[Author’s Note: This was originally published on my Patreon back in April]
From Redwall Abbey’s sumptuous feasts to Valdemar’s pocket pies and Samwise Gamgee’s memeable longing for taters, food – the preparation of it, eating of it, and lack of it – is a major component of fantasy fiction for a reason. The foods of fantasy worlds offer us a sensory window into the experiences of the characters, as well as a sense of the greater world outside the story we’re being told – and, described correctly, a single meal can do the work of ten pages of exposition when it comes to the social, environmental and political climate of a city, culture or nation.
And, if you do choose to go that way, there’s a whole rabbithole of research that awaits you. Want to spend multiple hours on the migratory habits of herring and how they relate to the ecosystem you’re building? Because that’s a thing you can absolutely end up doing, if you’re not careful (ask me how I know. All I wanted to do was describe a damn breakfast table).
Or, if you prefer, you could do what I’ve currently ended up doing: decide what feels right for the place and people and then backform as much as you need to from there. I’ve no doubt I’ll end up back in the culinary research mines at some point (likely when I’m procrastinating over a scene that’s causing me issues, let’s be honest), but for now I’m squarely on ‘what do I think they’re eating for breakfast?’ and then ‘and is it blatantly immersion-breakingly illogical or impossible for them to be doing that?’
In terms of the world of Argentum in Aqua, I do have a get-out-of-jail-free-card in my back pocket when it comes to logical foodstuffs. The world pre-Fall used highly advanced magitech, including irrigation and farming technology which outstripped anything which the current age of the world has access to. Though the Fall destroyed pretty much all active tech, it didn’t undo a fair amount of the terraforming and the passive irrigation setups, allowing for some crops to end up being growable in this world in climates which they’d otherwise not work in in ours.
Add to that the fact that Sacaan’s lands are the interior of a caldera, meaning they’re planting in volcanic soil, and we’ve got a handwavey reason for certain foods ending up on the breakfast table (though I’ll admit that the marmalade is possibly a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, trade absolutely exists, and preserves and pickles are absolutely a thing which folks send back and forth).
So what do folks in Sacaan actually eat? Well, that depends on who you are and how much money you’ve got to burn. Overall, Sacaask food tends to be calorie-heavy and fairly rich and/or sweet, especially in the city and the areas above it in the mountains – no surprise, given how cold the place is for most of the year.
The sweetness, in the main, comes from berries and (mostly imported) honey, with berry jam as a fairly standard sweetener for black teas. Richness often comes from dairy, with cheese, cream and butter as common components of both savoury and sweet dishes.
Meatwise, preserved meat is more common than fresh, especially for lower-class folk – salted meat and jerky are very common trail foods, as is pemmican. Fresh fish is surprisingly affordable, with both sea and river fish turning up on the plates of rich and poor (some of the poorest folks living on the outskirts of the city do their own fishing, where others trade for the dregs of the sea catch which comes into the docks).
Pancakes are a very common street food, usually filled with either berry compote or a mixture of stewed meat and dried fruit – both types are most often served with a generous helping of sour cream. Other street foods include stew (ladled out into the buyer’s own bowl or tankard), small pies/pasties which can be eaten at the stand or hidden in a pocket to eat later, and baked potatoes with a variety of fillings.
Sacaask food tends to involve a fair amount of root vegetables – onions and potatoes feature quite heavily – but cabbages, leeks, cauliflower and rhubarb are also a part of the city’s diet (stewed rhubarb is a very popular dessert, paired with the ubiquitous sour cream).
Given the fact the city has two natural waterfalls running right through the middle of it, access to fresh water for drinking and cooking is surprisingly easy. Strong black tea is the traditional hot drink, though tisanes are also drunk and a sudden increase in the importing of coffee within the last fifty years has led to a flourishing of coffee houses (a common haunt for students, scholars, and People Who Want To Loudly Have Ideas At Each Other).