Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Most Delicious Thing in the World

I once had a part-time job which involved reading restaurant menus and highlighting new dishes for a man who was creating a restaurant menu website and needed to update it constantly.

The job paid fairly well and I could work my own hours (I had a baby at home), so I was thrilled to get it. After a while, though, it became psychologically painful. Each day I had to read descriptions of delicious food written by people who had probably majored in creative writing in college. The entrees had names like "Macadamia Nut Encrusted Sea Bass with Mango Cream Sauce" and "Goat-Cheese Encrusted Lamb with Fresh Mountain Herbs." Everything was "encrusted" with something else, and it always sounded delicious.

The desserts were even more spectacular. Things like "Hazelnut Chocolate Praline Cake with Chocolate Drizzles and Raspberry Glaze." These menus were a tribute to the power of words. I always left hungry.

I was reminded of the great writers--usually mystery writers--who write so well about food that I have to stop reading and make a snack. Mary Stewart did this so well that I don't think I've found her equal. In Nine Coaches Waiting, she writes about a midnight snack shared between three people and it's one of the loveliest descriptions I've ever read. She does the same in Madam, Will You Talk?

I'll post more about Mary's wonderful gastronomical descriptions later, but in the meantime I have this question:

What's the most delicious thing in the world?

I vote for the chocolate cake I ate at an Italian Restaurant called Marros when my husband and I were on our honeymoon back in 1988. I've tried to find a cake that delicious ever since, and I haven't. Are taste and happy memories entwined? Or is some food just that good? :)


Eric Mayer said...

I love Middle Eastern food. I first tasted it when I moved to New York City to go to school. I lived by Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn which is end to end Middle Eastern restaurants. Here I was out on my own, in the big city, and I guess I'll always associate Hummus and bakwlala and stuffed grape leaves and kibbee and tabouli etc etc with that exciting time.

jwhit said...

Gotta jump in on this theme, Julia. Food is something that creeps into all my books. In Sins of the Children, the opening scene with the main family is at supper time to show the common fare of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans, with the mother telling the son to eat his vegetables. In Lost Anchors, the Indian psychiatrist cooks her version of comfort food: curry and chapatis. In another scene, the detective goes home for Sunday dinner with his Lebanese family.

What I enjoy is using food scenes to explore the character - does he eat alone? or with others? in a restaurant? at home? is it slapped together or handled with care?

Food is fun to research, too.

Julia Buckley said...

Eric, you and my husband would love dining together! We have only one Middle Eastern restaurant in town, and he rarely gets to eat there because the rest of us don't crave it. He looks at it longingly a lot. :)

Jan, that's terrific! I think it would be hard to write a realistic story without some mention of food. And yes, that food can have many functions within a plot.

Yum. See why I can't read about food? Now I'm hungry.

©Hotbutton Press said...

And do you remember Stewart's description of Merlin's meal when he finally landed in Brittany at Ambrosius' feet... after almost starving to death? They say hunger is the best sauce, but that food sounded pretty good to me snuggled up on my sofa. She was good at it... I'd forgotten how good. Now, of course, lots of cozy mystery writers include food to tempt us to their books. Works every time for me!

hotbuttonpress at gmail dot com
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Julia Buckley said...

No, but I just dug out The Crystal Cave to re-read the series. The prologue practically had me in tears.