15 Young Adult Books That Highlight Culture Through Food

As a kid growing up in a tight-knit Nigerian-Canadian community, I’ve never attended a gathering where food wasn’t the main focus. It’s how a lot of kids like me, children of the diaspora, stay connected to our cultures; it’s how parents pass on traditions.

I remember attending several events with my parents — two-hour meetings about the goings-on in my dad’s tribal land back in Nigeria — and instead of current affairs being top billing, the one thing that had to be decided on before we scheduled anything was “who will host?” Who’s hosting, who’s bringing the food? How much and how many items? And when will we break for lunch?

That’s the same lens I looked through to write my sophomore young adult contemporary novel, Twice as Perfect. In it, high-schooler Adanna (aka Sophie, amongst her peers) is feeling the weight of being the only child of her Nigerian immigrant parents. She has to be the golden child to make up for her family’s immense shame. Because the truth is she’s not an only child — she has an older brother named Sam who disappeared without a trace. Until one day, that is. Now, Ada is trying to navigate new ideas, relationships, and her future with a perspective she’d never once considered before. Oh, all while trying to help plan her cousin’s wedding to an Afrobeats superstar. No pressure, obviously.

In a book chock-full of Nigerian and Nigerian diaspora culture and anecdotes, it only makes sense that some of my favorite Nigerian dishes would find their way to the surface (Moin-moin is my ride or die). I love when an author’s culture comes out in their writing, and even more so if those come with mouth-watering food descriptions. This list is a sample of recent YA books that showcase culture through food.

Full disclosure: You probably shouldn’t browse this list before lunch.

A Pho Love Story is a fun display of food and culture, and it was such a joy to read. This story of two teens at rival Vietnamese restaurants is naturally filled with mouth-watering descriptions of Vietnamese food. It’s also a culture-conscious story about love and family from the perspective of Vietnamese children of immigrants who are trying to navigate love and life under the watchful (perhaps too watchful) eye of their warring families. Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

A Pho Love Story is a fun display of food and culture, and it was such a joy to read. This story of two teens at rival Vietnamese restaurants is naturally filled with mouth-watering descriptions of Vietnamese food. It’s also a culture-conscious story about love and family from the perspective of Vietnamese children of immigrants who are trying to navigate love and life under the watchful (perhaps too watchful) eye of their warring families.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / BuzzFeed

If you’re the slightest fan of Netflix’s Emily in Paris, then don’t sleep on Kisses and Croissants. It’s a fun romance featuring an American girl at a six-week ballet program in Paris, and like the title suggests, this book is rife with French cuisine and culture. Not only will readers be treated to beautiful descriptions of Paris and a swoon-worthy romance, but the delectable food descriptions were a nice added touch, too. Besides, what’s a good trip if it doesn’t have good food? Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

If you’re the slightest fan of Netflix’s Emily in Paris, then don’t sleep on Kisses and Croissants. It’s a fun romance featuring an American girl at a six-week ballet program in Paris, and like the title suggests, this book is rife with French cuisine and culture. Not only will readers be treated to beautiful descriptions of Paris and a swoon-worthy romance, but the delectable food descriptions were a nice added touch, too. Besides, what’s a good trip if it doesn’t have good food?

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Delacorte Press / BuzzFeed

There’s many reasons to love Voya and co. in Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic, but for me, the strong Caribbean influence was top of the list. Reading about a familiar family unit and traditions, all while nestled amidst mouthwatering Caribbean food descriptions, had me dead. Now with the highly anticipated sequel Blood Like Fate, there’s even more culture and, equally as importantly, even more food for readers to sift through. Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

There’s many reasons to love Voya and co. in Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic, but for me, the strong Caribbean influence was top of the list. Reading about a familiar family unit and traditions, all while nestled amidst mouthwatering Caribbean food descriptions, had me dead. Now with the highly anticipated sequel Blood Like Fate, there’s even more culture and, equally as importantly, even more food for readers to sift through.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Margaret K. McElderry Books / BuzzFeed

First love, familial expectations — and a family bakery. A Taste for Love is a sweet YA rom-com, and not just because of the romance element. Main character Liza’s mother owns a bakery called Yin & Yang, and though Liza eventually gets swindled into a competition she didn’t ask for, readers can delight in all the pastries and Taiwanese food being made on-page. I’d say that’s a fair trade-off, right? Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

First love, familial expectations — and a family bakery. A Taste for Love is a sweet YA rom-com, and not just because of the romance element. Main character Liza’s mother owns a bakery called Yin & Yang, and though Liza eventually gets swindled into a competition she didn’t ask for, readers can delight in all the pastries and Taiwanese food being made on-page. I’d say that’s a fair trade-off, right?

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Razorbill / BuzzFeed

There are truly a million reasons to love Cemetery Boys (who doesn’t want a hot ghost boyfriend? I ask again, who??), but one welcome surprise for me was how much I learned about Yadriel and his family through the Mexican food they prepared. Every scene invited cool, cultural backstory about Día de los Muertos and a new dish with vivid, beautiful descriptions that would make any reader hungry. Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

There are truly a million reasons to love Cemetery Boys (who doesn’t want a hot ghost boyfriend? I ask again, who??), but one welcome surprise for me was how much I learned about Yadriel and his family through the Mexican food they prepared. Every scene invited cool, cultural backstory about Día de los Muertos and a new dish with vivid, beautiful descriptions that would make any reader hungry.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Swoon Reads / BuzzFeed

It’s only natural for a story about the power of food to bring people together — and to ignite a different kind of hunger with readers. Pen and Xander navigate love and life as they try to save a beloved restaurant, and readers are taken on an enchanting and heartbreaking ride alongside them. There are soft places to land — beautiful food descriptions and anecdotes from Mexican American culture — in this debut contemporary YA.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

It’s only natural for a story about the power of food to bring people together — and to ignite a different kind of hunger with readers. Pen and Xander navigate love and life as they try to save a beloved restaurant, and readers are taken on an enchanting and heartbreaking ride alongside them. There are soft places to land — beautiful food descriptions and anecdotes from Mexican American culture — in this debut contemporary YA.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / BuzzFeed

Sutanto is the queen of quirky heroines in borderline chaotic situations, and the upcoming Well, That Was Unexpected is no different. Main character Sharlot Citra is whisked away to her family’s native Indonesia and crosses paths, inorganically, with George Clooney Tanuwijaya. Though their meeting was orchestrated by their meddling family members, their bond does grow true, and as readers, we get to see that development through the beauty of Indonesia — and food. Lots of food.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Sutanto is the queen of quirky heroines in borderline chaotic situations, and the upcoming Well, That Was Unexpected is no different. Main character Sharlot Citra is whisked away to her family’s native Indonesia and crosses paths, inorganically, with George Clooney Tanuwijaya. Though their meeting was orchestrated by their meddling family members, their bond does grow true, and as readers, we get to see that development through the beauty of Indonesia — and food. Lots of food.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Delacorte Press / BuzzFeed

In Susan Azim Boyer’s debut, we meet Jasmine, an ambitious and smart high schooler who desperately wants to get into NYU’s journalism program. Her way in? Running (and subsequently, winning the election) for senior class president. Along the way, readers are treated to a bastion of Iranian culture, including scrumptious Iranian food. Readers will fall in love with Jasmine, and also probably with Auntie Minah’s cooking. Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie through Indiebound.

In Susan Azim Boyer’s debut, we meet Jasmine, an ambitious and smart high schooler who desperately wants to get into NYU’s journalism program. Her way in? Running (and subsequently, winning the election) for senior class president. Along the way, readers are treated to a bastion of Iranian culture, including scrumptious Iranian food. Readers will fall in love with Jasmine, and also probably with Auntie Minah’s cooking.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie through Indiebound.

Wednesday Books / BuzzFeed

Four sisters, four seasons, four flavors of romance — and that doesn’t even cover the food. Aside from having a fun title, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is a sparkling walk through ups and downs as four desi sisters navigate love and family in this heartwarming debut. Readers will walk away feeling a little closer to each sister, and especially hungry after pages and pages of delicious-sounding food.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Four sisters, four seasons, four flavors of romance — and that doesn’t even cover the food. Aside from having a fun title, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is a sparkling walk through ups and downs as four desi sisters navigate love and family in this heartwarming debut. Readers will walk away feeling a little closer to each sister, and especially hungry after pages and pages of delicious-sounding food.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Disney-Hyperion / BuzzFeed

Food romance and rivalry fans are eating well (literally and figuratively) with Café Con Lychee. Lee’s sophomore novel details how two boys at different cafes must work together in the face of a new fusion cafe that threatens their families’ livelihoods. Romance ensues. Food ensues! Readers will especially love all the Asian and Puerto Rican delicacies described beautifully on the page.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Food romance and rivalry fans are eating well (literally and figuratively) with Café Con Lychee. Lee’s sophomore novel details how two boys at different cafes must work together in the face of a new fusion cafe that threatens their families’ livelihoods. Romance ensues. Food ensues! Readers will especially love all the Asian and Puerto Rican delicacies described beautifully on the page.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Quill Tree Books / BuzzFeed

There’s so much goodness in The Loophole — amazing premise where a queer Indian Muslim boy travels the world with a mysterious, wish-granting woman to win back his first love — but the food and culture is what really jumped out at me. And for obvious reasons, too. Kutub’s lush descriptions amidst a heartwarming story about self-love and self-discovery are a perfect match.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

There’s so much goodness in The Loophole — amazing premise where a queer Indian Muslim boy travels the world with a mysterious, wish-granting woman to win back his first love — but the food and culture is what really jumped out at me. And for obvious reasons, too. Kutub’s lush descriptions amidst a heartwarming story about self-love and self-discovery are a perfect match.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Bloomsbury YA / BuzzFeed

This K-pop inspired debut novel is about Chloe, a Korean American girl who reconnects with her estranged, super rich family in Seoul. The only thing is, they’re not upfront with the reason why they want to connect with her. As Chloe explores Seoul and takes in this new and exciting world away from her home in Oklahoma, so, too, do we dive headfirst into fun expressions of Korean culture and food. Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

This K-pop inspired debut novel is about Chloe, a Korean American girl who reconnects with her estranged, super rich family in Seoul. The only thing is, they’re not upfront with the reason why they want to connect with her. As Chloe explores Seoul and takes in this new and exciting world away from her home in Oklahoma, so, too, do we dive headfirst into fun expressions of Korean culture and food.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Kokila / BuzzFeed

Rife with Bolivian politics and history, Woven in Moonlight is an enchanting and beautiful fantasy about a girl on a revenge mission. I found myself getting lost in the prose and the conscious way the themes of social politics and oppression were explored. That alone was enough to entice readers, but when you add vast descriptions of food and revelry, it takes things to another level.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Rife with Bolivian politics and history, Woven in Moonlight is an enchanting and beautiful fantasy about a girl on a revenge mission. I found myself getting lost in the prose and the conscious way the themes of social politics and oppression were explored. That alone was enough to entice readers, but when you add vast descriptions of food and revelry, it takes things to another level.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Page Street Kids / BuzzFeed

What’s not to love about The Jasmine Project? Korean American adoptee Jasmine’s world is thrown into a spiral when she breaks up with her boyfriend Paul. However, her family uses this opportunity to find Jasmine a more worthy partner. Amidst all the chaos, it’s hard to ignore how naturally Ireland weaves in delicious descriptions of diverse cuisines, accurately reflecting Jasmine’s Filipino-Italian upbringing.Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

What’s not to love about The Jasmine Project? Korean American adoptee Jasmine’s world is thrown into a spiral when she breaks up with her boyfriend Paul. However, her family uses this opportunity to find Jasmine a more worthy partner. Amidst all the chaos, it’s hard to ignore how naturally Ireland weaves in delicious descriptions of diverse cuisines, accurately reflecting Jasmine’s Filipino-Italian upbringing.

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / BuzzFeed

Teens at rival bakeries, aptly named Salt and Sugar, work together to save their families’ legacies in this stunning debut about love, community — and food. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Brazilian food in this book, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a dose of culture, particularly from northern Brazil, and traditions along with it. Salt and Sugar effortlessly blends new and old. Fans of food romances will want to check this out! Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Teens at rival bakeries, aptly named Salt and Sugar, work together to save their families’ legacies in this stunning debut about love, community — and food. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Brazilian food in this book, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a dose of culture, particularly from northern Brazil, and traditions along with it. Salt and Sugar effortlessly blends new and old. Fans of food romances will want to check this out!

Get it from Bookshop or at your local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Inkyard Press / BuzzFeed

Rebecca R. Ammons

Next Post

The Seaweed Food Revolution May Begin with a Name Change

Sat Jun 25 , 2022
Although meals shortage and foods protection are two worries that sadly remain firmly embedded in entire world affairs, a crop cultivated by people for thousands of several years could shortly support relieve both—precious fresh h2o not required.  Macroalgae, additional usually recognised as seaweed, is speedily expanding globally as a sustainable […]