August 6, 2012

Food from fiction enhances the book experience

I think that descriptions of food and beverage are key to any fictional world building. For example, I couldn't imagine writing a book about my life without mentioning coffee. Perhaps it's silly, but the beverage is part of my life. I drink it to the point where I have to fight stains on my teeth, but the experience is worth it. The food staples of any given region can tell you much about not only current happenings but also about the place's history. Also, food and beverages often have such strong memories tied to them. I still remember a savory paella I had in Puerto Rico two years ago and how it was balanced with sweet raisins. When I visit my parents and eat my favorite foods like Irish potatoes (aka, mashed potatoes made with cream cheese - I haven't the slightest idea what makes them Irish) and chicken covered in mushroom soup and chipped beef, I'm immediately transported to my childhood.

That's all to say: you can't leave out food when you build your new world. It's better if you take the time to think about the standard menus and pantries of various regions too instead of everyone just eating stew and crusty bread regardless of where they travel (not that I mind the standard fantasy meal fare but variety and spice of life, etc).

George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is an example of food in fiction done right. In fact, he may have gone overboard in his descriptions. Goodness knows I've seen plenty of complaints from people who are tired of reading about honeyed chicken described in all its glory. I am not one of those people. I want to know how it looks, how it smells, what it tastes like, and heck, even what sort of cup is used to serve the iced wine. All of it adds to the story and makes it more real and believable. In my opinion, fantasy and sci-fi are best when they are grounded in some sort of reality.

Not only do a lot of people seem to share my thoughts about the importance of feasts in fiction, more than a few have taken a step further. People are creating recipes and cooking food found in pages. I'm sure fans have been doing this for, well, for as long as food has been described in books, but the internet lets everyone share what they're doing and the community seems to be growing. I particularly enjoy these three sites:

The Inn at the Crossroads - focused on the world of A Song of Ice and Fire; they even have a published cookbook officially endorsed by Mr. Martin!
Fictional Food - they have recipes from a little bit of everything from books to comics. I used a lot of recipes from this site for my Hunger Games party.
Food Through the Pages - you can find a range of recipes here from books like Coraline, The Hobbit, and fairytales. She recently shared a version of klava from the Vlad Taltos books that I'm very excited to try.

There are plenty more sites where those came from, but I feel good about recommending these to you if you're looking for some recipes to start trying. It's also a blast to come up with your own. If you're a super talented chef, you can probably write your own recipes. I am not though. I am capable in the kitchen, but I don't know how to formulate recipes. If I read about a food I like in a fantasy book, I'll consider the descriptions carefully and try to find an already existing recipe I can tweak to match it. If you're starting from scratch, it can be really fun to research. If the book is in a medieval setting, think about what sort of cooking technology they could utilize. If it's set in a desert, think about what sort of spices and food they would have realistically had available. I like that The Inn at the Crossroads ladies consider that there are no tomatoes in Westeros. Keeping it authentic is fun and challenging.

A friend and I have decided to make Friday nights fantasy food making night. We made lembas bread on our first night, and I'll be posting about that in the next couple of days. In the meantime tell me: have you ever made food from a book or comic?


  1. I remember I was reading a book series (I dont remember which one) and they kept talking about beef stew and fresh baked bread. I started obsessing about beef stew - so I got all the ingredients and made a huge pot of it. I ate 2 bowls and realized that it made me nausious. But it still sounded so good - so I ate more. This went on for 3 days. That was whan I figured out something was wrong. Not with the stew mind you.... So I went to the doctor and found out I was pregnant. That was why I obsessed about warm yummy beef stew. LOL! The only other time I can remember a book making me want to eat something - a book I read kept talking about I went and got some.

  2. Ha! That's a fantastic story. :D

  3. We had a Skyrim party earlier in the year, and chose a soup from the game to replicate. It ended up being so GOOD. We combined multiple leek/potato soup recipes we found online.

  4. I already commented on your Lembas bread post, but yes I've made food from books/movies :) LOTR-themed recipes, Star Wars themed recipes (though other than the blue milk attempt, these were super loosely themed as Star Wars never had much food mention/description) and a bunch of Game of Thrones themed recipes from Inn at the Crossroads for the season 2 premiere earlier this year :) It's definitely a lot of fun!

  5. I love themed food parties!

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