In The Asian Grocery Store Demystified (Renaissance Books, $16.95), author Linda Bladholm sifts through the layout of the Asian market, making sense of all those curry pastes, fish sauces, gyoza wrappers and tapioca pearls. Cooking tips, brand recommendations and Bladholm's personal accounts guide the reader through 20 chapters and the aisles. Bladholm also wrote Latin & Caribbean Grocery Stores Demystified and The Indian Grocery Store Demystified, which have received rave reviews and currently are on my own wish list.
Like the name implies, The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, $65) is a tad formal. But if the foodie on your list can forgive the omission of entries for gumbo and muffalettas, the 865-page tome will become an invaluable resource in the quest to understand the origin and history of what we put in our mouths. The turkey gets an entire page, Spam nearly a column and meatloaf a paragraph. Also check out The Oxford Companion to Wine (Getty Center for Education in the Arts, $65).
Once upon a time, Ruth Reichl was the most feared restaurant critic in the country; now she's one of few restaurant critics to have become a household name you can say in front of your kids. Author of Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table and editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, Reichl dropped a new novel on us in 2001: Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table (Random House, $24.95). Many of these adventures actually occur in the bedroom, but that doesn't distract from Reichl's use of food to travel the world, mourn a divorce, land a second husband and seduce her reader.
In the words of writer John Mariani during last spring's Tennessee Williams Festival, "Hemingway is the greatest American food writer." A Moveable Feast (Simon & Schuster, $11), published posthumously in 1964, is Hemingway's memoir of life in Paris in the 1920s. Wherever you and yours read it, you'll travel tables like the one his wife sets in chapter four: "Little radishes. And good foie de veau with mashed potatoes and an endive salad. Apple tart." -- Roahen