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Old 01-02-2013, 08:36 PM   #1
Fanatic Rat
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Creating food from an imaginary world.

Wasn't sure if I should put this in the cooking forum or not but I figured this place might be a bit more relevant. For all those who write sci-fi and fantasy stories that involve exotic foods that don't exist on earth, I'm curious as to your process for creating them.

Recently I was attempting to write a simple short story based on someone from a sort of fantastical world sharing a meal with someone from the "normal" world--just some insight into the culture and stuff. In any case, I found that I didn't know what I wanted the dish to be. I at first thought it would be easy, but the more I researched recipes the more I realized how much history they could have behind them, with regards to social class and available foods and location and traditions and so forth, and it eventually felt incredibly overwhelming; dunno if I am overthinking things, but it felt like I had to first come up with entire ecosystems of flora and fauna, account for location and selection pressures, then invent thousands of years of histories, traditions, social dynamics, and what not just to make one dish, not counting actually having to study multiple recipes to see what is needed to create one's own. How would you go about solving this?
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Old 01-02-2013, 08:57 PM   #2
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Well, if they're sort-of humans, they have basic human requirements for food: Some kind of starch / sugars, protein, vitamins, fats, fiber.

If you're not up for inventing an entire history of cuisine, you could settle on some basic flavor and/ or texture preferences (sweet, spicy, bland, subtle, smooth, rough, etc.) and make up something pulled from basic human requirements.

Since you clearly don't want something obviously based on a real-world cuisine with its history and assumptions, try to think of the limited number of types of ways food can be made into dishes (since there really aren't all that many). You don't want your fantasy character eating a patty of ground fried cowmeat on a soft bun with sweetened tomato sauce and acid-preserved cucumber, but you may consider the ways of giving protein texture and flavor and presenting it on a base or in a casing of something starchy with a bit of vegetable accompaniment, for example.

Say they like pasty food with strongly flavored things on it, so they have a cuisine with a lot of soft dishes like mashed potatoes or starch puddings with intensely flavored bits of meat and vegetable scattered on. Or they bake everything into filled breads, so they eat a lot of things like pasties and burritos and pizza rolls and handheld pies.
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Old 01-02-2013, 09:03 PM   #3
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Culture and location.

Examples:
If a culture is rather "easy going" and always on the move, they make due with what they can collect and are able to create anything out of nothing.

If a culture is a part of a large city, with drastically shifting seasons (like freezing 3/4 out of the year), they probably won't have much fresh food, and turn to preserved and use cooking methods to cover up the preserving process.


In all, it greatly depends on how they get their food, and how they treat it. Richer folk will be able to do anything you wish, the sky is the limit, but poorer (common man) would depend on cheaper and preserved items.


If I was you, take two seemingly foreign (current) cultures and combine them. Take Indian and Italian. Lots of fresh foods with pasta as filler, and add in heavy influence of spices from the local and import a different eating habit or method.

Regarding creating your own foods, as in ingredients, that's kind hard frankly. You'd have to explain what is what to a reader, so try to keep it secondary-earth at least, that an apple is called an apple. But maybe, an apple is roasted and served like a main dish with meat on the side.
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Old 01-02-2013, 09:09 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fanatic Rat View Post
Wasn't sure if I should put this in the cooking forum or not but I figured this place might be a bit more relevant. For all those who write sci-fi and fantasy stories that involve exotic foods that don't exist on earth, I'm curious as to your process for creating them.
I don't. When food has to be mentioned, it's called whatever meal it is and then I give something of the taste sensation: crunchy veggies, rich sauce, tender/tough meat, sweet/melt-in-the-mouth pastries, or whatever.

That kind of detail is never the important part of a scene, so I give hints and allow the reader to make of it what they will. If a reader loves food, they'll generally imagine an exotic variation of their favorite dish of that description and they're happy. If they don't (like me), then they'll can keep reading without being distracted.

It seems to work. One of my betas is a massive foodie and comes back to me with what "reading that scene gave me a taste for", so it works for me.
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Old 01-03-2013, 08:49 AM   #5
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I have postulated a fabled fruit tree that occasionally, under conditions not entirely known, produces a crop that permits certain unpredictable magical powers.

Still working on this one.

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Old 01-03-2013, 08:03 PM   #6
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Hm, alright, I think I'm starting to get a better idea of what I can do. Of course I'm not going to bore the reader with every single minute detail of the food, but it's something I need to know if I wanna consistently write (what was that quote about 99% of worldbuilding doesn't go in the book or something?)
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Old 01-03-2013, 10:30 PM   #7
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There's a new book out called A Feast of Fire and Ice. It's based on GRR Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. The authors of the cookbook decided to try and research what would be the closest receipes for the dishes Martin uses in his books. I picked it up since I'm a bit of a period 'foodie'. (I've done open hearth cooking in the past.)

If you're writing a novel in the medieval(-esque) period, I suggest going to a SCA feast in your area or to a Medieval Times restuarant. That way you can get a taste of what food might be like in that time period. If you can't get to an actual feast, contact someone in the SCA.

Another suggestion is looking up and attending an open hearth cooking class. This way you not only get to taste the food, particularly if they use period recipes, you can do the cooking yourself.

If you cook for yourself, you might want to experiment. But there's a lot of stuff out there on food and 'foodways'.
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