Food and Dining in Fantasy Writing

Some writers go through an entire manuscript without bringing up the topic of food even once, but food and dining is an important part of a high fantasy story. It adds depth to the culture and customs of your kingdom, and gives readers an idea of how the people in your world live.

Different classes of people eat differently, of course. Those who live in poverty wouldn’t be gorging on the finest desserts and meats available, just as royals wouldn’t be caught dead without expensive wine on their table.

Poor people usually find their own food. They hunt for small game in the local woods, fish, and grow their own crops. They drink ale and cheap wines, and often serve rabbit (or other small game) stew, bread, and vegetables. Their homes are small, so everyone would sit at the same table, including guests and children.

Middle class people enjoyed finer foods. They could purchase game and fresh crops at the market, and guests in their home would be given the best food available.

Royalty settled on only the most expensive foods: local and imported wine, rich meat, and crops. They had a variety of desserts to choose from. Servants cooked and prepared all meals and served them straight to the table. Five course meals were common, even if everything on the table couldn’t be eaten.

During holidays, different types of food can be served. Which types depend upon the story you write. For example, in my upcoming high fantasy, I have a holiday where hunting is celebrated and the best game hunted that day is served at the king’s court.

If you write a scene where a guest from another kingdom comes over to visit your character, where would that guest sit? Choosing where a guest would sit is more important than you think. It can show if your character/kingdom is friendly, hostile, indifferent, etc. By allowing the guest to sit next to your king, you show that your king is a trusting and friendly person. By forcing the guest to sit at the other end of the table, it shows your king is distrustful and indifferent.

Choosing which foods are banned in a country, which foods are poisonous, or which animals are prohibited to be hunted is a nice touch to any high fantasy. In my story, I have several plants and berries that are toxic to humans. It isn’t necessary, but it does add more character to your kingdom if you can subtly work it in.

Three meals a day is considered normal, though this is entirely up to you. Perhaps early morning tea and late night snacks are included in your novel. Obviously you shouldn’t mention every time a character sits down to eat; we assume they’re doing that anyhow to survive throughout the story.

Different cultures of people eat differently, too. People who live in colder climates won’t eat the same as those who live in warmer ones. Those without the means to farm (i.e. frozen land and infertile soil) will rely more upon hunting and fishing. People who live near the sea will focus more on fishing than on hunting. Those inland with rich soil are farmers and hunters. This is important to remember when writing your story and sticking a job upon a character’s head.

Food in poor homes would be cooked over the hearth and served by the family, the kitchen and dining area usually in the same room. Upper class citizens had servants or a personal cook that lived with the family, and food was cooked in a room separate from the dining area. Royals ate in wide dining rooms and food was cooked in kitchens with large fires and many cooks.

Imported foods were expensive, though kingdoms sometimes traded food products instead of coin.

Here are some examples of foods found in high fantasy: venison, mutton, spiced beef (or spiced anything), goat, chicken, pork, rabbit, pheasant, smoked fish, crab, clams, potatoes, carrots, leeks, pumpkin, apples, cabbage, cheese, milk, ale, wine, stew, honey, bread, eggs, and grain.

Now that you have all this information, it’s time to write it into your story. Don’t write a long scene describing what’s on the dining table every time your character decides to eat. Dining scenes should focus more on the plot and how the characters interact more than anything else. Use taste and smell to describe food, dropping in hints of what the character is eating to make the most of a scene

Saying, “The steak looked delicious”, is not as powerful as, “The steak sizzled on the plate.” Now you have an image of sizzling steak. You’re welcome. đŸ˜‰

sizzling

That’s all for now. Be sure to implement food and dining habits into your story to add some life to it!

Happy writing,

Sandra

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