On stroopwafels and food in fiction

Delicious stroopwafels

Recently, a co-worker returned from Amsterdam with a treat for us: Stroopwafels. Now, if you’ve never heard of these, as I hadn’t, they are oversized buttery cookies with a caramel filling.  As I savored my one allotted and absolutely delicious stroopwafel, I thought, “Now, this is something from a Louise Penny novel.” Reality is good, but fiction – that’s where I can indulge in food without the calories.

As much as I read Penny for her wonderful characters and great plotting, I also read her books for the charming fictional town and the food. Penny gives us descriptions of entire meals: escargots bathed in garlic butter, minted sweetpea soup, cauliflower and stilton soup with pear and date relish, pistachio caribou pâté. I’ve never eaten caribou, but somehow Penny makes it all appealing.

She’s not the only writer who indulges the foodie in me. My favorite descriptions in books are of food: S.J. Rozan’s Little Chinatown, where Lydia Chin is always taking dumplings back to her office for lunch; Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, in which Kinsey Millhone is eating either a fast-food burger or being served plates of Hungarian food at the local restaurant; Dana Stabenow’s books featuring Kate Shugak and fry bread; and Andrea Camilleri’s sumptuous descriptions of Italian food in the Inspector Montalbano books.

Explained Camilleri in an interview to The Guardian: “I think it is a sort of unconscious revenge of vitality, an affirmation of being alive in the face of continuous death. Maybe eating subconsciously expresses the pleasure of feeling alive. A life-force.”

But all this food in fiction also serves another purpose: it is another way of rounding out a character. Kinsey Millhone is a single woman and she never has anything to eat in her house, thus the fast-food. Lydia Chin is a young woman straddling two cultures, and Chinese food is one of those traditions she definitely holds on to. And in Louise Penny’s books, food is a way of bringing people together, very much a part of the Three Pines community.

Besides, everyone has to eat, so why not include it in the story – and give your characters some interesting food quirks? What are your favorite characters and their foods?

2 thoughts on “On stroopwafels and food in fiction

  1. I think the food we eat tells so much about us–so even in mysteries that aren’t food-centric, I describe food, from Kelly O’Connell’s early days when she can’t cook muc to times when she’s learning. I talk a lot about one restaurant where she and her girls often eat and what they order. I had an editor once who kept telling me to cut the food descriptions because they were distracting. I turned stubborn and they stayed. Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe is my attempt to approach the food/mystery genre. Maybe it’s all because I love to cook and I love to eat.

  2. I think you’ve hit mine–especially Camilleri. I drool when I read those books. I’ve been to Amsterdam once, many years ago, but missed the stroopwafels. Maybe I need to go again! Yum.

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