In fantasy—more on inns and stew

There’s an interesting discussion over at Sarah Monette’s LiveJournal site Notes from the Labyrinth about food in fantasy. Sarah asked how writers go about inventing cuisines and delicacies and hawker food, especially when you don’t base it on a specific culture.

Read the comments. They’re interesting.

Most of those who commented agree on some basics. That food culture depends a lot on geography and climate. If your fantasy world is set near the sea the cuisine is likely to contain seafood. If it’s set in the tropics it won’t contain wheat, so no bread. It also depends on how settled your fantasy world is. A world of hunter-gatherers will eat differently to an agricultural society.

Other comments covered technology and culture. What type of technology does the world have to preserve food? Who does the cooking?

Opinions were divided as to how necessary food descriptions are to a story.

I confess that I put food into my own stories.

I also confess that I write a lot of stew. And a lot of inns. Many fantasy readers and writers would throw up their hands and groan on hearing that. “Not stew. Not inns,” they cry. “Cliche. Cliche.”

Inns in fantasy are to me the equivalent of modern-day fast-food places crossed with pubs. Nowadays when you want a quick bite to eat you go to McDonalds or KFC, or maybe even to your local noodle shop.

I also expect alcohol to be more freely available than it is in a world like ours.

Your average fantasy world is more mediaeval than ours, otherwise it would be science fiction.

Put these three things together and what do you have? A place where alcohol is served? An inn. Fast food? This can only be hawker style food or something that’s sitting on the side of the stove ready to serve.

That’s right. Soups and stews.

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