The Basics, Part IX – “Food & Drink”

Welcome back!

Following on from fashion, what foods & drinks are fashionable? What is available, how easily, and why?

Back to geographical worldbuilding, how do you label your foods? Are you transplanting foods from earth? For example, [place name] grape? Many Earth foods and drinks are tied to geographic location. Burgundy, champagne, sherry, to name but a few. What sort of varieties do you have? There are many, many different kinds of apples in our world – do you have different ones in yours?

How is food transported? Does it spoil easily? Is it seasonal? Are there greenhouses that grow fruits out of season at great expense for the tables of the nobility, or is food readily accessible? What counts as fine cuisine in your world? Is it valued?

Perhaps your world is comprised of nomads who drink the blood of their horses? Perhaps the seas freeze over in winter and ice fishing is the norm, and sharks are hung up to be cured by the wind? Maybe fine cheeses are in, cured and aged for years at a time?
I recall hearing that there are Mediterranean olive trees over five thousand years old – what an incredible cultural treasure.

What’s common in one area of the world could be highly prized in another.

Then there are styles of food. Not just exotic spices, but regional delicacies and specialities; what styles of meals are served? Is it a three-course meal, with a starter, main, and dessert (as developed by Abu l-Hasan ‘Ali Ibn Nafi’ (or Ziryab))? Perhaps it is the seven-course meal? How large are the portions? Are soups a thing?

Perhaps sweet is served with sour, rather than its own dish? Who serves the courses, who prepares them, and how? Are there chefs, cooks, and are they valued? Is it a communal affair where everyone comes together, where fresh ingredients are sourced and locally produced, while others are shipped in from far away, or is it as simple as a trip to the supermarket? Maybe everything’s industrialised and food is in cans.

Where does the food come from? If memory serves, the rhubarb was transported from China along the Silk Road way back when. Corn, potatoes and tomatoes come from the ‘new world’, along with tobacco and cocoa, amongst other things. Tea from China was smuggled out and planted in India, various parts of Africa and elsewhere. Sugar at one point was incredibly expensive. Saffron remains so pricey its worth more than its weight in gold, if I recall correctly. How easy is it to obtain ice? Refrigeration altered everything. Up until then, salt was the main preservative, although pickling, canning, and so on were also used. Baked beans were once considered a delicacy!
The modern diet has changed massively over the course of the last couple of centuries.

So what’s available for your cast? Perhaps your characters just eat microwaved meals, pre-made and fabricated in large batches, or simply munch on energy bars. Do they prefer foie gras, veal, lobster, caviar, cheese crackers; are they strictly vegetarian? Are menus the norm? How about eating out? Maybe they don’t eat at all.

Is it customary to banquet and feast together, or have street festivals? Is dining a solemn affair, or a joyous one? Is it shared, or taken individually? What utensils, if any, are used?

How are recipes created/passed down? In secret, or cooking shows? How does immigrant cultures affect the culinary arts? The melting pots of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic crossroads – how does trade (and traders) impact food? Fish and chips are a great example – I highly recommend you look up their origin, dear reader.

How far do foods date back? (Looking at a bottle of Jagermister, it reads: since 1878. Disaronno says since 1525!) What traditional dishes does your world have, what festive foods? Are there unusual ways of gathering ingredients? Truffles, civet coffee… what stories can you tell from the food itself?

In Summary

· What foods/plants does your world have?

· Who has access to them? How readily available are they?

· How are they stored?

· What’s fashionable, what’s traditional, what’s exotic, what’s highbrow, what’s street food?

· How are meals eaten? How many courses? What meals are eaten?

· What does your character eat and why? (for efficiency, guilty pleasure, dieting, etc)

· How old are the recipes, how are recipes passed down?

· How does migration (whether trade or emigration) affect the culture’s foods?

· How does fashion influence food?

· What utensils are present, and how are courses conducted?

· Styles and flavours?

As with most things, there is a great deal to consider, and this hasn’t even scratched the surface. I hope, however, it will provide a few things to ponder over!

Until next time!

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