“Sure enough, when they entered the Gryffindor common room it exploded with cheers and yells again. There were mountains of cakes and flagons of pumpkin juice and butterbeer on every surface.—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Everybody loves a good feast. Even better, readers salivate (quite literally) over feasts in fiction. The best part? Authors devise their own recipes and foods. Everything from butterbeer in Harry Potter, to hotroot soup in Redwall. When creating unique foods, remember to have fun with the process. Let imagination—and taste buds—loose, creating colorful dishes that will excite readers.
Weaving Food into Fantasy
Crafting fantasy recipes or food is like creating magical creatures. It demands a fair amount of worldbuilding. Remember that a reader may not know the significance of a particular food at first. Use certain cues, names, and the five senses to draw the reader in.
Fantasy food can have any name, but a sweetcorn apple provides a different cue to the reader than a zango apple. Names alone can set the tone for a dish. How about some grassfoot herbs? That invokes a more earthly, medicinal cue for the reader.
The Five Senses
What color is the food? How does it smell? The texture? Most importantly, how does it taste? Is there an aftertaste?
Consider these questions when creating your dishes. Food can serve important roles in a story—maybe as a restorative or a drug—or it may be part of a special feast scene. Use the five senses to immerse readers, have them salivating on the page. They won’t mind—well, maybe later they will. 😛
The Aztecs used cacao beans as a form of currency. To them, it surpassed gold in value with its stimulating and medicinal properties.
Ask if food serves a particular function in a fantasy society? Perhaps a dish has a deeper meaning, its use reserved for weddings or funerals. Authors can weave particular tastes or smells into the story, accentuating the food’s characteristics.
Darker still, an author can devise their own poisons or drugs, which may play into the plot.
Take it a step further; combine fantasy foods into unique recipes! Maybe a fruit is bitter and inedible on its own, but when cooked and combined, it becomes delicious. An herb may be poisonous raw, but it turns medicinal when steamed.
Feasts in a fantasy world are incredible—or they can be. I always salivate over the concoctions of sauces, stews, drinks, and herbs. For me, they add color and depth to a world. Feast scenes are also important points in a story, either to worldbuild or advance the plot. Food is an excellent tool in this process since it plays so heavily into social life.
Ever notice that it’s the dwarves who eat a lot of meat, whereas the elves more vegetables? Are dragons omnivorous? What about Hobbits, who prefer sweet cakes and breads? Maybe a monk refuses all wine. Does a certain alien species find water poisonous? How about that cyborg feasting on oil and metal dust?
Using a protagonist’s dietary preferences can send strong messages about his or her character. A feast scene is a perfect spot for this. It’s another form of show-don’t-tell that adds dimension to characters.
Medicine and Powerups
Some fantasy stories have special potions that can heal or restore energy. If you’ve ever played a classic RPG, you know about health potions. Chug ’em and you’re all better! In fiction, it’s typically not as convenient, nor without its tradeoffs.
Sanderson’s second law: flaws and limitations are more interesting than powers.
The above pertains to magical systems, but the same can work for medicines and drugs. In the real world, most medicines have a bitter taste and can induce gagging with their purgative effect. Overuse can lead to toxicity symptoms or even death.
And for Dessert…
To conclude, the options for food in fiction are limitless. They have countless uses for character, plot, and worldbuilding. The more depth—and creative love—you give your food, the more they can give back to the story. Food is so heavily ingrained in our culture, it only makes sense to bring it into the art of storytelling. 😉
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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks for reading!
—Ed R. White