The best food books for Christmas

Whether the food lover in your life wants to curl up on the sofa with a memoir, or get busy in the kitchen with a new collection of recipes, these are the best books to gift them this Christmas

Words by Fiona Beckett, Louella Berryman, Rachael Hogg and Fiona Sims

food books

Although many of us will have been enjoying the return of eating out this year, there’s always a place for staying in with a good food book, especially over Christmas. The festive period often comes with experimentation in the kitchen – those funny days in between Christmas and New Year in particular. It goes without saying, the ideal gift for a curious foodie this Christmas would be a cookbook.

From single-subject books delving into specific ingredients like Olivia Potts’ Butter, to wide-ranging tomes collating the stories of many like Angela Clutton’s Borough Market: The Knowledge, a whole host of excellent recipe books have been released this year. There are newcomers too – Ixta Belfrage’s debut book Mezcla arrived on the cookbook scene with a bang this summer, celebrating a new kind of fusion cooking and sporting a cover any cook would be proud to display in their kitchen. If the food lover in your life is looking for something to read away from the kitchen, Rebecca May Johnson’s Small Fires has been making waves among food writers (and readers) for its refreshing mix of stories, personal essays and critical theory, peppered with hilarity.

If you’re looking for a riveting read for a foodie this Christmas, see below for our curated selection of the best cookbooks and food memoirs.

8 of the best food books for Christmas


Mezcla: Recipes to Excite by Ixta Belfrage

Ebury Press, £26

Ixta Belfrage is of good cooking stock (if you will). The Ottolenghi protégé had her start in the cheffing world at Nopi and co-wrote Flavour in 2020 with her mentor. With this in mind, any fan of the Middle Eastern restaurants and cookbooks will be able to spot influences from the Ottolenghi empire throughout Mezcla, from the food photography (bright, simple, colourful) to the focus on vegetables throughout the recipes.

Belfrage wants this book to be a re-imagining of fusion cooking, something you might associate with late-nineties or noughties food trends, with trendy ingredients paired together in imaginative ways. Miso-butter butternut gnocchi might suit a beginner, whereas the fabulously juicy hake torta ahogada with prawn miso bisque would tempt a cook looking for a culinary challenge.

The book’s tagline is ‘recipes to excite’, and the design follows suit too, with jazzy fonts and bright colours making the recipes seem, well, exciting; they almost jump off the page. Belfrage organises Mezcla into ‘everyday’ and ‘entertaining’ recipes, and then splits further into ‘veg, fish, and meat’, making it easy to find exactly what you need for any given occasion.

The introductions to each recipe are clear and insightful, avoiding the ‘just bash a bit of this into your carbonara to spice it up’ approach many young chefs adopt. Some recipes have thoughtful chef’s notes beside them, almost as if to read the mind of the reader, telling them how to reheat, where to source a certain type of fish, and what else a salsa might pair perfectly with.
Louella Berryman


Hoppers: The Cookbook by Karan Gokani

Hardie Grant, £30

The Hoppers restaurants in London, established by Karan Gokani, are renowned for bold, vibrant and punchy riffs on Sri Lankan street food. With the publication of Hoppers: The Cookbook, everyone can get a taste of the restaurants’ critically acclaimed creations, from devilled dishes and curries, to rotis and the namesake hoppers (‘bowl-shaped, fermented rice and coconut pancakes’).

There are some cookbooks you pick for go-to recipes, then return to a shelf until the next time. Others, like Hoppers, you read cover-to-cover, absorbing every detail, enticing image, warm anecdote, memory and inspiration, not only wanting to cook all the dishes, but also board the next flight to Sri Lanka to experience the country first-hand.

While there are a few recipes across its expansive 350 pages you can whip up relatively quickly, this is a book to throw yourself into when you’ve got a spare afternoon or day to dedicate. You need to read recipes carefully before diving in, as many require the use of curry powders and spice blends detailed in the introductory larder and ingredients section.

Despite featuring dishes that may be unfamiliar, Gokani introduces and explains everything clearly, honestly admitting about hoppers: ‘I’d be lying if I said this recipe is easy or foolproof.’ But the tone is encouraging, rather than off-putting. Armed with a bottle of Ceylon Arrack (Sri Lankan spirit distilled with coconut or palm toddy/sap) to mix up one or two of the signature cocktails, you’ll be confident enough to give the book a go – hoppers and all.
Rachael Hogg

small fires

Small Fires: An Epic in the Kitchen by Rebecca May Johnson

Pushkin Press, £14.99

Everyone has recipes they cook over, and over again. For Rebecca May Johnson, it’s Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce for pasta. While having a rough time in her early twenties, she stumbled across it on The Guardian’s website in a piece where famous chefs shared their favourite recipes. The one that caught her eye was The River Café’s Ruth Rogers praising Hazan’s tomato sauce.

It was a lightbulb moment for Johnson, giving her a new respect for ingredients. She had never before paid attention to what each item brought to a dish, from cutting the garlic in a specific way to slow cooking the tomatoes (I know the recipe well and it had a similar effect). In Small Fires, she relates cooking it 1,000 different times, while charting her life and relationship with food and people over a 10-year period.

It’s a bracing mix of emotions, prose and philosophy that’s part-memoir, part-critical theory. From dancing to Chaka Khan while following Mrs Beeton’s recipe for pan-frying sausages (there’s a lot of dancing), to railing at Sigmund Freud’s misogyny while investigating cooking’s restorative powers and how it helps mitigate loneliness, Small Fires is brave, funny, thought-provoking, heart-warming, and like nothing else you will have ever read.
Fiona Sims

borough market

Borough Market: The Knowledge by Angela Clutton

Hodder & Stoughton, £27

If you’ve ever been to London’s Borough Market, you’ll be unsurprised to know there’s a huge wealth of knowledge hidden in its hole-in-the-wall stalls. Each vendor – from fishmonger to baker – has stories, wisdom and recipes to share. Now, some of its magic has been collated in a special book commissioned by the market.

Food writer Angela Clutton (host of Borough Market’s podcast) was chosen to distill the market’s most treasured stall-holder knowledge into the book, and she does a cracking job of making it easily digestible, with a deeply human touch. She quite rightly starts off the book with the thread that carries throughout: ‘it is all about the connection between produce, traders, shoppers and the Market community.’

The book is almost set out like a special issue magazine, with features on ‘the art of cultivating oysters’, recipes like charred hispi cabbage with bottarga cream sauce, and in depth how-to guides. The accompanying photography presents the faces behind the knowledge and showcases the beauty of raw produce before it’s transformed into something else entirely.

For the most part, the recipes are easy to follow: the chocolate olive oil cake with figs and hazelnuts proved popular in my house, and the perfect pairing for a Monmouth coffee. This is a book to be devoured over the course of a year, to sit proudly on a coffee table ready for a weekend project or for an afternoon spent reading on the sofa.
Louella Berryman

jeremy lee

Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many by Jeremy Lee

Fourth Estate, £30

You can hear Jeremy Lee speaking in his recipes: ‘Shiny darlings lifted from the deep,’ writes the chef, as he introduces his chapter on fish. With his soft, elegant Dundee burr – a giggle never far behind – Lee has pulled off that rare thing: an instant classic that educates, entertains and inspires.

What is surprising, considering his longevity in the business, is that this is his first cookbook. But then he still has a busy day job, serving diners at his Soho restaurant, Quo Vadis, not to mention various TV appearances. This is no standard chef cookbook with lengthy ingredients lists and tricky methods, though – it firmly has the home cook in mind. The majority of recipes are easy to make and source, with simplicity at the forefront. We have the pandemic to thank for that, in part: ‘Although I began this book thinking it would be a collection of recipes learned during my time spent in restaurant kitchens, I’ve come to realise that it was those warm, comforting, nourishing dishes that I made during lockdown that form the heart of it,’ he writes.

The pie chapter alone is reason enough to buy, judging by the reverent silence induced by the chicken, leek and tarragon pie I tried out on friends. The entire chapter dedicated to chard tickled my fancy too – ‘these beautiful, plumed leaves’ – which comes right after a chapter on breadcrumbs (his parsley crumbs are my new favourite way to dress green beans) and blood oranges (hello Campari, old friend). It’s a journey through Lee’s career, as well as a tribute to peers, mentors and his food-loving parents. Roll on book number two.
Fiona Sims


Takeaway: Stories From a Childhood Behind the Counter by Angela Hui

Trapeze, £16.99

After reading this book, you might be tempted to visit Lucky Star, the takeaway restaurant that food writer Angela Hui’s parents owned for 30 years in rural Wales. However, it shut up shop in 2018, prompting Hui to write her debut memoir.

The book charts Hui’s experiences growing up with migrant parents in the Welsh village of Beddau, and helping out at their Chinese takeaway. The restaurant provided a space for Hui to embrace her East Asian heritage, fuelling curious questions for her parents like: ‘What was it like selling noodles from a cart in Hong Kong?’; ‘What was growing up on a farm in China like?’; and most pressingly, ‘Why did they choose the South Wales valleys to settle, of all places?’

This book is as much about identity as it is food, with Hui recounting interactions with her family and customers inside the takeaway, and how these experiences made her both accept and reject her heritage. She doesn’t shy away from describing incidents of racism that have affected her life, with one phone call to the takeaway among the routine ‘chow mein and two bags of chips’ causing Hui to throw the phone across the counter.

There are tender moments too: the family dinners before service, the fun and chaos of preparing for a busy weekend, and research trips to Hong Kong. Food is very much something that connects Hui to her parents, and recipes are peppered throughout the book. The Lucky Star signature dish of Four Seasons chop suey is on my list of things to make, with other recipes emerging throughout the book like treasure.
Louella Berryman

butter olivia potts

Butter: a celebration by Olivia Potts

Headline Home, £26

A single-subject cookbook often stretches the core ingredient too far, but it’s hard to do that with butter. Potts, a former barrister who trained as a pastry chef, is certainly smitten with the stuff, combining a newcomer’s fascination with the art and science of cooking with a commendable zest for eating. The chapters range from cooking techniques using butter (Butter and Friction, for example), to how to tackle combining butter with ingredients like eggs, meat and fish. This is interspersed with essays on topics like the presence of butter sculptures at American state fairs and butter-washing booze.

The recipes, which are clear and accurate, are introduced with such boundless enthusiasm it makes you want to cook everything in the book. They range from the simple (Extremely Trashy Mars Bar Krispie Bites, which Potts ruefully admits are her husband’s favourite) to the more challenging core repertoire of classic French viennoiserie. She comes up with some genuinely original recipes too, like Welsh rarebit gougères (Potts is mad about brown butter), piña colada galette des rois, and a cacio e pepe butter that she describes as the ‘Chanel No.5 of butters’.

If there’s one shortcoming in this otherwise exemplary book, it’s a list of good butters – due, I imagine, to the need to cater for international markets. But all in all, it’s a joy. The perfect book for any butter-holic.
Fiona Beckett


Spice: A Cook’s Companion by Mark Diacono

Quadrille, £25

Spice is the latest title from the multi-talented Mark Diacono, who is not only a hugely engaging writer, but also styles and takes his own photos. In a book which covers such global cuisines, Diacono has cleverly tiptoed around the subject of appropriation by inviting contributions from food writers whose native cuisine is built around spice – including Li Ling Wang’s mapo tofu and Maunika Gowardhan’s Punjabi chicken curry. There are also intriguing recipes of his own, which include a cardamom-rich Ethiopian flatbread called himbasha, panch phoran roast carrots with raita and pistachios, and apple quince and star anise tarte tatin.

As with his previous book, Herb, there’s an excellent section on different spices: how to use them; the foods with which they have affinities; plus a great selection of spice-blend recipes, from the simple (cumin salt), to the complex (Indonesian bumbu paste). There are some interesting drinks ideas too: ‘If you are not sure where to start, try the gin, the aquavit or the nutmeg brandy Alexander towards the back of the book: a good nip of any of those and you should feel ready to jump into any recipe,’ he advises.

If I were to be picky, I’d have liked a little more information about sourcing and storing spices, but this is an inspiring read for anyone who enjoys spicy food and wants to up their game in the kitchen.
Fiona Beckett