This one was hard. Partly because I have a huge stack of more of these to read, that I'm told are exceptional. So consider this pass one. I'll post another five in the future. And please tell me what books you'd put on your list in the comment section below!
P.S. Many of these are available used on Amazon for a virtual song. Or a literal penny.
1) "Heat: An Amateur Cook in a Professional Kitchen" by Bill Buford: I read this book in a sitting. More gripping than Stephen King, was this story of the author abandoning his safe existence to work in Mario Batali's kitchen.
2) "United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution": The books was a revelation to me. Probably the first non-fiction book I ever read that pulled me along like the best fiction. I came away from reading it feeling more informed about the food system in this country that I'm so much a part of.
3) "Sweet Life in Paris" by David Lebovitz: This was probably the first expat memoir I read that wasn't cloyingly sweet (despite its title). In fact, I finished the book thinking that rather than being jealous of the author for having this experience, I was glad he did it instead of me, so he could write this fabulous book and I could enjoy it from the comfort of my sanitized and familiar American home. In that way, it became a bit of a model for me for Il Bel Centro—I became clear that I wanted to write a real memoir, with grit and hardship. And his recipes are amazing, I make his chocolate cake all the time, it's what I made in Italy for Gabe to bring to his classroom (he requested it, and I was elated, as it doesn't use leavener, which I hadn't figured out by then).
4) "97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in one New York Tenement" by Jane Ziegelman. My friends Chuck and Ioline will be rolling their eyes if and when they read this because I read this during a beach trip we shared and I was a NON-STOP FONT OF KNOWLEDGE that was fascinating to me, but I'm sure grew tiresome. I know for sure it became a way for everyone to mock me, "So tell us what you've learned recently, Michelle" would lead to a tirade on American school lunch system as an attempt to indoctrinate immigrants into American society, and I'd be three quarters of the way through my explanation before I realized that everyone was just kidding. They found my enthusiasm far more entertaining than my facts. But read the book, it's well-written, well-researched, and all around excellent.
5) "Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food": I love love LOVE Chinese food, and was captivated with this story of how Chinese food became part of the US culinary scene. The author does a great job weaving the story of how immigrant food-ways became part of our culture.