So if you've read more than half a sentence in this book, chances are decent you're not surprised to see food as a symbol. After all, pretty much every memory that Hassan has—along with every person he meets and place he goes—has a food association. So on a broad level, we can see that food is a symbol for Hassan himself.
Have you ever been driving in the car when a song comes on the radio and all of a sudden it's like you're right in the middle of a vivid memory? Maybe it's a song you danced to with a crush, or one you made a silly version of at summer camp—no matter when or where the song's from, when you hear it again it transports you back. For Hassan, food does this very same thing; he can basically trace his life through the sight, smell, touch, and taste of food.
And this means that we can trace food through Hassan's life, too, using his relationship to food to gauge where he is in not only his career, but in his relationship to himself. A great example of this is when he's preparing the ptarmigan. It's a pivotal moment in Hassan's cooking career, one in which he realizes he doesn't have to aspire to be like other chefs but instead can commandeer his own path. More than the stars or recognition he receives, we can often best understand Hassan through the dishes he's cooking and the ways in which he's thinking about food.
Along these lines, hunger comes up repeatedly in this book, from Bapaji's "great hunger" (1.3) that sets the whole restaurant-business ball in motion to Hassan's "feeling afterward a ravenous hunger" (2.86) after Mama dies. There are several other examples, but each time hunger comes up, the important detail to note is that it drives characters forward. Hassan and his cohorts aren't the type to leave their appetites untended to—nope, they go out and fill their metaphoric bellies. We've only included a few examples here. Can you think of more?
There's so much food in this book that we can't include it all here, but be sure to check out what we have to say about birds as symbols while you're visiting this section.