How To Dish
Tuesday looms dark against the steel-gray skyline, overtopping the muted green of the trees. I cannot tell if its silent footfalls shake evergreens, or if it’s the cold wind coming down the straight. It comes. It comes for me, and I know not what to write. The post, the post, no one else sees it, but I see it! I cannot write, for I know not the words!!
Okay. Sorry. Got that out of my system. It’s kind of a day. I have a shuttle to catch to the port of air in the morning, for to wing it to the Great Lake of Salt, near which will happen LTUE at the end of the week. Mrs. Dave voluntold me to go, while she wrangles the Wee Horde. She has plans, my friends. PLANS!! Meanwhile, I expect to freeze my knees off (kilt, you understand) and spend the weekend writing, thinking about writing, talking about writing, and hanging out with adults. Even if it’s not glorious, it will be glorious.
In the meantime, you need to eat. We all need to eat, and our characters especially need to eat. And they need to eat on camera. Hear me out. Humans are tubes. Most creatures are tubes, of varying complexity. Humans are more complex tubes than, say, most obligate carnivores, or than worms, and less complex than many ruminants.
It should not be surprising, then, that eating, and what we eat, are going to take up a large portion of our existence. Even when the relative cost of food has decreased dramatically over time. This is a tool we, as writers, can use to connect to our readers, and I guarantee the better writers do it, even if only occasionally.
The bottom line: write your characters eating, and describe the meal to include sight, taste, texture, and aroma. And the way to do that is to write staples, and especially what’s historically eaten by the poor. Describe how that works when it’s cooked well.
For example! Bibimbap is a South Korean dish. It’s absolutely delicious, especially when served in a hot, stone bowl. You take some rice, a couple squirts of pepper sauce, shreds of traditional side dishes (to include shredded seaweed, various pickles, and fish cake) and a fried egg or two. All of those are relatively cheap. There’s a little bit of cheap protein, some vegetables, some strong flavors, and cheap staple foods, like grains, pulses, or noodles made from same.
See also: French cuisine is typically dishes that are up-scaled versions of peasant food. Bouillabaisse and ratatouille are the two that immediately spring to mind. A good bouillabaisse is delightful, while an excellent one is a religious experience, but at base, it’s the scrapings from the bottom of the fishing boat when the higher quality catch has been sold. Ratatouille is vegetable stew, and the variety suggests it’s whatever could be gleaned from the leavings after market. Cut out the bruises and spoiled bits, chop it up to disguise that fact from the kids, and cook it enough to make sure the bugs are dead.
So, sit down and figure out what the poorest people in your world eat, and then what they ate a couple centuries earlier. Take that, dress it up a bit, and call it haute cuisine (or the local equivalent). If you can, eat something similar, and describe it, how it smells, the flavors, the textures, and how it makes you feel. And then put that on the page.
Addendum: please go read Amanda’s post from this morning, and provide your input.