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The Penguin Companion to Food Paperback – 26 Sep 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1104 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Rev. Ed edition (26 Sept. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001639
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 4.9 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 962,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'This is an awe-inspiring work of love and dedication to the one thing that unites all of us human beings: food.' - Sophie Grigson. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Alan Davidson is an eminent and well-travelled author. He has written widely on seafood in particular, and is co-founder, with his wife Jane, of the food history journal Petit Propos Culinaires. He lives in London, in Chelsea. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jane Doe on 30 Dec. 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
...about food, but were too afraid to ask.
Too many expensive "reference" books and food "encyclopedias" are no more than glorified recipe books, or pretty-picture coffee table fodder. Recipes you can pick up in just about any cook book, or free on the internet. What is harder to find is a book like this.
It doesn't waste valuable page space sneaking in recipes you probably already have in double or triplicate from other food books. Instead, it concentrates on delivering a mine of information about almost every kind of major foodstuff, cuisine, method, term and diet and all in clear, easy to read prose with just enough detail to sate most curious appetites! (Pardon the pun).
It's a weighty book and for something that will probably be used for many years, it really needs a stronger spine (I have a feeling my copy will crack and start losing pages soon). Other than that, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it. Without all the theatrics and obscure/obsolete references, I think it even gives Larousse Gastronomique a run for its money. Its certainly a bargain at the price.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By DL on 21 Oct. 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a masterwork. Alan Davidson spent two decades compiling and perfecting his witty, erudite, accessible digest. The book was originally published as the Oxford Companion to Food a couple of years ago: this paperback Penguin version is enhanced with charming illustrations.
If you think that you might ever want to know about cheese or about caviare, about lemons or about locusts, about bacon or about sin-eating, this is the book to beg, buy, borrow - but not to lend. You will not get it back.
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Alan Davidson is one of the world's greatest food writers, ranking with Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson etc; their books have stood the test of time and are not transient (unlike many of today's TV chefs). This is a culinary masterwork, worthy of its place on every cook's shelves.

This book was a replacement for its (much-loved) Oxford hardback cousin that was not returned from loan. It is a stunning work, in that it is a compendium of real depth, information and insights. Davidson's several other comparable regionally-based work on fish and their cookery, tells of a writer who was comprehensive in both his knowledge and his style. He shows that depth across this volume, too.

This book echoes that although undoubtedly some nit-picking reader or cook who specialises in a non-mainstream ingredient may find either omissions or insufficient information in this magnum opus of Davidson's oeuvre. But for the truly human, the professional chef, the household cook or the passionate eater of good ingredients, this book is a feast for life.
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It has all the necessary information about food and food ingredients from around the world. It's a must for foodies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Great Reading. Some gaps. No recipes! 31 Oct. 2005
By B. Marold - Published on
Format: Paperback
`The Penguin Companion to Food', edited by the noted English culinary writer and diplomat, Alan Davidson is a foody reader's compendium to lots of interesting articles about sources, history, some people, and most places regarding food and drink. It is quite properly named a `companion' rather than an `encyclopedia', since, unlike the seemingly similar `Larousse Gastronomique', it contains no recipes whatsoever. This is not an accident or oversight, as Davidson clearly states in the introduction that this was an editorial policy from the outset.

This book has a distinctly British flavor about it with its selection of article topics. While there is an excellent longish article on Elizabeth David, easily the most important British food writer of the 20th century, there are no articles on either Julia Child or James Beard, the two most popular and well known American food writers. Alternately, there is an excellent article on M. F. K. David who is much less well known even among Americans. Child and Beard are mentioned but once at the end of an article on American cookbook writing. This choice is an excellent symptom of what this book is all about. It is not about cooking so much as the writing about food culture. While Child and Beard were cookbook writers par excellence, David and Fisher dealt less with food than they did with appetites, impressions, scholarship, and recollections. It is noteworthy that David should be one of the very few writers honored with an article here, as Davidson was very much a student and protege of Elizabeth David.

The book is oddly selective in other ways. It has an article of goodly length on H. J. Heinz, but nothing on Milton Hershey. These two men are, in the United States, of at least equal renown; they were contemporaries, and both set up their businesses in Pennsylvania at about the same time. Another oddity is the fact that there is an article on Nepal, where, I suspect, very little grows, but no article on Senegal on the west coast of Africa and the ancestral home of many slaves brought to the new world and, therefore, the source of many food memories which contributed to `soul food' cuisine.

This is not to say this is not a valuable book. Many articles give fuller coverage to many culinary subjects than even books that specialize in some subjects. Two sidebar articles on pasta and chilis, for example, give fuller lists of the varieties of these two items than many good cookbooks on the subject. The pasta article is also careful to indicate the regionality of the names of some pasta shapes. I believe the pasta article, for one, could have been even better if it had given us pictures of the various shapes. I really feel that Orecchiette doesn't really look like ears, even though all texts describing it always say it does.

The book also avoids some common mistakes with accurate information on, for example, the components of the sharp vapors from a cut onion. Unlike lots of simpler minds, the article on same points out that these tearing fumes are really composed of many different components, which is part of the reason why most methods for avoiding them don't work.

The book is so dedicated to it's no recipe policy that it doesn't even give us articles on some basic preparations such as `buerre blanc'. It also does not even include recipes for such basics as mayonnaise or pesto.

This book is very good, but it is not as valuable a culinary resource as the aforementioned `Larousse Gastronomique' which provides thousands of basic recipes and pictures for just about everything imaginable, including uniforms of Renaissance culinary guild members. If you are a foody who must own every notable book on food, then buy this. But, if you are only interested in books to help you cook, get the Larousse. Note that the hardcover version of this volume is published by Oxford University Press and is therefore known as `The Oxford Companion to Food'.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Same as the Oxford Companion 10 Jun. 2006
By Wm Sides - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I spent a lot of time deciding on which of the two companions to food to purchase. Given that the Penguin Companion was half the cost and by the same author, it won out. I was surprised though, when I held the book in my hands to read at the bottom of the front cover "Originally published as the Oxford Companion to Food." Although I am glad I am getting the quality and authoritativeness the Oxford series provides, it sure would have made my decision a lot easier to have known this bit of information.

The Oxford/Penguin companion is a terrific encyclopedia of foods. Davidson's essays are very readable and enlightening. Like all of the Oxford companions, it is a 5 star read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Attention Food Lovers! 20 Nov. 2005
By Beth - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book. I find myself flipping from article to article and I have trouble putting it down. It is truly comprehensive, and well organized. It makes for fun reading, but is also a great reference if you come across some sort of obscure food item in a recipe or elsewhere.
By Hellen Lee - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Even though I am not a chef or a good cook or a good baker, I love this book. It's like a small history on food and I like to know where my food comes from. The pictures are enchanting and the explanations/descriptions are very clear. It also includes foods from all around the world, which I enjoy thoroughly.
The Penguin Companion to Food 4 Jan. 2013
By Jimbo Hancock - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have nearly worn out this book. Where do pistachios come from? Who invented broccoli? What in the heck is tapioca?

... all there and more.

If you like food you will love this book
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