Bread and cheese. Dried beef and hardtack. The ubiquitous stew. Food in fantasy can be remarkably dull. I always appreciate unusual cuisine in the books I read. I love a well-written dinner party or tea. I love attention paid to food in stories, the preparing and eating of it, even if it does make me feel hungry (like right now–this post is making me hungry so I’m keeping this one short).
Here’s a raw snippet from Quartz that takes place around a platter of stuffed mushrooms. Rafe is the protagonist, and Isabella is this maddeningly mysterious woman he’s been searching for. Right now she’s pretending to be a servant at a ball he’s attending, and he just spotted her:
“Aren’t you going to stop and wave that platter of delicacies under my nose?”
Her back was to him; he just saw the merest stiffening of her shoulders before she turned in one smooth movement and held out the platter. “Forgive me, sir. I had not seen you. Would you like to try some of these delightful little stuffed mushrooms?” Her face was expressionless, her voice cool.
Rafe stared down at caps in varying shades of black and brown, some smooth and uniform, others white-flecked. Their filling oozed out the sides. He pursed his lips, and, like the elderly gentleman, let his fingers hover above the mushrooms.
“Lady Brightmoon is known for her attention to little details. Look at this one pearled all over with fish paste, and that one with the bright blue filling, that precisely matches the hue of that urn behind me. I wonder what gives it that peculiar shade.”
“I don’t know, sir. I can ask in the kitchens, if you like.”
“No, I don’t like, actually. I want this platter right in front of me for now.” Her arm must be hurting from holding out that heavy silver thing, but it was nice to have her be at a disadvantage for once. Rafe stood between her and the door, and the ballroom and foyer were full of milling crowds. Even if she threw the platter at him and ran, she wouldn’t make it far. Running through crowds was about as effective as swimming in syrup, unless you had someone go in front of you shouting “Leper!’
“Do you think this stuffing is made of silverfin guts? They make me nauseous. I would hate to lose the contents of my stomach all over this polished floor—and your lovely borrowed costume.”
“Floors can be cleaned. So can clothes.” Her extended arm still held steady at both wrist and elbow, the platter was exactly where she had first raised it to.
Rafe selected a mushroom with a spiced bread and onion stuffing and popped into his mouth. He took his time chewing and swallowing, then proclaimed. “Superb. My compliments to the cook.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him,” she said, oversweet, with a touch of bared fangs in her large smile. “Finished, sir?” The platter was motionless, waiting for his reply, as though it were a point of pride with her to be the best servitor she could be.
“With the platter, yes.” Rafe lowered his voice. “With you, no.”
Isabella raked him over with a smouldering-coal gaze. “You mistake my role, sir. I only serve food on platters at parties. Nothing more.”
Good goddess! Did she actually think that he would have indecent designs on her? Besides the wanting to shake her at times kind of designs, that is. He would’ve laughed, if he weren’t so incensed with her taking that tone of moral outrage. After all, she was the party-crasher, not him. And he did not for a moment think that she was here for a night of honest work, for once.
“I imagine that it is strange for you to be here as a servitor,” he said, still low, almost growling. “When you could’ve been here as a Marchioness.”
The platter dipped alarmingly, and both Rafe and Isabella put out their hands under it to steady it. His hand caught hers; her cold fingers cradled briefly in the warmth of his palm. Rafe pulled back as if burnt just as Isabella shook his hand off. He settled for grasping the nearest edge.
A couple strolling in, the girl’s hand chastely on the youth’s arm, glanced at them. Rafe said, “Be careful, miss, you nearly tipped the mushrooms onto my breeches. I never thought the help here would be so careless” for their benefit—and his own.
“Sorry, sir.” Isabella snatched the platter from his fingers, then added in a fierce whisper. “I wish I had dropped it on your foot. Why can’t you learn to leave well alone?” Louder, she added, “There are more pastries out in the smaller supper room. Sugared flowers, honeyed marbled chips, liquered chocolates. This way, sir.” She spoke loud enough so that several pairs of eyes glanced over briefly to see who the glutton was, and stepped out into the foyer.
Rafe smiled ruefully at her back. He had no doubt he deserved the embarrassment after his own petty behavior.
What unusual foods do you have in your stories? Have you written scenes in which food is a major component? Do you have any favorite books that feature food heavily (non-fiction included)? Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and Salt: A World History include several recipes from days gone by, most of which are um.. interesting, at least. I draw the line at eating fragrant rotted fish (at least for myself and my family–my characters, not so much), though. What awful things have you made your characters eat?