Food and culture are inseparable. Here in the US that’s perhaps more noticeable during this week than at any other time of the year, as tens of millions of us plan to break bread together in observance of Thanksgiving. But I’ve spent most of a decade considering it in the context of a culture that doesn’t actually exist: Thedas, the setting of BioWare’s Dragon Age franchise.
I’ve been part of a devoted Dragon Age tabletop campaign since 2015. Our group has spent days on Discord discussing ultimately made-up questions that still echo real life. Where does rice come from? (Antiva, because it’s far enough north to have the tropical mix of wet and dry seasons you need to grow it.) Can you have lemonade in Denerim? (Yes, but the lemons are imported from Rivain, which is temperate enough to grow citrus and friendly enough to trade with, and it’s sweetened with honey, not sugar.) How expensive is chocolate? (Very — the most suitable climates for growing cocoa beans are in semi-hostile Tevinter or Qunari territory.)
This isn’t just nerdy pedantry. Food is how we come together, but it is also where we find our differences. Food traditions speak our stories to one another. Does your Thanksgiving table have squash on it? What about ham, macaroni and cheese, or tamales? Is your turkey brined, deep-fried, or made of tofu?
If you want to make an imagined world feel real, you need to think about its food.
BioWare, too, has now given some detailed thought to these questions, in an official Dragon Age cookbook. The book, which hit store shelves in October, is full of the kind of recipes you might expect from a franchise tie-in, featuring a mix of foods that are directly mentioned in the video games together with foods that feel like they might as well be.
But it’s not Dragon Age without a strong narrative through-line. To that end, the book is narrated by a new character, Devon, who features both in an introduction as well as in all the blurbs heading up each recipe. Devon is the child of Nan, a minor character from the human noble origin in Dragon Age: Origins who worked as Castle Cousland’s cook. Devon travels Thedas, following in the footsteps of the games’ heroes and villains and eating their way around the world.
“Food is a very interesting way of establishing details about a world, and in a very subtle way,” the author behind Devon, Jessie Hassett, said in a phone interview. “A particular dish that you choose to include in your fantasy world can say a lot about that world.”
Writing the blurbs was like having an opportunity to write “canon fanfiction,” Hassett said, and that meant staying true to characters and cultures that have
Developing a culinary cookbook that caters to a fictional world’s diverse cultures and tastes requires a deep understanding of the specific nuances and characteristics of that world. In the case of Thedas, the setting for the popular Dragon Age video game series, the cookbook “The World of Thedas Volume 2” delves into the culinary landscape of this intricate fantasy realm.
According to the cookbook’s writer, Sylvia Feketekuty, the key to creating authentic recipes for a fantasy world is to fully immerse oneself in the mindset of the characters inhabiting that world. In her words, “You really have to put yourself into this mindset of: Okay, I’m this character in the world of Thedas. How do I perceive all these various things, and then how do I communicate that in a way that feels like the character’s voice?”
The cookbook aims to expand the culinary horizons of Thedas, moving beyond its initial faux-medieval English roots to encompass a rich tapestry of cultures and cuisines. Each culture within Thedas is meticulously crafted to feel distinct and lived-in. For example, the dwarves of Orzammar, who live underground, rely on trade with the surface for their produce, making certain ingredients status symbols due to their high cost.
The book also explores the ingenuity of adapting real-world recipes to fit the unique elements of Thedas. For instance, a recipe for “Fried Young Giant Spider” makes clever substitutions for ingredients not found in our world, while retaining the essence of the fictional dish.
Furthermore, the cookbook sheds light on the competitive nature of dwarven culture in Dragon Age, which inspired the creation of a fierce dipping sauce competition to complement the spider leg recipe. This attention to detail and world-building adds depth and authenticity to the culinary experience within the Dragon Age universe.
The cookbook’s exploration of Thedas’ cultures extends to regions like Orlais, drawing parallels between its conspicuous consumption and real-world France. This attention to detail reflects the commitment to creating an immersive and believable world, where even the culinary traditions align with the broader themes and characteristics of the different cultures within Thedas.
In essence, “The World of Thedas Volume 2” not only serves as a collection of recipes but also as a testament to the dedication and creativity required to craft a truly immersive and authentic culinary experience within a rich and diverse fantasy world.“`
In the end, any cookbook is only as good as its recipes, so I flipped to “Varric’s Favorite Pastries” and got baking.
Varric has good taste. His favorite pastries are sweetly almond-flavored, like a fractionally chewier biscotti, and are not difficult or time-consuming for a home baker. I will definitely be making them again, especially since both my children think I haven’t noticed them sneaking some from the container.
As for the other Varric-themed recipe in the book, “Varric’s Favorite Cinnamon Rolls,” there was only one thing to ask Hassett:
“That’s Merrill, right?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I agree.”
The book does not include a recipe for either Sera’s loathed cookies or Sten’s favorite ones, but it has added food for thought to my group’s endless friendly dickering over agriculture and trade routes. Did our characters learn to eat shellfish on their long journey from Denerim to Hasmal? What food will we find when we end up in the deserts of the Silent Plains? And perhaps most importantly: when we end up in Orzammar in our next season, how many favors will our tight-fisted GM allow us to buy with all the jam we’re now going to carry?