10 Great Food Moments in Literature (Plus Dining Guide!)

Trade plot twists for the pretzel kind.
Trade plot twists for the pretzel kind.
Sarah DiGregorio

Somewhere on a dusty chunk of earth bordered by two rivers, a king's BFF got shit-faced on beer, then started yelling at the hooker who was trying to ply him with alcohol. You might think this titillating bit marks the beginning of a Middle Eastern version of The Hangover. But it's actually from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh, said to be the oldest example of written literature, not only winds up being pretty sexy for something carved into a bunch of stone tablets; the verses probably also contain the first written description of food and drink -- as well as the earliest recorded idea that eating and imbibing can mean more to humans than mere sustenance.

At Fork in the Road, we're nerds as much as noshers, so we decided to look at prose and poetry throughout the ages to come up with this week's Top 10: Great Food Moments in Literature. As an added bonus: suggestions about where in New York to find some related dishes and eateries, so you can totally geek out with bookish gut-blasts.

1. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert In Flaubert's famous novel, Emma gets hitched to a boring-but-kindly country doctor, cheats on him repeatedly, and winds up killing herself by swallowing a handful of arsenic. While this could sound like any ol' story about a loveless marriage, Emma's departure from morals and sanity happens because of fruit and condiments. When the middle-class lass eats pineapple -- a rare delicacy reserved for the rich -- for the first time at a ritzy ball, she realizes that her hubby ain't exotic, exciting, or rich enough for her. Emma later tries to seek peace in church -- but she ditches that plan when she sees an ugly mustard stain on a priest's shirt.

For mean mustard that's guaranteed not to send you into an existential crisis, check out Sigmund Pretzelshop. (29 Avenue B, 646-410-0333)

2. The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck Wang Lung, a poor farmer, gets a wife, O-Lan, from a rich household where she has worked as a slave much of her life. At first, he doesn't seem to see her as much more than a glorified domestic, but then he buys meat for his wedding feast. While he makes O-Lan do all the cooking for the bros-only wedding party, the fact that he splurged on pork and beef shows that he cares about his marriage.

If you want hearty, down-home dishes that would delight Wang Lung, but without the requisite mistreatment of a loved one, check out Shanghai Asian Cuisine. (14A Elizabeth Street, 212-964-5640)

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