Veteran foreign correspondent RW Apple cheers the heart: "I've yet to find a country with nothing, absolutely nothing, worth eating". He relished "the world's most sumptuous yogurt" in Bulgaria, "sour cream and unsurpassed rye bread" in Russia. After visiting the ailing food writer MFK Fisher, journalist Dawn Drzal discovered that Fisher's carer had slipped a dead field mouse into her handbag: "I was the interloper. That mouse was simply the messenger."

Novelist John Burnham Schwartz recalls life in Paris with an obsessive cook, "a renegade magician, insufferable to live with... who could spin culinary gold of the dross of a few dried herbs and a handful of grain." Two writers ponder life-long antipathies gained from working in a baked bean factory ("a plume of fermented beans... hit me directly in the face") and an ice-cream plant: "I was conditioning myself to hate that which I so ardently desired."

Manil Suri, a novelist based in the US, cooks haute cuisine for his family in India, only to find them stirring chilli paste into his bouillabaisse. These evocative snippets remind us that meals involve people as well as food.