Jan 21, 2012

2086 Words on Cuisine in the Dawnlands

This post brought to you in conjunction with the Applejack Producers of America (APA).

A good cook is welcome wherever they go, and there is a robust trade in kitchen slaves even amongst cultures that lack kitchens per se. The geography, botany and differing digestive requirements of the various species and races of the Dawnlands mean that professional chefs must accommodate palates of all types.

The Orthocracy of Kaddish

There is a joke that the Kaddish can't taste anything but mint and salt, as these are the bases of traditional Kaddish cooking. Peppermint, created by the sages of Kaddish long ago, is grown in giant latifundia and shipped back to the city in quantities larger than the entire fruit harvest of Dwer Tor. The Kaddish drink mint tea, often sweetened with honey or beet sugar, at every meal and throughout the day. Humble entrepreneurs make a living with streetside stalls selling mint tea and applejack, but grand teahouses serve as public spaces where collegia hold meetings and orthocrats resolve disputes. Teahouses often serve as public houses as well, serving wheat and sumac beers, applejack, yellow tea (ephedra tisane), cannabis tea and light foods.

The Kaddish eat the most plant material of anyone, and plainsdwellers may be amazed to learn that it is possible to willingly get a meal in the Orthocracy that contains no meat at all. Sweet potatoes, wheat, onions, olives grapes, apples, and a variety of legumes are grown. While animals are cultivated, meat is often in short supply, and secondary products like cheese and milk are far more common. The three most common kinds of meat are rat, dog and chicken, all easily raised in the limited space available to an urbanite. Eating rats are normally distinguished from regular rats (though these are eaten in emergencies), and are specially raised as livestock.

A poor man's diet in the Orthocracy consists mainly of fried sweet potatoes and onions slathered in salt and fish sauce, with applejack and mint tea. This may be supplemented with fried bread, olives, and the occasional bit of cooked dog during festivals. For elves, the Burnt and Dragonmen, roasted rat takes the place of fried sweet potatoes, but they also eat these heavily salted and slathered in the same salt and fish sauce.

The vast majority of the Kaddish cook in the home, using a simple pot suspended over a pit fire, so boiling and roasting are the most common forms of preparation. The Kaddish eat with their hands, and drink soup directly from bowls, so food is expected to be prepared by the chef so that it can be held comfortably in the fingers. Bowls are the main form of cutlery, serving as plates and cups as well as their regular use. A new innovation is to use a "bread carpet", which involves using a piece of flat bread to pick up pieces of food, keeping the hands clean.

Exemplary dishes and condiments of Kaddish cuisine include:

Fish sauce - made from fermenting and salting fish. So popular that it is one of the few exports from Kaddish that the Salt Men will trade for. Similar to garum or nam pla. Every family has their own special recipe.

Applejack - made by freeze-distillation in the wintertime. Kaddish applejack is sour, and the best kinds are mixed with honey and cannabis. The Kaddish trade this with the nomads and Hill People, where it is extremely popular, and it serves along with beer as the drink of the "common man".

Sea-dog - a dog boiled in a broth made of sea water, onions, cumin and its own organs (mainly the liver, heart, and lungs). The boiled dog is removed from the broth (which is reused), roasted and then served on skewers. A popular food at festivals.

Revolution Soup - a classic meatless dish, it is a thick, salty pea-based porridge, with curds of cheese thrown in to thicken it up, and cumin and onions used for flavour. It has patriotic connotations, as legend claims that the first revolutionaries ate this as they marched on the capital. Travellers often carry it with them, since it "cannot go bad because it has already gone bad". Considered inedible slop by non-Kaddish.

Dwer Tor

Dwer cuisine involves a few quirks. Voidmen do not eat fish (though capable of doing so, it is a long-standing cultural taboo from their time in the Kingdom of the Falling Stars), and this has carried over to dwarven cuisine through the close association of the two peoples. For their part, Dwarves are capable of eating parts of animals that would be fatal or dangerous for others (particularly livers - Dwarves tolerate high doses of Vitamin E well). Halflings have broadly comparable nutritional requirements to humans, and often eat fish simply because it horrifies the upper classes.

Dwer cooking is the most complex and rich in the Dawnlands, as they have access to ingredients that cooks in the Orthocracy would love to experiment with. Trade with the Salt Men brings peppers, ginger, cinnamon, oranges, and molasses, though these remain luxuries of the elite castes. Their own agricultural conditions provide rice and wheat, and several enterprising optimates have begun trying to cultivate peppers and oranges (they mainly produce sour oranges suitable only for cooking due to climactic conditions). Meat is common, as the Dwer trade freely with the nomads and Hill People for cattle, sheep and goats. Particular delicacies include horse, beef, and game birds from the Great Forest.

The Dwer have elaborate kitchen set-ups, and elaborate cutlery (forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks, skewer sticks, plates, cups, bowls, etc.). The deme system means that a single kitchen often serves an optimate's entire household, a single ecclesia, or an entire neighbourhood of helots. This means that the standard of cooking is very high, and the group being serviced often pools together to afford rare or unusual foods that they would otherwise not find.

Drinking is commonly done in public houses distinct from the eating galleries, as intoxication is not considered a public good to be provided by the state to its citizens. Wine is the drink of choice, followed by imported Kaddish beer. While the Kaddish prefer wheat beer and applejack, the Dwer palate finds mead made from sumac and honey more acceptable.

Exemplary dishes and condiments of Dwer cuisine include:

The Palace of the King - eaten at festivals, this is a slab of beef with skewers of other meats stuck into it vertically, as if they were pillars. The "roof" is often small cuts of pork sliced to resemble roofing tiles. This is presented to the table, and persons are served in order of lowest status to highest, with the roof tiles going to children and the poor, the pillars being distributed amongst the middle ranks, and the beef slab going to the highest status individual, who may choose to share a portion of it with a honoured companion.

Dwarf Pie - a dish that is fatal to non-dwarves, often eaten by dwarves of the optimate and thaumate class as a casual food. Its filling is made from ginger, molasses and fried livers, with bear especially being prized (bear liver is dangerous, even occasionally fatal, for non-dwarves to eat).

Fried Ancestor - the flooded quarries and the lake that Dwer Tor is built on are rich with fish, and many halflings believe that these are where the souls of their ancestors go when they die. The ancestors give themselves to the halflings to sustain their bodies until the day they are free from the reign of the dwarves and voidmen. "Fried ancestor" is therefore a half-serious, profane joke name for fried fish, which the halfling helots eat in abundance. The most common condiments are a dash of wine vinegar, a little salt, and lots of yogurt with dill.

Oranges - no one else eats oranges with any regularity, and they are often brought as gifts by ambassadors from Dwer Tor to impress their hosts. The Dwer mostly eat them raw, and then candy the peels (a technique taught by the Salt Men). The sweet kind are imported by the Salt Men. Locally grown oranges are sour, and are used to make ceviche by halflings, but the only market for them otherwise is the Foreigners' Quarter, where expatriate Kaddish are experimenting with fermenting them to make alcohol.

The Kadiz and the Hill People

The Kadiz and the Hill People eat similar foods, based mainly off the foods the Children of Night ate. The Plains of Kadiz are mainly karst, moor and chalk heath, which provides a variety of grazing habitats and verdant herbage, but which makes it hard to practice agriculture. Prior to the rise of the Cities of Night, the plains were more heavily forested, but slash-and-burn practices deforested much of the area, and the topsoil has blown away exposing the limestone underneath.

The single most common food is beef, followed by goat, mutton, grouse, duck and rabbit, as well as venison and reindeer. The plainsdwellers cull their herds in late autumn, killing off any animals they do not expect to survive. This usually provides them with enough meat to survive the winter, which is smoked and dried into jerky and pemmican so that it will last. When eaten fresh, the meat is often marinated with berries, or cooked with a dry peanut, mustard, salt and sumac rub.

The nomads eat most food with their hands or with the long knives they carry, and occasionally with long, flat wooden spoons. Food is cooked in iron pots, which they obtain from Dwer Tor or from the Kaddish, and served in wooden bowls.

The Kadiz and Hill People drink copious amounts of applejack traded from Kaddish, as well as araka and kumis. A popular practical joke is to offer unfermented mare's milk (a powerful laxative) to someone pretending that it is kumis. Cannabis grows wild across the plains, and the nomads use the oil as butter, especially at feasts where it helps one to consume more. It is often mixed with sunflower halva and honey as a dessert, ensuring that one's guests are too besotted to attack while everyone sleeps off the meal.

Exemplary dishes and condiments of the Kadiz and Hill People:

Kadiz Lamb - spiced lamb coated in fat and crusted with ground peanuts and mustard paste. Eaten straight off the bone, and popular enough to be found in the Orthocracy and Dwer Tor from time to time.

Boiled Apples - the Hill People rarely eat apples directly, but they feed them to their pigs and other livestock, and use the apples to make applejack and apple vinegar. The semi-sedentary nature of the Hill People means they can tend their orchards more easily than the nomadic Kadiz, and the two groups trade for the fruits and the wood. The Kadiz consider eating raw apples mildly disgusting (it is directly comparable to eating pig slops or cud), and always cook or prepare them. The most popular method is to peel and boil them until they are soft, which is a popular treat for children.

Two-Legged Mutton - famously, the Hill People are cannibals, something that the Kadiz never took over when they merged with the traitor clans. For the Kaddish and the Dwer, the distinction between the two groups is minimal, and so it is assumed that they are all man-eaters. In general, elves and hobgoblins only eat major muscles (arms and legs, ribs) and a few organs (the brain, the lungs, the heart), while gnolls will strip the flesh from the body and then crack the bones. Eating children is not generally acceptable unless one is really desperate - the consumption of humanoid flesh has religious elements that mean that great warriors and leaders are preferred (the Hill People see it as a way of honouring and preserving their memory).

Yellow Tea - while this is occasionally drunk in Kaddish, often mixed with mint tea, the Kadiz nomads and Hill People use it as the preferred non-alcoholic beverage of choice, often drunk at the end of a meal to sober up. It is made of ephedra, which helps deal with hunger pangs and the cold, both of which are all too common on the plains. While it is widely acknowledged that drinking too much is bad for you, this does not actually stop anyone from drinking lots of it, and every so often someone will simply keel over dead from a heart attack caused by excessive amounts of ephedra. It is also a common drink before raids and battles, drunk to fortify one's self against fear.


  1. Love it, John. I've been thinking about food recently as well. It's the sort of subliminal setting detail that you can't force your players to give a damn about, but introduced in dribs and drabs it really adds (wait for it -- ) *flavor* to the game.

  2. Food is an importan, and frequently neglected, part of a setting.

  3. Yeah, one of the reasons I gave examples is so that they can just be dropped into the game here and there, rather than requiring a huge discourse to explain what kind of foods your PCs prefer.