Gastronomical Identification and Imitation
Gastronomical Identification and Imitation
or, How to Recognize and Reproduce the Food of the Larger Races
by Aesi Winedotter
The honor of living and working with a Loenthran family for the last thirty years has brought many good things into my life. One of these is an appreciation for the culinary traditions of many races. The master of our house is an unusually experimental gourmand, and he delights in exploring regional specialties both through travel and the teachings of visitors to the house. In recent years, I have conducted a few inquiries of my own, taking every opportunity to question traveling Gnomes about food in distant lands. Our cousins in the Human Empire have been particularly informative about the regional variations among their hosts.
In the hope that others may take interest in these findings, I present here what I have gleaned about these exotic practices. Sample menus are provided to better illustrate how a meal might be assembled in that particular culture. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the elegance of elven cuisine, I include a section on that tradition as well.
Sylvan cooking is almost as refined as that of the true Elves, in terms of presentation and flavor combinations. The ingredients, however, are what set the dishes apart. The central elements are gathered or hunted from the wild, never cultivated or preserved. Particularly favored are fleetingly seasonal items, or those requiring special skill or knowledge to locate or prepare. Supporting these unusual items are many of the same techniques and preparations familiar to anyone who has dined in the elven cities.
Sample Sylvan Menu: Informal Autumn Lunch small round loaves of acorn bread fennel butter sorrel and rue salad tossed with a cider vinaigrette persimmon and mushroom soup a cattail flour torte topped with blackberry syrup oak leaf wine
I am forced to rely upon the accounts of others when it comes to the culinary preferences of the Dark Elves, as this is the only style of food strictly forbidden in the house. Through diligent inquiry I have been able to ascertain that reptile meat takes a central role. The preparations are invariably elaborate, with some of the more striking approaches making use of the inedible portions of the beast as decorative accents. Outsiders have not reported particularly pleasurable experiences with this cuisine. Although they draw upon much of the same flora and fauna, Dhe'nar and Faendryl preparations do differ. The former cuisine plays up the dangerous aspects of the ingredients used, and focuses on purity by using only one or two elements in any given dish. The Faendryl, on the other hand, use food as another way of signifying status and rank. There are detailed prohibitions regarding ingredients and preparations, making the arrangement of large dinners a logistical maze.
Sample Dark Elven Menu: Dhe'nar-style Meal toasted fire ants served in a tortoise shell a prickly pear and salted skink salad salamander and agave soup an overlapping fan of roasted cave bats stuffed with trafel mushrooms scorpion tail pastries snake venom in blue agave wine
The rustic meals of the Dwarves are charming for their simplicity and satisfying for their heartiness. Although one would never accuse them of subtlety in the kitchen, their food has a certain tenacity which no doubt serves them well in their labors. Trade with aboveground clans provides the cave-dwellers with rabbit and mutton, bulb vegetables, wheat, and preserved or dried fruits. Both meat and vegetables are generally cooked for long periods of time. I'm told by the Aledotters that a particularly dense bread studded with fruit known as sarak can be found in the pockets of many Dwarves as they go about their day. The Dwarves underground cultivate both lichens and fungi, some of which are surprisingly good. I have found the reddish-orange lichen to be the most palatable, provided it is softened up through boiling or steaming.
Sample Dwarven Menu: Family Dinner fried oatcakes with grumbleberry jelly mutton and leek stew leek and potato soup dark ale or draft cider rhubarb pie
The nomadic clans of this towering folk are fearless hunters, and have been known to take down even the largest plains animals single-handedly. This prowess is reflected in their cooking, which often revolves around big game animals roasted all day in a pit or over an open fire. As this is difficult to reproduce in a civilized kitchen, the essence of giantman cooking can also be approximated with smaller cuts of game grilled over smoldering coals. Equally notable are the rather unusual infusions consumed with meals and as tonics. Their pine needle tea takes some getting used to, but its sharp flavor can be just the thing after a long day's work.
Sample Giantman Menu: Late Summer Festival pit-roasted venison grilled trout fried squash blossoms gooseberry bannocks blue corn atole
Spicy meats, stuffed peppers, kabobs, and goat milk are some of the characteristic dishes in Halfling cuisine. Upon arrival, guests are immediately served a fermented drink made from millet, honey, and rice. A simple concoction of raw mutton minced together with salt and water is frequently seen at festivals, though it is rarely popular with outsiders. Dairy products are abundant, and feature such unusual preparations as an intoxicating churned sour milk (kumys), sun-dried curds mixed in water during the winter, and butter that has been boiled dry and preserved in sheep guts. Fish is considered inferior food by all but the Brughans, and only eaten in great extremity.
Sample Halfling Menu: Spring Dinner sour yoghurt and cucumber salad potato and cabbage soup pickled mushrooms steamed dumplings filled with lamb and red pepper flakes roasted marmot (left whole, gutted, stuffed with hot river rocks, and cooked over coals) green onion griddlecakes salty milk tea
Culinary traditions vary significantly from one end of the Human Empire to the other. The demarcations are not always precise, and some may argue about where one style of preparation ends and another begins. For the purposes of this piece, however, a division of the region into five segments will suffice. As the foods found within even a single barony or county may differ, please take this merely as a rough guide.
Northern Turamzzyrian Empire
Jantalar, Mestanir, Talador, North Hendor and Riverwood The primary grains found in the northern reaches of the Turamzzyrian Empire are oats and barley, which make their way into a number of local dishes. Oat meal and oat bread keep many a soul going through the long winters, along with the liberally consumed batches of metheglin and mead. Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips are featured on most tables during the colder months. Rivers provide eels, pike, trout, and the extremely popular salmon, which is usually cooked over apple wood. Cattle are bled as well as milked, to produce the thick blood pudding much prized by locals. Badgers and goose eggs are considered delicacies.
Sample Northern Empire Menu: Picnic Lunch chilled tomato soup garlic-simmered baby eels bacon and goose egg pie sugared oatcakes sloe wine
Western Turamzzyrian Empire
Seareach, Vornavis, Torre, South Hendor, and Oire The predominant foods in the western part of the Turamzzyrian Empire are vegetable, legume, meat and grain dishes using olives, tomatoes, garlic, and basil as primary ingredients. As one would expect, seafood is particularly prevalent along the coast, with a lavish seafood soup being a star dish. The large rivers that run through this region provide a bounty of freshwater fish. Although meat is featured less frequently here than in some regions, wine-braised versions of deer, boar, and rabbit are particular standouts. Black truffles are a local delicacy, and sage is one of the more common herbs in use. Olive oil is used almost exclusively in place of butter, though it is a more refined pressing than that which is found in the south. Fine wines are appreciated, and enjoyed with most meals.
Sample Western Empire Menu: Rustic Lunch unsalted bread served with olive oil and dark vinegar diced octopus salad split pea soup sausage and red wine suckling pig seasoned with rosemary and sage watermelon pistachio pudding Oire rose grenache
Southern Turamzzyrian Empire
Selanthia, Estoria, Allace, Chastonia, Aldora, and Honneland The southern reaches of the human empire enjoy a warm climate and gentle terrain. The seaports of Ubl and Idolone provide abundant fish and shellfish, while the inland cities are rich in livestock and agriculture. All this has combined to produce a bountiful cuisine redolent of the sun-kissed region itself. Olive trees grow in the hills of Elstreth, and their pressed oil is used in most dishes. In this area, the dark green first pressing is preferred, whereas the Humans to the north make use of a more refined version. The lamb raised in that area is also immensely popular, and is served braised, stewed, broiled, and even spit-roasted whole for major festivals. Along the coast fish is served whole, with the head still attached. Lemon trees are everywhere, and they explain the ubiquity of a beautiful, golden lemon and egg sauce which forms a base for many dishes. Marinated vegetables are quite common, and in some places eggplant, zucchini, and spinach take the place of meat as a central element. Meals finish with cups of thick coffee and fresh fruits like melons, figs, oranges, or apples. Desserts made from thin, layered pastry drenched in honey are also common.
Sample Southern Empire Menu: Casual Lunch garlic-stuffed bread artichoke, zucchini, and mushroom salad steamed beets with garlic dip lamb casserole in a cinnamon tomato sauce fried red mullet sugar-dusted almond cookies coffee
Eastern Turamzzyrian Empire
Highmount, Bourth, Trauntor, and Dragach Food in the eastern Turamzzyrian Empire tends to be heavy, featuring sausages, boiled vegetables, and dense, rich desserts. Pork is the most common meat, and the sheer abundance of it requires a great deal of smoking and salting for preservation. Herring is consumed in a variety of forms, inclulding raw, pickled, smoked, and canned. Juniper is a traditional spice, along with caraway, dill, and marjoram. Pickled eggs are eaten as snacks, and guests are always offered coffee and cake. The most surprising recipe I have seen from this region was for snail chowder.
Sample Eastern Empire Menu: Formal Summer Dinner soft cheese with anchovies and paprika chilled plum soup sausage salad rye bread stewed red cabbage with caraway seeds pork cutlets with apples and juniper goose liver simmered in onions a fruit-covered layer cake sparkling wine rum coffee
The desert dwellers have a cuisine all their own. Though not agrarian themselves, they do trade with outsiders for cereals and pulses to supplement a diet heavy in goat meat and dried fruits. Spices are highly valued for their ability to both preserve food and disguise stale or tasteless ingredients. For a truly traditional Tehir meal, begin with strong mint tea and finish with anise-laced goat milk sweets.
Sample Tehir Menu: Spring Festival for Honored Guests eggplant salad green beans with onions, tomatoes, and mint bulgur wheat and mint salad roasted red pepper hummus flat bread seasoned with thyme and sumac cinnamon goat meat stew steamed semolina with onions and turnips sesame-covered fried honey cakes sweet mint tea
The Gnomes of the forests have a primitive approach to food, though I've noticed that other races seem to consider it attractively quaint. Gathered berries are made into compotes and preserves, and used in combination with ground nutmeats and small animals cooked in firepits. A few crops supplement the gathered food, generally maize and wheat. Although the distinctive tied leaf wrappers are only used when travelling, they can provide a conversational element for those recreating the cuisine at a formal dinner. There are some differences between the bloodlines, with the Angstholm eating mainly freshwater fish, the Greengair eating very little meat, and the Rosengift performing bizarre adulterations on their meals.
Sample Forest Gnome Menu: Traveller's Early Summer Feast thornberry balls wrapped in mustard leaves mixed bundles of pokeweed, ramp, and mallow tied with pine needles grilled minnows on a bed of dandelion crowns seared fillet of trout elderflower fritters wild nettle tea
Although the end result of a meal prepared Erithian-style is underwhelming in its flavor, I can assure you that many ingredients are employed. As a people, they seem to have an appreciation for subtlety of taste that is lost on most outsiders. When preparing erithian food, I suggest increasing the quantities of some of the more flavorful items, to avoid the charge of insipidity from guests. Leaf and flower infusions make their way into almost every dish, from teas to breads to soups. Presentation is always exquisite, and a poorly arranged meal draws as much or more scorn than a poorly prepared one. Garnishes are chosen as comments on the dish, to call attention to surprising undercurrents or to amuse the diner with a symbolic connection.
Sample Erithian Menu: Afternoon Tea a nasturtium and chamomile salad on a bed of daylily petals honeysuckle biscuits served with apple blossom jelly fingers of rice topped with cucumber and carrot fans quail eggs in a nest of marigolds veal consumme a lilac-topped angelica spongecake chrysanthemum tisane chilled rice wine
My own experience with the food of the Krolvin and Half-Krolvin is limited, but I have conducted a few experiments in reconstructing meals that match the reports I have heard. Almost all meat comes from the ocean, in the form of fish, abalone, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and even whales. Shore creatures such as seals and walrus are a mainstay, and from time to time polar bears make it onto the menu, though I understand that they are a rarity. The preparations are simple, with most of the cooking done in seal or whale fat. Uncooked meats are popular, but depend on extremely fresh cuts. Hunters and other travelers subsist in between kills on strips of meat that have been dried or preserved in salt and fat. In the summer, great amounts of vodka are prepared and later infused with an astonishing variety of spices and other flavorings.
Sample Half-Krolvin Menu: Hunter's Welcome Meal cress and mackerel salad with ginger dressing sea cucumber rings fried in seal fat marinated sailfish steaks pepper vodka whale blubber ice cream (seal fat may be more easily obtained, and makes an acceptable substitute)
Centuries of tradition lie behind the great cuisine of the Elves. The truly great chefs are able to respect this tradition and provide innovation at the same time. A proper elven meal is luxurious in every sense, from the table setting to the rich ingredients to the wines. Heavy creams are used as bases and sauces, and fine cheeses are presented with every important meal. Each region produces its own specialties, with some of the most popular being the goat milk cheeses of Nalfein, the soft, ripened cheeses of Loenthra, the crumbly blue-veined cheeses of Ardenai, the peppery, hard cheeses of Vaalor, and the rich, tangy orange cheeses of Illistim. Elven breads are also justifiably famous, and run the gamut from plump, round loaves of sourdough to small, dark loaves of walnut bread.
Sample Elven Menu: Formal Banquet cream-braised endive in puff pastry sausage, truffle, and pistachio brioche pine nut and asparagus salad smoked ham and wild mushroom crepe codfish carpaccio with fried leek shavings wild duck in a red wine sauce local wines cherries baked in sweet cream apple brandy Double Gyldemar, Butterfly Teorainn, and Sylvarraend Gold cheeses
The true test of an imitated banquet is to fool even the members of that race. To this end, properly gathered and prepared ingredients are essential. When the traditional ingredients aren't available, use local ones but employ methods and seasonings that evoke the desired culture. Food holds deep memories for most people, and there is nothing more satisfying than hearing a guest exclaim, "This tastes just like home!"