When real life feels too bland, I turn to two places: fantasy stories and the kitchen. The first provides an escape into possibilities that are more appealing than reality, while the other demands intense focus—for me, cooking leaves no space for negative thoughts. And a blending of the two? Perfection.
Here’s a selection of stories that explore the beauty of flavors mingling together, the joy of cooking, and the love that is inherent in the process of making and sharing a favorite dish.
“Ten Fruits and Other Memories of Rialynas” by AnaMaria Curtis
This is the kind of story that feels fresh and sweet. AnaMaria Curtis brings Rialynas to life with mouthwatering descriptions that viscerally brought forth memories and sensations of fruits familiar and exotic, so much so that I could feel almost taste and feel them as I was reading. Best enjoyed with a bowl of mango, papaya, and/or watermelon.
“The Cook” by C.L. Clark
One of the things I enjoy about cooking is that I get to do it for my family. I love feeding them (and being fed by them). As I wrote in a blog post once, when we cook for someone, when we eat together, we’re saying “let’s keep each other alive, together.” This brief sapphic love story evokes a similar sentiment, but in language more delicious than I can convey: “We stare at each other, two women alone in a kitchen with no intent to cook.”
“The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” by Siobhan Carroll
This is my favorite story on this list. It’s a story within a story, the narrator talking to an apprentice, describing how Leu, a young chef trained under the very best, finds himself a prisoner of war. Leu’s life depends on cooking for his new commander and her army. While the war rages, he focuses on making the best meals possible using the army’s limited rations and the local spices and vegetables available on their journey, and without knowing it, changes the course of history.
No piece of writing—even on food blogs and magazines—has ever made me long so much to rush back to the kitchen. I’ve always thought of writing as my main artistic passion, but Carroll’s story made me feel that cooking could be it too. The story is layered with tragedy and politics and flavour and meaning fitting together into a perfect whole, like the layers of an onion. One of the most beautiful pieces of fiction I’ve read.
“Five Stories in the Monsoon Night” by Nghi Vo
Six words: Egg noodles on a rainy night.
I’ve read tons of stories with excellent writing that makes me forget where I am and what I’m doing, but if I had to name a story that felt truly, perfectly immersive, I’d immediately pick this one. I can feel the chill in my bones and the spice on my tongue, and I always crave noodles after reading it.
“So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer
I have to include Naomi Kritzer’s pandemic survival story (famously written before the pandemic) on this list. It got me interested in food blogs and from there, in other kinds of food writing. It may be the only time that I’ve read a story that just felt way too familiar, too real for fiction. Given the context, it is grim at times, but as with real life, there’s hope. And because the story is told through a series of posts on a food blog, of course it has some excellent, flavorsome descriptions of foods that you can actually make at home.
“Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo
At the Drunken Rooster, Shang Hua serves both the living and the dead. It’s no big deal; the food is good and the guests are polite. When they have had their fill, they leave. Then one day Lord Ning shows up and then the stove is always lit, the air always filled with the aroma of spices. What do you do when the dead keep asking for more? And more? And more?
“Aunt Taveaj’s Wolf-Friendly Sweet Shoppe” by Marie Croke
And a final dessert at the end of this list: a visit to Aunt Taveaj’s Wolf-Friendly Sweet Shoppe. All Aunt Taveaj wanted was to make the furless kids happy with her treats—and to forget the loss of her own pups. Everything was going well until the furless adults found her. They made her change herself, to keep their kids safe. But how long can one go on changing to assuage the fears of others? A not-so-cheerful flash story with definite cottagecore vibes.