Why do #Food and #Fiction Mesh So Well Together? #writing #foodfiction

As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, we had David Bumpus from the Lunch Ticket Magazine answering questions last week. Today I’m pleased to welcome Elaine Chiew,  award-winning author, and editor of the Cooked Up  anthology.

This anthology includes stories from names like Ben Okri and Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, and is an absolutely delightful read, because it is all about Food, Food, and more Food. Food is one of my favorite topics– one of my pleasures in reading a book is finding the description of (an often unfamiliar, and sometimes only too familiar) food or a meal, and to languish in the deliciousness of it.

Feel free to leave your questions for Elaine in the comments section, and she might stop by to answer them.


Do you love Food Fiction?
Cooked Up: Food Fiction from around the World

1. Tell us about your writing journey. When and how did you start writing fiction?

In 2005, I began writing after I had my first child, probably due to an avalanche of maternal hormones (After years in the investment banking industry which sapped me of fellow feeling or the ability to feel anything, this rush was unexpectedly welcome).

2. What aspect of writing a short story do you find tough, and which one do you find easy? Why?   

Each aspect is an element in an organic whole, and thus, I find it depends on each story. In some stories, the voice comes immediately (Leng Lui for Pretty Lady) so it felt deceptively easy. In others, the ending takes awhile to come around (one that feels true to the story and its characters, what’s called “earned” — e.g. Run of the Molars.

3. What tips would you give unpublished writers who are trying to get their first story published?

Try online litmags but read them first (widely and frequently). Support the community.

4. Name any 5 short stories that are your absolute favorite.

This switches around, because when you reread at different points in your life, different things speak to you. If I were to teach a short story course though, I’d always include:

a. Lorrie Moore’s. People Like That Are The Only People Here.
b. Alice Munro’s Floating Bridge
c. Haruki Murakami’s The Ice Man
d. Raymond Carver’s A Small, Good Thing.
e. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

5. Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What’s your recommended cure?

Two tried and true methods:
1. Work on something new. But make sure you come back to yr block.
2. Walk. Make tea. Cook. The mind does not stop working just because the fingers stop typing.

6. Tell us more about the anthology you edited: Cooked Up. Is there a target audience? Why do food and fiction mesh so well together?

Cooked Up is for anyone who loves food and anyone who loves short stories. People open up whenever there is talk about food. Food especially enhances story-telling. Food is so ever and omni-present in our lives, as is story-telling. We eat to live, but likewise, we tell stories in order not just to make sense of our world, but also to live.  We aren’t properly human unless we tell stories, from early cave-dwellers onwards.   No surprise either that a lot of people’s earliest memories are of food and of someone (possibly a parent/grandparent/relative/carer) telling them a story even as they are being fed.  I’m constantly amazed that even the most unapproachable or taciturn of humans smile and have something to say about their favourite foods, and the act of explaining why that is their favourite food is already a telling of a story.

7. How did you go about compiling the anthology? What did you have in mind when you chose the stories to go into the collection?

I solicited emerging literary talents whose work I admired (some of whom I’d interacted with on social media) and others whom I wrote to out of the blue (one, I chased up by attending an event he was speaking at and then pitching the anthology to him on the spot!) I was looking for stories where food as a theme is front and central (or highlighted its significance and cultural meaning), stories where food acted as trigger, signifier, enabler of story. But in the end, it had to be about the story. The story was paramount.


Editor: Cooked up: Food Fiction from around the world
Elaine Chiew: Editor, Author


Elaine Chiew is a London-based writer and her stories have won the Bridport Prize, been shortlisted in the BBC Opening Lines (2015), MsLexia (2014) and Fish Short Stories Competitions (2012), among others, and published in anthologies and literary magazines (most recently, in Unthology 7 (Unthank Books, 2015).

She is the editor and organiser of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).

Are you a foodie? Do you love food fiction? Any food-related short story or novel that resonated with you? Why do You think Food and Fiction might go well together? Why does food succeed in bridging barriers and forging connections? Want to share the recipe for a comfort food? (I admit to taking comfort in food when I’m stressed– would love a few recipes from around the world!)
If you’re reading this, do not have a blog, and want to join the discussion on food and stories, head over to Daily (w)rite’s Facebook page!
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I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !


Add Yours
  1. cindamackinnon

    I’m full of admiration for short story writers. I think it requires a very clean sparse structure – no rambling, every word counts. Hats off to you and the writers of “Cooked Up.”

    • Elaine Chiew

      Thank you for your kind words! Yes, I did want to make sure to many include emerging writers — it is part of the publisher’s ethos as well. They support and publish the Caine Prize on African writing, which culls the best of short stories from African creative writing workshops! Do check that out too if you have time.

  2. britestfyrefly

    I love this! I’m new to blogging and one of my first posts called “War and Coffee” is one that came to my mind when reading this. It is about the story, but food is definitely an easy trigger in most. Thank you. Great Read.

  3. vishalbheeroo

    That’s an amazing interview and I like the idea of working on something new to face the blokc and the mind never stops working. I keep postponing writing! Thanks Elaine and Damyanti:)

  4. Kalpanaa

    This was such a wonderful post and I must say a great encouragement to a writer suffering from writer’s block. What a fabulous idea for a book. Damyanti, you’re so creative with your ideas for blog posts! Looking forward to your Cherished blogfest 🙂

    • Elaine Chiew

      Many many thanks for your kind words Kalpanaa! And thank you for reading the interview. If there’s something here that helps you with writer’s block, I’m so glad.

  5. loasejohn

    While I have never written about food exclusively, in The Price of Meat and subsequent novellas I delve into German cuisine. It is remarkably different from what I am used to, and I enjoy describing leberwurst, pfannkuchen, and some other dozen oddities.

    Great interview. I will have to take a look at Cooked Up.

    • Elaine Chiew

      Thank u John. I hope you enjoy the book. And good luck with the German food/cuisine writing. Did you know that Gogol lavished an inordinate amount of bookspace on describing the meals eaten in Dead Souls? Zola too. Food makes a constant appearance in his novels. :-))

      • loasejohn

        I am ashamed to admit that I have never been enamored with Russian authors. I cannot explain it. I’ve looked at Pasternak and Dostoyevsky, but I couldn’t finish either Crime and Punishment or Doctor Zhivago.

        All the same! it seems like literary geniuses often have some surprising quirk in their works, such as Melville and his dozen chapters on whale species.

        • Damyanti

          You might like to give Gogol a try ( I agree with Elaine, his food descriptions are amazing)– I like him better than Dostoyevsky. Chekov, too, though I can’t remember any food passages from him at the moment.

          • Elaine Chiew

            Damyanti, watermelon makes a surprising entrance in The Lady With The Lap Dog! 🙂 John, I do like the Russian writers.. they are a bit long in the tooth, and I groan and moan through those parts (esp. w/ Levin in Tolstoy’s Karenina) but still v. glad I read it.

    • Elaine Chiew

      There are writers who believe emphatically on sticking it out, Mischa — as in you sit in that hot seat and sweat it until the block breaks. Because the philosophy behind that is something to do with your unconscious. We resist going into the darker places within ourselves, or the more troubled places, which is what causes a block. I do believe there is some truth to this, but it really depends on the kind of person you are. Headbutting isn’t a good M.O. for me — I find it doesn’t work nearly as well as letting myself be non confrontational with myself. :-)) So going away, taking a detour, and then coming back is better. Hence, the ‘you must come back to the block’.

  6. Gargi Mehra

    I’ve never written a food-centered short story before, but this inspires me to try my hand at it now. And Elaine, I must mention that I read “Leng Lui Is for Pretty Lady” in one sitting! An amazing story. I’ve bookmarked it to read again.

    • Elaine Chiew

      I’m so glad you liked Leng Lui, Gargi. It warms the heart to hear that a story was enjoyed and even more that you liked it to read it again! I hope you will try your hand at a food-centered story. Gets the stomach juices going too. 🙂

  7. macjam47

    A great interview. I love that Elaine lists The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien among her favorites. Fantastic story! I am always dismayed when people say they’ve never heard of it.

    • Elaine Chiew

      I agree! It is superb. So hard to limit to top 5, though, there are quite a few amazing stories I feel I’ve done a disservice to by not being able to name them…they’ve taught me so much.