Any book with “eat” in the title is going to get any food lover’s attention. I didn’t wait for the movie—I went right for the printed version. And, since most of the reviews online talk about the movie, I thought it might be fun to address the way the author talks about food in the book.
Let’s start with the premise, though. Eat, Pray, Love is billed as “one woman’s search for everything.” It’s the travelogue of Elizabeth Gilbert as she eats her way through Italy, prays her way through India, and falls in love in Indonesia. She does them all with intensity.
And, at the end of the book, the core message seemed to be: It’s not so much the search, as it is the experience.
So, let’s talk about the experience she had with food.
1. She ate with pleasure.
From the descriptions alone, you know that the author was enjoying her food. Yes, in Italy there are great museums and historic sites. And, yet, she writes, “I found that all I really wanted was to eat beautiful food and to speak as much beautiful Italian as possible.”
She made no excuses. She says, “Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?”
And, she describes one meal made from simple items, including asparagus from a “tiny vegetable stall,” fresh brown eggs, olives, goat cheese, salmon and a peach. She writes, “For the longest time I couldn’t even tough this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing.”
2. She ate with intention.
It was as though she was on a mission, and she employed all the right tactics to win. For example, one tactic was “to ask people on the street where the good food is and then to go eat it.”
And she tells a hilarious tale of how she embarked on a journey to find a restaurant, asking people along the way for directions to the nearest historic site—then going across the street to the restaurant instead! In her words, “I’m much more interested in the secret a local grocer has shared with me—that the best mushrooms in town are served in a restaurant across from Puccini’s birthplace.” If you find it, order the Risotta ai Funghi.
3. She shared the experience.
In Italy, she joined in on family dinners, and parties, and eating out with friends. She may have had her daily breakfast of pastry and cappuccino alone (sufficient company, in my opinion), but she got out there and made food part of the communal experience. In fact, in November she even agreed to cook a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.
And, she shared some of her secrets in the book, identifying restaurants and specific menu items by name, so that we can at least dream of someday checking them out ourselves.
Like, the various gelato combinations available at Il Gelato di San Crispino. Honey and hazelnut, grapefruit and melon, cinnamon-ginger . . . with encouragement to eat them regardless of time of day. She describes stopping for pistachio gelato one morning, and comments, “Which Italians consider a perfectly reasonable thing to be eating at 9:30 a.m.”
And, like the margherita pizza with double mozzarella in Naples, at Pizzeria da Michele, which she describes as having “a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance . . .”
The list of delicious foods she talks about in the book includes specifics such as Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Fried Zucchini Blossoms, and Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe. It also includes poetic references to outdoor cafes and ingredients such as prosciutto, Bolognese sauce, sautéed spinach and garlic, artichokes, veal, pasta “served in unbelievable quantities,” and, yes, the “intestines of a newborn lamb.”
She talks romantically about pickled lampascione, warm bread with olive oil and salt, lamb and truffles and carpaccio rolled around hazelnut mousse, tiramisu, and frozen rice pudding, adding, “and if they don’t serve this kind of thing in heaven, then really don’t want to go there.”
Yes, this is the travel book for people who plan their vacations around the food. Sure, there are cathedrals and museums. But there are new foods to be tasted, different restaurants to try.
One deliciously expressed experience at a time.
Inspired? Try these recipes from The Food Channel (see Related Recipes below.)
Links to other recommended sites: