7 Food Writing Prompts

Food writing, focusing on the personal experience of food — combining memoirs, recipes, technical information, and history in a literary or journalistic text, is a relatively recent genre, popularized in the 20th century in the USA by the incomparable MFK Fisher — although there have been some notable precursors, such as Marcel Proust. In turn, it has given rise to one of the most creative and remunerative forms of blogging today.  A quick glance at Instagram or Twitter feeds will show that we are obsessed with our food and with what other people are eating and cooking. That should be no surprise: a great deal of human history has focused on food.

Etruscan cook preparing food for a banquet


From a psychological point of view, food is our connection with our mothers, with our most archaic identity as a newborn for whom the very first physical sensation as an independent being is hunger. Food and hunger define who we are.

To write about food is to write about our evolution, our feelings, and our deepest identity, or as some might say, our soul.

Below are seven food writing prompts to investigate your food memories.

italian kitchen
1. Set a scene in a kitchen from long ago evoking a meal you cooked, shared, or tasted. (Florence, 1972)
2. Write about a a visit to a market you find irresistible. Describe colors, sounds, flavors, texture, people, atmosphere, and the art of choosing produce. (Paris market, Rue Mouffetard)


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3. Tonight you may dine anywhere in the world and eat anything you wish. Where will you go, with whom, and what will you eat? Describe the food, setting, atmosphere, and company of your ideal dinner out.(Ikaria, GR)
4. Recall the flavor of a food freshly picked, baked, or caught, and eaten on the spot. Use concrete sense details in your description.
5. Write about preparing and eating a food you love but that not everyone does. Include a recipe and say why it appeals to you so much.
6.Write about a laborious dish you prepare only for special occasions.
7. Write about tasting wine in a special place. Describe the atmosphere, company, and flavor of the wine.  (Methoni, GR)


For more food and travel writing prompts, please see my craft of writing book: The Soul of Place – A Creative Writing Workbook

6 Place-Writing Prompts from my American Library in Paris Presentation

I had the great pleasure of presenting my book The Soul of Place -A Creative Writing Workshop:  Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci  at the American Library in Paris  this fall, where I conducted a small place-writing workshop.  Here are a few excerpts from my talk – and some writing prompts chosen for this particular venue.

“This is a book about how to enhance our awareness of places and find in the environments around us inspiration and material for artistic and writing projects .  It’s very much a personal journey, retracing  my own creative process and discoveries as a writer, reader, teacher, and traveler.  Its most basic premise is that there is a power or energy at work in certain places  that speaks directly to our imaginations and nourishes them.

Many writers, artists, photographers, psychogeographers have recorded eloquent  testimonies of the ways particular places have inspired them, and it would take to long to share even a few.  They boil down to a few concepts: “Landscape is character,” in the words of Henry James. For  Lawrence Durrell,  “We are expressions of our landscape.”   And the houses and rooms we live in, are analogues for the self. We keep up an ongoing dialogue with the places we live of which we are totally unaware. Houses and landscape inhabit us just as much as we inhabit them.”

Here are 6 prompts from the workshop I gave:

1. Write about stairs —  you stand at the top or at the bottom of a stairway, and you know that when you reach top/bottom   you will enter a space where something life-changing will happen



2. Write about a tree you have never forgotten.


3. Write about your first kitchen in a foreign house –an object in that kitchen that manifests its “foreignness” and what you did with it.
country road tt
4. Write about a  place where “silence” had a new meaning for you.
5. Write about a statue you would like to talk to


desk crete
6. Recall a window, door, or drawer in a place you no longer live. Take hold of the handle or door knob. How does it feel in your hand? Now open it and describe what you find there.
For more prompts, please see my craft of writing book The Soul of Place – A Creative Writing Workbook , by Linda Lappin, Travelers Tales (2015) ISBN-13: 978-1609521035


Travel Journaling Made Easy

Travel writer’s block?

You’ve seen them sitting in cafes or on park benches, or streaming along in high-speed trains, young travelers, earnestly bent over their notebooks or Ipads, writing intently as the cup of coffee at their elbow grows cold. Maybe there are maps spread on a table beside them or a little pile of postcards. You envy them – they have found their focus. They are succeeding at what you meant to do, but didn’t – attending to their travel journals.

And yet you came prepared. Here in your bag, you have your moleskin notebook along with some colored pens and your smart phone is full of stunning photos and amusing selfies. On your walk this morning, you stumbled upon three interesting things to write about: a political protest in the piazza, a puppet theater in the park and some discarded mannequins in a trash bin behind the bowling alley. But when you finally sit down to write, the inspiration evaporates. You gaze at the blank page then put the notebook away, thinking there will be another opportunity for this later.

Very likely when your trip is over, your notebook will return home still virgin. Next summer, next year, when you want to remember something of your journey, you will curse yourself for not having had a more disciplined approach. Sound familiar?

Keeping your journal


Failing to keep up your journal is a special kind of writer’s block – here are some tips to overcome it and turn your blank-paged notebook into a scintillating record of your trip– even if you are not a writer.

Firstly, consider “Why?” you want to keep a journal before you consider “How?” Remember your intention is to create a document that will reflect authentic glimpses of your experience. Encapsulating experiences in words of our own is different from snapping a photo. It casts a warmer, more intimate light on a fleeting moment. Think of it this way; you are writing a letter to the most important person in your life, your future self, to preserve precious memories that will otherwise fade away and vanish.

Find time

When rushing off to airports or out to see the sights, it can be tricky to schedule writing time, especially if you are traveling in company and must accommodate other people’s rhythms. Perhaps, when you finally have a moment alone, you’re just too tired or overwhelmed by new impressions to collect your thoughts. Try opening your notebook throughout the day, whenever you have some downtime, even if you aren’t intending to write. You might be surprised to find yourself inspired.

Experiment with different settings – try writing in an art gallery or historical museum, on a bus or in a taxi, at a shopping mall, train station, hairdressers or restaurant. Explore the city streets as a flaneur, jotting down the bits of life swirling around you as they happen, or take your notebook on a slow nature walk, pausing to study and describe in detail the wild life you encounter.

Remember, you aren’t writing a novel. Don’t worry too much about grammar and form. Take it lightly, start with a ten-minute assignment with this sure-fire prompt: make a list.

List life

Lists are a very evocative literary device. From Homer’s catalogue of ships in the Iliad, to James Joyce’s inventory of the objects in Bloom’s drawer in Ulysses, lists are tools for world building. Novelist and critic Umberto Eco has praised lists as the origin of culture, for they impose order on chaos; we love lists, he claims, because we don’t want to die. Through lists we reconstruct the contents of our mind and environment.

Here are some ideas for list making while traveling:

Five ways the local people look, dress or act differently from you

Five items (clothing or other necessities) you should have brought but didn’t – and why you need them

Five foreign words or local expressions you learned and the circumstances in which you learned them

Five children you have encountered on your trip

Five unfamiliar objects you have come across and what they are used for

Five doorways you have passed through or windows you have looked out

Five place names with a story to tell

Five appealing/unpleasant smells, tastes or sounds you experienced that you wouldn’t find at home …

Once you start the process, you will see that one list leads to another and every item on each list can grow into a longer, richer narrative.

If list making got your creative juices flowing, go on to the next step. Choose some items in your list and turn them into “ tweets.”


Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still use the 140-character format as a guideline for producing short, pithy texts resembling haikus, superflash fiction, or even koans. To compress an experience in 140 characters is no small feat. The formal discipline will help shift your prose into a poetic mode.

Try to draw a picture in words, render an atmosphere, zero in on a detail that speaks for the whole, chart an itinerary, capture an action, frame a portrait or landscape. Experiment with understatement, overstatement, humor, surprise, the quirky and the uncanny.

Combine each tweet with a photograph or other visual accompaniment. Your journal will sparkle with these shards of observations and, if you use social media, you can share them with friends and readers.

Go deeper

Lastly, bring it all together with a unifying device – a deep map.

Deep Map Tamra Duvall
A deep map by Tamra Duvall

The term “deep map,” was first coined by Native American Writer William Least Heat-Moon to describe his research method in writing a book of travel essays, PrairyErth. “Deep map” is now used by geographers, travel writers and urban planners to describe a multilayered map of a space, collecting information from multiple sources, time periods and perspectives.

Heat-Moon made his map by staking out a county in Kansas and exploring it from every possible point of view: by hiking and driving across it, interviewing locals, studying legends, scientific research, historical archives and old newspapers – even by dreaming about it. He matched his findings with the quadrants of geographical survey maps and then wrote about his journey section by section.

To make your deep map, find a map to paste into your journal or use Google maps or other apps like Story Map or Scribble Map to create and annotate a digital one. Trace the rough outline of your itinerary and then add layers: lists, tweets, quotes, journal entries and other texts, photographs, sketches, drawings, and vintage maps. If you are using a paper or plastic map, add mixed media: cut outs, clippings, receipts, postcards, tickets, menus, money and any other talismans of place. Do this as you go, or just gather pieces in a plastic envelope to assemble when you return home. As you flesh out your deep map with layers, stand back to reflect on the bigger picture. Themes, patterns, cycles, and changes will begin to appear, and your trip will take on new meaning. Use these insights to write a final entry on what you have learned and how you have been transformed.