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Using Meals to Teach Geography

My daughter so far has only been a fan of a few of the recipes in Heroes' Feast, so we thought we'd create one of her favorites: noodles, from Kara-Tur to be precise.

noodles1.jpg

The Other Parts of Faerun​

It's perhaps not surprising that Heroes' Feast is largely focused on Euro-centric dishes. Kara-Tur Noodles are essentially stir fry, but it's a welcome change from all the meat with meat gravy with a side of meat.
Few nations on the planet Toril are as powerful or influential as the human empire of Shou Lung, found in the vast region of Kara-Tur. While this region boasts distinct religions and a proud culture, it also possesses an equally strong culinary tradition. Although there is sparse interaction or conflict between the city-states of the Sword Coast and Kara-Tur, many of its tea leaves, such as Pale Jade, Fin Fim, Dragon's Eye, and Long Jing, are imported in significant quantities by Faerunian traders, and certain dishes, including various noodles, have made the long migration west as well. WhIle you won't find this stir-fried entree on just any tavern menu, it has found its way into the more modern eateries of cultural epicenters such as Waterdeep. A heaping bowl of noodles flash-cooked in a deep, oil-drizzled skillet along with chunks of chicken, vegetables, and a salty soy sauce or garum (a fish-based sauce) has become a popular change of pace from the traditional roasts and soups of the Sword Coast.
noodles2.jpg

The Meal​

I'm allergic to peanuts, so we substituted vegetable oil for peanut oil. This meal doesn't take long, but the sauce requires gets complicated in how its applied. The bell pepper and onion were a treat and gave it some real heft, but the chicken to noodle ratio was woefully inadequate. This might have had something to do with the fact that during a pandemic we ended up with a delivery substitution of smaller pieces of chicken; even then, you could easily double the amount and still have enough noodles to go around.

The meal was surprisingly bland, despite the pepper and onion. My daughter thought the noodles were okay. I ended up eating the noodles for an entire week, with a variety of leftovers from other meals. Incidentally, I lost a few pounds too, which I chalk up to the fact that the noodles are quite filling but not heavy on the calories.

noodles3.jpg

Communicating Geography with Food​

One of the points made clear in the description of these noodles is how they're different from a typical meal. But it also is a narrative means of letting player characters know there's a larger world out there. Meals like this are an easy means of introducing a region the PCs might adventure to in the future.

Of course, constructing menus for a campaign world requires some forethought; you'll need to know where your territories are located in relation to each other and how they interact. Do they trade? Has one region conquered the other? Do people travel regularly between lands? All this tells a story without the PCs actually going anywhere.

These kinds of diverse menus lend themselves to coastal nations with thriving trade ports. My own world has the Atikoff, an ancient Greek-themed territory that conducts trade with the surrounding regions. With the Asian-themed Chapor to the east, these noodles wouldn't be out of place on the menu.

Your Turn: How do you incorporate your world's food into the local tavern menu?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
I'm a big fan of your series on the food, and I think it can be a great addition to a game.

I was in a game online for a little while where the DM was from Italy, a player was from the UK, and another player and I were Americans. We were mercenaries who had landed in, essentially, medieval Venice, and one of the first things my character did as a foreigner was try to track down some street food. I thought it would be a neat opportunity, but the DM was kind of new and didn't know how to respond. At least I tried - my character was a fighter who had an eating problem like Brad Pitt in Ocean's Eleven :)
 


Ixal

Adventurer
One thing that nearly always gets ignored is the availability of ingredients. Until there is refrigeration or there has been a large scale exchange of seeds many plants won't be globally available.

Today you can't image European food without things like tomatoes or potatoes, but those were native to the new world and not available until trade picked up between the continents.
Likewise wheat and carrots were native to Europe, or Asia and only slowly made their way to the new World.

I doubt anyone has spend much thought about which plants are available where in the FR, but that would have a huge impact on the cuisine.
 

When substituting oil, it may be useful to see if the oil is being used for flavor or just cooking. Some oils, like grapeseed, have a high smoke point which is useful for things like stir fries. Peanut oil is definitely used for flavor.

One substitution for the flavor might be sesame oil (if you're not allergic). Or I suspect a little fish sauce would have brightened this meal!
 

Today you can't image European food without things like tomatoes or potatoes, but those were native to the new world and not available until trade picked up between the continents.
Likewise wheat and carrots were native to Europe, or Asia and only slowly made their way to the new World.
In the Realms we know they have a level of trade similar to the early 17th century. There is the rough equal of Silk Road and trading between Sword Coast and the other continents exists.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
In the Realms we know they have a level of trade similar to the early 17th century. There is the rough equal of Silk Road and trading between Sword Coast and the other continents exists.
And yet, potatoes did not arrive in Europe until the mid 17th century or even late 17th, early 18th century in Ireland, a country which we usually immediately associate with potatoes.

And is just not the availability of crops but also cultivation. Good luck growing bell pepper in "British weather" without greenhouses.
 

And yet, potatoes did not arrive in Europe until the mid 17th century or even late 17th, early 18th century in Ireland, a country which we usually immediately associate with potatoes.

And is just not the availability of crops but also cultivation. Good luck growing bell pepper in "British weather" without greenhouses.
Dragons often eat large amounts of grazing animals, which have seeds in their digestive systems. Those seeds make their way out in dragon poop, and thus grow around the world.

Dragon farts are high in methane and have raised global temperatures, allowing warm climate plants to grow in more habitats.
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
And yet, potatoes did not arrive in Europe until the mid 17th century or even late 17th, early 18th century in Ireland, a country which we usually immediately associate with potatoes.

And is just not the availability of crops but also cultivation. Good luck growing bell pepper in "British weather" without greenhouses.
On that same note, I highly recommend looking into Robert Fortune. I learned about him on Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, and he was a 6' tall Scottish botanist who managed to impersonate a Chinese citizen long enough to smuggle tea out of China and into the West. He apparently had created portable greenhouses to smuggle the tea plants out and planted them in Darjeeling, India. (For reference - the Wardian Case Wardian case - Wikipedia )

I'm sure if some fantasy royal or noble decided to pay people to bring them super-rare ingredients, there could be use for a person like that.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
In a flash of perfect timing, GM Connie has just recently written up 3 Chinese dishes that could brighten up your fantasy taverns. The stir-fried egg and tomatoes are nice, and the duck dish is snazzy, but I am totally there for fantasy hot pot!

 

MGibster

Legend
It isn't just geography you can consider it's also seasons. A lot of us here in the United States just take for granted that ingredients will be available throughout the year. Oranges are a good example. If you go back a few decades, most people in the US only had oranges in the winter months when they were harvested but now you can buy oranges pretty much year round. So you might find a favorite dish on the menu in Spring only to find it's not available in the Fall.
 


Ixal

Adventurer
On that same note, I highly recommend looking into Robert Fortune. I learned about him on Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, and he was a 6' tall Scottish botanist who managed to impersonate a Chinese citizen long enough to smuggle tea out of China and into the West. He apparently had created portable greenhouses to smuggle the tea plants out and planted them in Darjeeling, India. (For reference - the Wardian Case Wardian case - Wikipedia )

I'm sure if some fantasy royal or noble decided to pay people to bring them super-rare ingredients, there could be use for a person like that.
Not food related, but you should also read how orthodox monks smuggled silkworm eggs out of china to establish a European silk industry in the 6th century.
 

wellis

Explorer
For the Forgotten Realms at least, how much does magic potentially play a role in providing say effective refrigeration to potentially allow for varieties in food closer to what we think of today?

I'm sure while spices and vegetables may have issues depending on where they're grown (and thus increasing their costs), perhaps magical refrigeration has allowed food to be preserved more or something here?
 

Ixal

Adventurer
For the Forgotten Realms at least, how much does magic potentially play a role in providing say effective refrigeration to potentially allow for varieties in food closer to what we think of today?

I'm sure while spices and vegetables may have issues depending on where they're grown (and thus increasing their costs), perhaps magical refrigeration has allowed food to be preserved more or something here?
For the rich maybe, but for most people magic would not be something they have access to. Especially as large scale refrigeration would require some rather strong magic, something usually only found in metropolises (which would require huge stores of food, so the cost of refrigeration would be equally large).
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Wellis has an interesting thoughts. What mundane spells could be use in food industry? Ceremony from a first level priest could preserve food for 7 days. OR make up some spells for the food industry.
 

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