Stew. Beer. Earl Grey, Hot. I *know* there are more interesting science fiction and fantasy foods out there! With that in mind, here’s what we asked our panelists:
Here’s what they said…
My favorite drink is klava. It is my own invention, which means if anyone should know how to make it, I should, but I don’t. Various people have tried, and some of them have come close. But, quite simply, it is a drink that tastes the way coffee smells. In other words, all of the flavor, none of the bitterness. If you ever find some, let me know.
What comes to mind is the lemongrass chicken in Aliette de Bodard’s much-beloved, award-festooned story “Immersion”, where it plays a very integral role in a lot of ways.
“Unbidden, you stop at a table, and watch two young women pick at a dish of chicken with chopsticks—the smell of fish sauce and lemongrass rises in the air, as pungent and as unbearable as rotten meat—no, no, that’s not it, you have an image of a dark-skinned woman, bringing a dish of steamed rice to the table, her hands filled with that same smell, and your mouth-watering in anticipation…”
What I loved about this is that it provides a sensory anchor for the story – this is a rich, savory description, inviting the reader’s mouth to water along with the narrator’s. It also invokes an important part of the narrator’s background when she has forgotten so much, submerged in the “immerser” that has eroded and taken over her identity. It’s a fantastic use of sensory device, doing a lot of work with relatively little. As to how I’d go about making it, we’re fortunate that this is a dish that exists in real life, with easy-to-find ingredients! I’m not sure if my recipe is the same as Aliette’s, but mine involves bergamot, lemongrass (naturally), oyster or fish sauce (I prefer oyster, but mileage varies), black pepper, and sugar. Chicken wings or drumsticks are best for the dish, I find; you marinade it the aforementioned ingredients and deep fry it. Lovely alone or with Sriracha!
Caverna, the setting in Frances Hardinge’s inventive and magical A Face Like Glass, is an underground city filled with unusually skilled artisans. Foremost among the cheesemakers is Grandible, whose True Cheeses are delicacies so rich and dangerous they cause hallucinations and visions of the future. Hardinge tosses out cheesemaking jargon in beautifully evocative passages, and it’s clear Grandible is the master of a truly arcane-but-delicious art. As merely a budding homebrewer and foodie DIYer myself, I would be pleased to successfully replicate even a basic aged cheddar! Grandible’s wheels of Withercreams, Barkbents, and the great Stackfalter Sturton itself would be too special to contemplate.
Aside from cheese, I wouldn’t pass up a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. There are a number of recipes floating around the Internet that imitate the classic “slice of lemon wrapped a large gold brick” flavor. Cocktail-mixing party to try a variety, anyone?
I assume it’s made with bits of real Romulans so it must be good
Hands and long fall boots down, my favorite speculative fiction food is the cake from Portal. First of all, it’s cake. What’s not to love about spec fic cake? Even Kaylee’s all protein birthday cake in Firefly looked pretty good. But the Portal cake is both a viable cake and a narrative device in a work that tells much of its story through the environment. Our introduction to the cake comes as a promise of “Cake and grief counseling.” Later, the famous graffiti proclaims “The cake is a lie.” Yet the recipe is in Aperture’s computer core. That suggests that there was a time when the cake wasn’t a lie. What happened that they stopped giving out cake? And we’re left with the ominous threat that the offer of grief counseling wasn’t just a humorous glitch.
As for how I’d go about making it, Valve made that easy by putting the recipe in the game. I couldn’t resist baking it. Hat tip to my husband, Elie Harriett, for tracking down the computer display that shows the ingredients, and for playing through the final battle repeatedly while I transcribed:
- 1 (18.25ounce) package chocolate cake mix
- 1 can prepared coconut–pecan frosting
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 3/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups allpurpose flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 to 2 (16 ounces each) cans vanilla frosting
Using boxed cake mix would be far too easy, I glossed over the first two ingredients on the list. Turns out, with about a cup and a half of additional liquid, the listed ingredients will yield a pretty decent if not overly sweet chocolate cake, and making cake from scratch isn’t that much harder than using a mix. Just beat together all the wet ingredients (minus frosting) and the sugar, then combine the dry ingredients and add the dry mixture, a little at a time, to the wet ingredients, alternating with water until you’ve used up all the dry ingredients and it’s the consistency of cake batter. Pour it into two greased 8inch round cake pans and bake until nothing sticks to a wooden toothpick when you stab it in the middle. Cool, assemble, frost and decorate. I advise against using the fish-shaped ethylbenzene and volatile malted milk impoundments that GlaDOS suggests as garnish.
In my Archonate novels and stories, and throughout the Ten Thousand Worlds, people regularly partake of a hot, steaming drink called punge. I have no idea what it tastes like, but at its best it’s rich and flavorsome. I imagine it’s made from an extract or roasted seed of some interesting plant that was originally found on a distant world and was spread by spacers all up and down The Spray. Much as coffee and tea have made their way around our little planet. People also drink “improved water,” which is apparently very good for them.
Food figures largely in the lives of some of my characters. Henghis Hapthorn, the discriminator, and Luff Imbry, the fraudster, forger, fence, and thief, are gourmets of the first water. Their favorite dining spot in the blowsy, bawdy Old Earth city of Olkney, is Xanthoulian’s, where it is possible sometimes to get gripple-egg omelettes. Oddly enough, they have never bumped into each other there.
In the novel Hespira, Hapthorn also visited the Pot of Fire, to try Master Jho-su’s fusion of capsinate sauces brought back from the off-world metropolises of Os and Sheeshah. His experience:
When she had brought me the platter of pastes, the server had pointed out to me the different strengths of the eighteen sauces, advising me to save for last the meat puree doused in Sheeshah’s Nine Dragons sauce, predicting that once it struck my palate, the dish’s other, subtler flavors would be unable to register. I now scooped up a good pinch of the stuff, made sure my tumbler of improved water was full and to hand, and popped the laden bread into my mouth. There was a pause — my taste buds may well have gone into shock for a moment — then the full weight of Master Jho-su’s genius crashed upon my senses. My eyes widened, simultaneously flinging a gush of tears down my cheeks, my tongue desperately sought an exit from my mouth, and my nose and sinuses reported that they had been suddenly and inexplicably connected to a volcanic flume.
I groped for the tumbler and took a healthy gulp, but the water seemed to evaporate before it even reached my throat. I drank more, my free hand finding the carafe even as I drained the glass. I could scarcely see to pour a refill and ended up drinking directly from the larger container. Gradually, the inferno in my mouth subsided to a banked fire. I wiped my streaming eyes and sucked in a great breath and would not have been surprised, when I exhaled, to have emitted clouds of steam.
Jack Vance, my ideal, used to have his space-opera itinerants sample the local ales and sausages, wherever they went. I do the same with my characters, and I also do it real life. Having lived in or visited nineteen countries in my past seven years as a world-wandering housesitter, I can recommend the pork sausages of Athens’ butcher shops, the spicy morcilla of Andalusia, and the cream ales of Dublin. Theakster’s ale in Yorkshire was also pretty darn skookum, even in the bottled version.
I was strongly tempted to pick lembas wafer, or the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, but in the end I had to go with Tree-of-Life from Larry Niven’s Known Space universe. In case you’re not familiar: Tree-of-Life is a bush with roots that look something like yams. Their smell is apparently so irresistible that it drives people insane with desire and they have no choice but to gorge themselves on it.
Personally it’s hard for me to imagine a yam that I would eat with any enjoyment at all, let alone being driven insane with desire, but if Niven says they’re good, they must be good. Of course after you eat Tree-of-Life the symbiotic virus that lives in it transforms you into a Pak Protector, which is kind of unfortunate (leathery skin, beaky face, no genitals), but you have to imagine it’s a pretty damn amazing meal while it lasts.
Serving suggestions: Cooking it will kill the virus that transforms humans into Protectors; I’m not sure whether that negates the amazing smell or not, but if it does then serve raw. The trick is growing it — apparently it requires more thallium oxide than is generally naturally occurring on Earth. But probably that’s a good thing.
This particular MindMeld request arrives at a curious time. I just finished writing the first draft of The Ghoulmaker’s Aria, the sequel to my debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto. The few and proud who have read that first book of mine know that the entire opening section has a culinary theme.
The twist in the world where The Black Fire Concerto takes place is that people dine on zombies. In the novel they’re called ghouls and they’re animated by magic. There’s a belief that dining on the flesh of ghouls grants the consumer an extraordinarily long life, even immortality. My heroines’ primary antagonist, at least at the start, is a gentlemen who devotes his time to creating sumptuous dishes out of such creatures.
What I knew going into this, thanks to my devious wife Anita, is that there really is a centuries-old tradition of cooking with rotten meat, euphemistically referred to as “green meat” in Ye Olde Cookebookes. I doubt many folks here in our pre-apocalyptic world would advocate green meat entrees, but consider that refrigerators and freezers are a relatively recent invention. Used to be, keeping meat in cold storage involved wrapping it as close to airtight as you could manage and burying it. When one dug it up again, it tended to have acquired a little color…
There’s no doubt in my mind that my villainous Chef knows these green meat recipes.
If you want to read about dishes that are actually edible, when I gave a reading from The Black Fire Concerto at MystiCon in February, Anita prepared a minor feast meant to somewhat echo the meal served in the book’s opening chapter: little finger sausages and lime and berry pie filling scooped into tartlet shells.
As for dishes invented by writers of speculative fiction other than myself – ones who actually can cook – we own a copy of Serve It Forth, Anne McCaffrey’s cookbook, which contains recipes from the likes of Poul Anderson, Kate Wilhelm, Peter S. Beagle, David Gerrold, Katherine Kurtz and dozens more, as well as a number of curious food-related add-ins, such as Terry A. Garey’s Rhysling Award-winning poem “Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes.”
Green tomatoes. Now there is a terrifying foodstuff.