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Magical Realism and Food — When Food Becomes Magical

Books and movies that capture the magic of food.

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Most of us see the enchantment of food — why else would we wax poetically about pumpkin spice lattes in fall and grandma’s apple cobbler? We associate food with memories and memories with food. The scents and tastes take us places; making them magical.

As someone who fell in love with my family’s cooking and Isabel Allende’s magical realism at an early age, I am particularly fond of books and movies that capture the two together. Books and movies that show the real magic of food.

Below I’ve put together a list of my favorite books and movies that weave together magical realism (and sometimes pure magic) with food.

Chocolat

The film and the book are a world apart and I would say that, for once, the film is better than the book. Lasse Hallström’s interpretation of Joanne Harris’ novel is lighter than the original book, which is somewhat shrouded in darkness. It has been edited to fit a Hollywood blockbuster format, yet somehow Hallström managed to bring out, even intensify, the magic of the book. It’s a beautifully shot film that made me dream about chocolate for many years — in fact, it still does!

Like Water for Chocolate

It has been a long time since I watched this movie. Too long. I can no longer tell you in detail what makes it so great — if it’s the fairytale-like backdrop of Mexican folklore/sentiments, or the cinematography. But having read both the book and seen the film, I remember thinking that the book left so much to the imagination, that the film did a better job of making the characters come alive. Of course, the book comes with recipes, which is a great benefit.

If you love a fairy tale as much as you love chocolate and chili, you should definitively look into Like Water for Chocolate.

Garden Spells and First Frost

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite authors. Her books are often easy to grasp, no complicated stories, but they’re so beautiful. She has mastered magical realism and food combined. I read her novels and drool.

Garden Spells is the first installment in the novels about the Waverly sisters — two sisters who both have different “gifts” — things they do that are like magic. It’s the tale of the withdrawn Claire who manages a catering business where she cooks enchanted treats and Sydney who is returning home with her daughter after escaping an abusive relationship. Both sisters are looking for love and acceptance, even if neither of them knows it. Set against the backdrop of a small town filled with weird and wonderful characters, the book is both life-affirming and irresistibly charming.

First Frost is the second book in the series and while also telling the tale of Sydney and Claire, it mainly focuses on Sydney’s daughter, who has her own Waverly gift. I found it to be even better than Garden Spells. And it’s interesting to read about a teenager finding her feet and daring to be herself.

The Love Goddess Cooking School

Melissa Senate has written a book about what it means to be different…and finding love through food. It’s a romance novel, but it has enough food and magic in it, to make the simple plot feel that much more enchanted and welcoming. Because who can resist food and magic? Not I!

In Closing

There are other books and movies that have a little bit of food and magic in them; even a lot. However, none have captured my attention as much as the ones mentioned in this article.

Then there are other books and movies like The Night Circus that are filled with enchantment, but not much food. Likewise, there are movies like Julie and Julia and The Hundred-Foot Journey, that are filled with food, but lack the magic. I’m still hooked on them. They just don’t happen to have both elements blended together in a perfect mix. 

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