One thing I that stood out as I read through George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones books is his attention to what his characters ate. The descriptions were often detailed and made me want to sit down at the table to dine with them. At first it seemed annoying but then I began to think about the kinds of food they really did consume back then, although the fantasy world menu seemed an awful lot like medieval fare from Earth history.
I found the same food feature in Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. It seemed every chapter this character or that one were eating and he included every item of food and drink, including Brand names of products. I liked it at first because I could feel like I was in Sweden eating typical Swedish food. But then it became annoying whenever the scene stopped to share with readers the menu of Lisbeth's latest snack.
|The full English breakfast will get you through a day |
of plowing fields behind a pair of oxen.
I try to walk the fine line between appetizer and dessert. I offer the main dishes but do not go into lavish descriptions of process and procedure, of recipe and presentation. Unless it is integral to the point of the scene. Let's face it: most of what we eat is only to ward off hunger pains.
Fewer people today, I would guess, dine as entertainment. Sure, eating is fun; tasting food is a form of entertainment, whether it is in a luxurious restaurant or at a street vendor's cart. The scent of food cooking, the spice or sweet of it, the texture of sinking your teeth in the perfect pork belly with just the right dab of Southern barbecue sauce on it, or the crunch of a baguette as you bite into it, the smoothness of a particular local cheese which has both Hatch peppers and blueberries in it - all are delights. And our characters should enjoy what we offer them to eat as much as we do.
So what if your protagonist likes the same foods as you do? Are those foods available there? If your protagonist is on a quest, roughing it, what kinds of food did he bring or will he find along the way? If you eat Vegan, should your heroine eat no meat also? Is that a political decision or a literary decision? A tough warrior is more likely to dine on roast boar than a fresh spring greens salad - or so I've heard. You can make up foods, too:
I'nar'r stuffed the boiled guffee into his mouth and bit hard through its outer shell, causing the purple juice to run down his chin and his lips to pucker.
|A lovely spread of Korean dishes.|
Famous meals my characters have eaten:
In A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, our two protagonists enjoy cooking a batch of chili, the perfect romantic food, right?
They both worked to put the chili together. She skillfully wielded the carving knife on the vegetables, cutting them down to size, especially the carrots for the salad. She took one carrot and licked the cut end seductively as he pretended to ignore her. Watching the way she cut carrots made him uneasy. He turned away and mixed the chili base in a large pot, measuring out the chili powder and Worcestershire sauce like a scientist. He threw the big clump of ground sirloin into the skillet and they watched it sizzle. She stood next to him, and eventually his arm slid around her waist, later her arm around his, too. When the meat was cooked enough, Íris snatched a pinch and pushed it into his mouth. It was too hot and he spit it out into his hand as she laughed. He liked her laugh, and thought of snowmen and candy canes. They nibbled from the salad bowl as they continued cooking.
While the chili was simmering, they went to bed to satisfy their hunger for dessert. It was midnight before they had dinner.
Out on the road in EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, food is hard to come by. Our hero and his sidekick brought traveling food - which leaves much to be desired after having it day after day:
When the dinner ration was prepared, Tam sauntered over to the communal bowl like he was the Prince of Lakeland—as Corlan teased him, even throwing a covering over his shoulders to affect a cape. He took the first portion of the lumpy gray gruel. One day’s ration, prepared in one bowl. Usually, Corlan took the first portion. Then Gorral and Rupas, alternating each day who went first. Then the boy got to scrape up whatever remained in the bowl. Sometimes there was little left so Corlan, who always held back some of his own until the boy had eaten, would slip some to him.
“Ugh, this stuff is getting to be awful,” Gorral dared grumble.
“If we stayed longer in one place,” said Corlan, “we might go in search of local game.”
“We got a drake one time a long time ago,” Tam exclaimed.
When you live "on the ice", like A GIRL CALLED WOLF did, food is hard to come by:
The next seal he pushed between my feet. He handed me a club and told me to hit the seal’s head with the club. I did not hesitate. Whack! More hits. Blood ran from the mouth of the seal and it lay still.
“Good girl,” the man with the red beard said. “You’ve got deadly hands. The seals are afraid of you!”
I went out with him often to hunt. Sometimes the man with the red beard visited only a single night yet in good weather he might stay several days. When he took me out on a hunt, Mama stayed in the hut. She cooked whatever we brought back—fish, seals, birds, hares.
In summer we gathered berries and bird eggs. I went with Mama up the mountain slopes and along the shore. She said the man with the red beard was sailing on the sea during summer. On the big kayak he would catch many fish, she told me. He would visit later and bring some fish.
|Don't forget the Pumpkin spice season!|
Standing on the corner between my hotel and the parking garage, I heard lively music playing. I smelled food. After three days without food, I finally felt hungry. Turning down the street, I chose a place. Inside, I had a dinner of turtle soup, blackened fish with cornbread and greens. I finished with bread pudding. For the second half of the meal I wasn’t sure I could finish everything, but my gut stretched wide and held it. I sat for a while, letting the musicians play on as I started the digestion process. Then I got into my car and drove.
And remember that MFA story with breakfast? Here it is, from my story "The Preacher Only Shoots Twice":
|Your heroine could be having noodles.|
When he quietly closed the door of his Volvo and stepped lightly up the wooden exterior staircase, fake smile poised, ready to fire at will, he had a premonition that this was not going to be his day. His snitch had already told him they would all be at home watching the big football game this afternoon. He knew it would be the perfect time for a gunpowder sermon. They would break bread together. But feeling the greasy sausage and grits turning in his belly, the scent of maple syrup on buttermilk pancakes wafted through his memory. His daughter had loved her mother’s pancakes. He loved them, too. And Belgian waffles. Fancy omelets with everything. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and café au lait. Canadian bacon grilled in a honey-wine sauce, and hash-brown potatoes, on chilly days. On hot summer mornings they had eaten pecan-mixed multi-grain flakes with peaches or strawberries and full-fat milk. Powdered sugar-sprinkled blueberry muffins were his wife’s favorites, he recalled sadly, feeling hungry once again. But he maintained his strict diet, the stricter the better.
So next time you sit down (or stand) to dine, imagine what your characters would like to eat. How would they order in a rustic tavern? What would they be able to gather off the land as they traveled? How would they prefer their hruks'thoo fried and what sauce would they dip it in? Apparently most people choose the bittersweet jil'il sauce made from the berries of the woohoo tree, but not me. I always choose the umm'thm sauce, which adds a lovely sourness to the hruks'thoo.
Or, if your
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