A shy teenager attempts to express how she really feels through the pastries she makes at her family’s pasteleria. A tourist from Montenegro desperately seeks a magic soup dumpling that can cure his fear of death. An aspiring chef realizes that butter and soul are the key ingredients to win a cooking competition that could win him the money to save his mother’s life.
Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, where the answers to most of life’s hard questions are kneaded, rolled, baked. Where a typical greeting is, “Have you had anything to eat?” Where magic and food and love are sometimes one in the same.
Told in interconnected short stories, Hungry Hearts explores the many meanings food can take on beyond mere nourishment. It can symbolize love and despair, family and culture, belonging and home.
Thank you to MTMC tours for a copy of this book – I won a book of my choice in their giveaway and I chose this one! I’ve known about this one for a while and I really wanted to pick it up as I enjoy reading about food. Any descriptions of food in books or scenes that centre around food captivate me for some reason, I think it might be something to do with feeling connected to the book itself! One of my favourite examples is the patisserie in Serpent & Dove – I really started to fall in love with the book when I reached that scene.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s an anthology made up of 13 different stories about food and love by different authors. All of the stories centre around Hungry Heart Row, a place that has a lot of amazing restaurants and food ingrained into the occupants lives. Where people believe in magic, and think that magic and love are integral ingredients to any dish. Something I really loved about these stories, other than how integrated they are with one another, is that one particular character showed up in every single story (I think) to give the main character of that story a treat. I thought that was a delightful way to connect all of the stories, and it made me smile when that character appeared with a sweet pastry or treat!
I’m going to rate each story out of 5 and discuss a little about each below.
Rain by Sangu Mandanna – ★★★★★
A contemporary story about loss and family. This was an absolutely beautiful introduction to this anthology, a short story centering around a main character who has travelled from England to stay with her Aunt who lives near Hungry Heart Row. I adored this story, it had a beautiful discussion of grief and made me feel warm inside at the way food connected the family.
Kings and Queens by Elise Chapman – ★★★★
A dark contemporary story about gangs and Chinese restaurants. A really interesting and dramatic story full of plot twists. This is not something I expected and definitely showed me that this anthology was not going to be full of sweetness and fluff!
The Grand Ishq Adventure by Sandhya Menon – ★★★★★
A contemporary romance story about stepping out of your comfort zone. I was so excited to see that Sandhya Menon had a story in this book – I have one of her books on my TBR and I was so glad to have an introduction to her work. I loved this story, which centered around being brave and trying new things. It was so cute and easy to read, but also provoked a lot of internal reflection for me that I really liked, it had a lot of depth to it!
Sugar and Spite by Rin Chupeco – ★★★
A fantasy story, and also the only one by an author I had already read books by! I was so glad that Rin Chupeco had taken on the story of this particular restaurant, as it was infused with magic and fantastical elements. It was a beautiful story, but unfortunately I found it difficult to get into because of the second person narrative that I’m not used to!
Moments to Return by Adi Alsaid – ★★★★
I really enjoyed this story, which centered around a character who had travelled to Hungry Heart Row after hearing about it online. Their experience of depression made me very emotional, and I could feel their desperation jump off the page. This had a beautiful moral about finding magic in the every day and being grateful for what we have.
The Slender One by Caroline Tung Richmond – ★★★★★
This one was a ghost story, and I loved it. Again, it centered very much around family and upholding family legacy. The concept was so interesting and I could picture it so easily. It also discussed friendship and relationships and the expectations we have from those around us. Such a fascinating read that made me feel warm and fuzzy!
Gimme Some Sugar by Jay Cole – ★★★★★
Another beautiful story that looked at family relationships and being brave for those around us. The discussion of anxiety in this story felt visceral and jumped right off the page. I really related to how the main character felt and admired him for what he went through. The discussions of food were so lovely and warmed my heart! (Also, amazing title that made me smile.)
The Missing Ingredient by Rebecca Roanhorse – ★★★★
A story about a girl who just wants her mum back, when she becomes engrossed in the running of her restaurant. This one had a dark undertone and creepy twist I didn’t see coming, but I really felt for the main character and thought this was an interesting and different (darker) look at food and restaurants.
Hearts à la Carte by Karuna Riazi – ★★★★
Another one with a twist that I didn’t see coming and I thought it was really fun! I don’t want to say anymore than that because I will spoil the story – but I enjoyed how this one was set outside and around a family street food cart which I loved, as I could visualise more of Hungry Heart Row!
Bloom by Phoebe North – ★★★★
A story that centered around relationships and the way we see people. I really liked this one, it felt emotional and raw and honest. It was a unique romance story about discovering who you are yourself, loving yourself and had such an interesting discussion of how we present ourselves to other people.
A Bountiful Film by S.K. Ali – ★★★★
I knew I would enjoy this story as soon as I realised it was about film and the cinema. I noticed the cinema on the map in the front of the book and I was so happy to find it mentioned in a book! This one had such interesting stories about the neighbourhood interwoven throughout, and I really liked the discussions of family, friendship and connection.
Side Work by Sara Farizan – ★★★★★
This was one of my favourite stories in the whole anthology, it was so cute and anything I wanted from the story was quickly delivered. It had a quiet, queer, beautiful romance and a really lovely story about how food connects us to our families.
Panadería ~ Pastelería by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★
I was so excited to get to this story as it included the character who was mentioned throughout the book in every story, but this fell a little flat to me. It was extremely short (I know all of these are short stories, but this one was shorter than most), and I just didn’t connect to the main character in the way I wanted to. However, this bakery was probably one of my favourite parts about this book and the pastries sounded delicious! This story also had a trans love interest and was very diverse.
In fact, this whole anthology was diverse and I really adored the discussions of different cuisines and cultures. It was one of my favourite things about this short story collection! In no particular order, my favourite 5 stories were Rain, The Grand Ishq Adventure, The Slender One, Gimme Some Sugar and Side Work.
4 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽