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Death by Pad Thai: And Other Unforgettable Meals Paperback – October 24, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though Bauer's introduction invokes M.F.K. Fisher—in the early 1970s he escorted her for a magazine story on New Orleans restaurants—this collection of 20 essays concentrates more on nostalgia than on the actual pleasures of the table. From such writers as Amy Bloom, Claire Messud, Andre Dubus III, Richard Russo and Peter Mayle, Bauer gathers pieces about meals that were "unforgettable by occasion"—if not savoriness. Sue Miller's contemplative opener touches on the stupendous appetite of her teenage son, memories of her mother's dreadful cooking and the first meal her husband made for her. The reliable Jane and Michael Stern, here writing separately, provide the most humorous essays. In "Stir Gently and Serve," Jane details the first—and only—Thanksgiving she hosted, after which even the bulldog wouldn't eat the leftovers. Michael recalls a "night of a thousand embarrassments" in "My Dinner with Andy Warhol's Friends," when the Sterns took a Swiss art dealer to a fish house in Hoboken, N.J. Steve Almond's gem of a title story serves as one of the more appetizing tales, a funny, wonderfully descriptive account of a sensational homemade pad thai involving fresh Maine lobster. "Words are inadequate," Almond writes, but the reader will be salivating. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This anthology of some 20 short pieces focuses on each of the contributors' most memorable meals. Amy Bloom recounts her quest for the ultimate lasagna, recoiling in horror from the oxymoronic "dieter's lasagna." Jane Stern, today a great exponent of thoughtful American cookery, recalls with some embarrassment her first postwedding Thanksgiving, a menu loaded with half-baked ideas and overbaked frozen turkey. Dinner in a French inn fashioned out of an old mill means perfection for Claire Messud, but the experience so overwhelmed her that she has forgotten any specific dishes. Not knowing at the time that he would eventually become a leading exponent of French cooking, Peter Mayle accompanies his boss to Paris for a meal that opened new vistas. For Henri Cole, a good dinner companion trumps any food, and he chooses a stellar one: Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. A very few of these essays have recipes attached. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307337847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307337849
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,431,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Karlis Streips on June 26, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book in which authors, some well known and others not so well known (at least to me) were asked to write about a memorable meal, whether in a positive or a negative light. Almost all of the resulting essays are, as the book's cover notes, not really so much about food, but rather about romance, disappointment, family and celebration. Highlights for me were the title story -- an operatic essay about creating lobster pad thai in an orgy of male cooking, by Steve Almond; a tragicomic story about a first Thanksgiving dinner by Jane Stern; and a hilarious tale of trying to impress visitors from Switzerland (friends of Andy Warhol, no less) in New York, by Michael Stern (husband of Jane). I recommend this book most wholeheartedly not just to food mavens, but to anyone who enjoys top-shelf writing about a subject which, after all, is near and dear to all of us -- food.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Our Food Lit book club read this and everyone loved it. Great and diverse writing and delicious remembrances from all emotional directions around food experiences, meals and relationships. We all sat around and shared our own memories sparked by reading the various stories in this collection. Each author is a good writer in their own right but, all the styles and various stories taken together, make this book is a gem! Would be great travel read.
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Format: Paperback
The quirky title was enough for me to pick up this entertaining and often penetrating collection of twenty essays by renowned writers who look fondly back on their personal culinary experiences. Some are better than others, but editor and author Douglas Bauer has recruited an irrefutably impressive roster of talent from professional food writers Jane and Michael Stern to acclaimed novelists like Richard Russo, Sue Miller and Claire Messud. His starting point is appropriately himself as he describes a week when he accompanied food essayist M.F.K. Fisher on a gourmet adventure in New Orleans as part of an assignment for Playboy. Their journey comes down to the hunt for the perfect Ramos gin fizz which they discover unexpectedly at a local dive. From there, we learn from Russo that even a glamorous restaurant in Manhattan is not immune to the compromising view of a man urinating off a neighboring rooftop. The irony of this sight comes just after the acceptance of his first novel, and he and his wife decide to celebrate in a place they can barely afford.

Miller reflects on the fast food that was her constant staple growing up and how that contrasts with the sophisticated dishes she has tried to concoct ever since. She celebrates the imperfections of the meals she has prepared and makes us acutely aware that hunger is never just about food. In her adroit essay, Messud revisits a French meal so incredible that her selective memory of it is at odds with the reality of what it was, while in contrast, Scottish-born novelist Margot Livesey writes emphatically of her distaste for mutton and mint sauce.
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Format: Paperback
Bauer asked 20 writers to deliver a piece on food occasions that stuck in the mind, "memory evoking taste." What he got are essays (some with recipes) ranging from Jane Stern's hilarious account of cooking her first Thanksgiving Dinner, to Andre Dubus III's poignant recollection of disintegrating childhood meals in a disintegrating family.

Unlike most themed anthologies this one doesn't really have any weak moments. Sure, some essays are stronger than others, but each is resonant, eloquent, and moving. Most evoke the crucial role that food plays in life; the glue of friendship, family, and tradition.

Peter Mayle recollects the French meal that changed his life by waking up his post-war British palate; Henri Cole savors a dinner with Seamus Heaney; David Lehman recalls his wife's frenzy over a dinner party for a poet they both admire.

Some reflect on a lifelong relationship with food - Susan Isaacs wanders from her son's prodigious appetite to her mother's awful meals, her own first forays into cooking and the gift of a lovingly prepared meal. Amy Bloom reflects on the role of lasagna and her hopes for love. For Elizabeth McCracken gray meat conjures up a loveless childhood, and Ann Packer marks the milestones of her life in food.

This is a contemplative, reflective book with dollop of pathos in even the cleverest, most amusing essays and moments of joy in the saddest. For anyone who likes to read or eat.

-- Portsmouth Herald
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I love reading about food almost as much as I enjoy eating it so food writing, and food writing anthologies specifically, are often on my reading list. Unfortunately, this was not one of my favorites.

The premise of the collection is that Douglas Bauer reaches out talented writers from different backgrounds and asks them to write about the most memorable meal they ever had. These range from meals where the food is integral and the focal point to meals where the food is merely a backdrop for relationships, discoveries, and experiences.

I think Bauer succeeded in bringing many perspectives to the table. No two essays were anything alike and they show how the prompt of asking someone to recount a memorable meal can bring about so many different interpretations.

My issue with this collection was that the quality was just too mixed. There were some essays that sucked me in where I easily could have read 20-30 pages more by the author. There were others, unfortunately, that dragged and I was tempted to skip over entirely. A little variation in quality is to be expected in any collection, but in my opinion some of the essays here were weaker than similar collections like Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone. The strongest essays in my opinion were the ones by food writers since they were the ones where the food seemed to play the most integral role and where the flavors and textures were best brought to life.

This is also really not the book to go to if you want colorful descriptions of food and to really taste what the authors are talking about.
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