Created By: SlimBrady on May 9, 2011 Last Edited By: Antigone3 on June 2, 2015

Stock Medieval Meal

Fantasy meals consist of foods such as cheese, peasant bread, stew/broth and sausages.

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Trope
When the protagonists of a fantasy novel stop for a meal, they don't get much of a choice on what to eat. If the setting is anything close to "generic copy of Europe", they'll be handed cheese, bread, stew or soup, and beer.

If the characters are fixing a quick lunch on the road, they might have a pasty or meat pie or some sausage with them, but otherwise it's cheese and bread. Beer would only be available if they just left a town where they could have bought some, anything cooked requires a longer stop (so is normally reserved for the evening meal).

Actual medieval cookery was far more advanced than this [[note]]admittedly the extant cookbooks were written for noble households[[/note]] , but unless the author is a history and/or cooking buff you won't see any sign of this. You also won't see anyone eating plant-based foods other than bread, unless it's being used in the stewpot. Poor people or travelers could gather wild plants, nuts, and mushrooms, but only rarely will fictional characters do likewise.

That said, there's a certain amount of Truth in Television here for poor people. Peasants didn't eat much meat, but bread would have been a staple item, and the stewpot was an efficient way to cook.

A subtrope of The Dung Ages, but can also be found in works that avert that trope.

—-

Examples

Film
  • In the opening scene of They Call Me Trinity Trinity stops in a saloon and gets stew & bread (not sure about the cheese).

Literature
  • Andre Norton's Operation Time Search. While on a spying mission in Atlantis, Ray Osborne orders food at a tavern and is served a bowl of stew and a hunk of bread.
  • Mocked in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, naturally.
  • Raymond E. Feist's Magician features this as the go-to meal at any inn.
  • David Eddings loved this trope, it shows up in just about all his books. Possibly justified as he also loved sending his heroes on long trips, and they'd need foodstuffs that won't spoil too soon.
    • The Belgariad: Sendaria grows a variety of crops, but according to Belgarath good luck being served anything but turnip stew in a Sendarian inn.
    • The Elenium: On one occasion when Kalten is suckered into fixing breakfast for the knights, he slices bread and cheese for everyone and asks if this gets him off the hook.
  • Comes up a few times in the Gor novels, always mentioning "yellow Sa-Tarna bread, hot out of the oven, baked round and cut into eight wedges."
  • Heralds of Valdemar: Higher-class inns have more variety, but the "menu" at poorer inns/taverns like the Hollybush from Take A Thief is stew made from better inns' scraps, coarse bread, and stale beer.
    • The Collegium Chronicles novels have a lot of "traveler's pies", at one inn visited in Bastion different versions of these pies are the only things on the menu.
  • In Dragon Bones, while fighting bandits, the heroes live on (increasingly mouldy) bread and cheese.
  • Lady Blade, Lord Fighter. When Timper and Softalis eat dinner at an inn their meal includes soup, bread and cheese.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones, pot shops in the poorer parts of King's Landing will sell you a hunk of bread and a "bowl of brown", an indeterminate stew made of meat, vegetables, and the occasional political undesirable.
  • Elminster in Myth Drannor. While traveling to the elven city of Cormanthor, Elminster stops at the Herald's Horn Inn and gets bread, cheese, and soup.
  • In the Brother Cadfael novels, whichever unfortunate fugitive the monk-detective is helping elude an unjust execution or unwanted Arranged Marriage is liable to eat bread and cheese, smuggled to them by a Love Interest or Cadfael himself.

Live-Action Television
  • Merlin seems to have several instances of the bread and cheese popping up, but Gaius and Merlin often had meat as well. Averted with the scenes of Arthur, Merlin and the knights traveling, they seem to have often brought food from the castle (usually stew ingredients) and added to it whatever Arthur could hunt. Probably justified in both cases, since all of them had access to the king's kitchen, even if Gaius and Merlin still got less luxurious meals.

Tabletop Games
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons module B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The menu of the Traveler's Inn includes bread, soup, stew and cheese.
  • Several inns and taverns in the Judges' Guild supplements serve bread, stew, cheese and sausage.
  • Lejendary Adventure Essentials, introductory adventure "Moon Slaves". The Savory Swine tavern serves an evening meal of stew (made from wild game, herbs, roots and mushrooms) and plenty of crusty bread.

VideoGames
  • Houses in Oblivion usually have cheese, bread, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables strewn across the table. They aren't prepared in any specific way — there are full loaves of bread, full heads of lettuce, etc. It seems like nobody ever actually cooks, but just eats stock pieces of food. It might also be worth mentioning that this is a universe where putting cheese on bread would be considered "alchemy."
  • In a random conversation in Dragon Age, Leliana asks Alistair what the recipe was the party had for dinner last night. Alistair says it's a traditional Fereldan stew: you throw meat and vegetables in a pot and cook until everything turns uniformly brown. Leliana says it was awful.
  • Knights and Merchants: Original release has three types of food: loaves of bread, barrels of wine and strings of sausages. The game has a medieval setting and food production involves making use of farms and then Refining Resources. In one visit to the tavern, a hungry worker won't eat more than one of each and will return to work only partially sated if one or two types are not available.

Real Life
  • A "ploughman's lunch" consists of bread, cheese, pickle, and beer.
  • During World War II, a British prisoner of war making his escape from Italian-occupied Greece into Yugoslavia was hosted by peasant families and resistance fighters in the Balkans. He described a way of life unchanged domestically for centuries, and noted that a communal meal involved a stew-pot being placed centrally on the table where everyone could reach it to fill their bowls. he noted that had they needed to run for safety mid-meal, the Germans could have deduced how many people were in the partisan group from the number of slopped trails radiating out from the central pot.

Community Feedback Replies: 56
  • May 9, 2011
    elwoz
    Mocked in The Tough Guide To Fantasyland, naturally.
  • May 9, 2011
    Hodou
    Houses in Oblivion usually have cheese, bread, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables strewn across the table. They aren't prepared in any specific way -- there are full loaves of bread, full heads of lettuce, etc. It seems like nobody ever actually cooks, but just eats stock pieces of food. It might also be worth mentioning that this is a universe where putting cheese on bread would be considered "alchemy."
  • May 10, 2011
    Bisected8
    The term for this meal (in Britain at least) is a "ploughman's lunch".
  • May 10, 2011
    randomsurfer
    • Comes up a few times in the Gor novels, always mentioning "yellow Sa-Tarna bread, hot out of the oven, baked round and cut into eight wedges."
    • In the opening scene of The Call Me Trinity Trinity stops in a saloon and gets stew & bread (not sure about the cheese).
  • May 10, 2011
    bluepenguin
    ^^ FWIW I've heard that term in the US as well, though it's probably not nearly as widespread.
  • May 10, 2011
    Rolf
    Just short discription, no examples, no index. Who thumbed it up?
  • May 11, 2011
    Ryuuma
    ^ Partly agree with Rolf, this need a better description, but the idea itself is fairly good. Just work better on the basis.
  • May 11, 2011
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Andre Norton's Operation Time Search. While on a spying mission in Atlantis, Ray Osborne orders food at a tavern and is served a bowl of stew and a hunk of bread.

    Tabletop RPG
    • Basic Dungeons And Dragons module B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The menu of the Traveler's Inn includes bread, soup, stew and cheese.
  • May 15, 2011
    IronLion
    As it is, it seems a bit chairsy. In a typical Medieval European Fantasy setting there's not going to be a wide variety of culinary choices.

    There's probably some way to turn it into a trope though. For example, to illustrate the war-torn conditions of of the region that the heroes are travelling through, the inn might be charging extortionate prices for rock-hard bread and cheese and a watered-down stew. A stay in such an inn is likely to be followed immediately by an invocation of Chandlers Law.
  • May 15, 2011
    StarryEyed
    ^But a lot of the trope is that there's no elaboration. It's not a specific kind of bread or cheese, it's just generic hunks of the stuff.

    The use of this trope in the Inheritance Cycle is a source of mockery for its Hatedom--along with the copious amounts of MEAT that the poor pseudo-medieval peasants eat.
  • May 15, 2011
    Jordan
    Cool suggestion. I was thinking of the The Tough Guide To Fantasyland immediately. I think that work put more smphasis on the stew- like the Inheritance Cycle parody, it notes the lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet.

    Sort of a parody example via exospeak: In the Dragaera novel Issola, the protagonists order at an inn what is described as like the house bread with some kind of cheese and smoked fish- it's pretty clear they are actually ordering bagels and lox. I'd say the series generally averts it, in part because Food Porn is Author Appeal. In one book (Teckla I think) it's implied that a local inn/restaurant serves (American) Chinese food.
  • May 22, 2011
    MousaThe14
    Bumpity Bump
  • January 18, 2013
    elwoz
    Bump with threat to launch.
  • January 18, 2013
    dvorak
    In They Call Me Trinity it was beans-in-sauce, not stew.
  • January 19, 2013
    m8e
  • January 19, 2013
    bulmabriefs144
    "As it is, it seems a bit chairsy. In a typical Medieval European Fantasy setting there's not going to be a wide variety of culinary choices. "

    Someone didn't do their research on actual medieval food. Various types of game (chicken, turkey, goose, partridge, and a heck of a lot more birds than we eat today. Heck, if you really wanted to get technical, you could swap "a giant turkey drumstick" for what we have here if they were rich adventurers), lamb, rabbit, various meat pies or other pastries might be sold at markets (emphasis on the pastry part not the meat), and for the really low end you might have oatmeal or gruel (think Dickens characters). You had smoked or salted fish (though this is normally left out of the picture entirely).

    We could make it work, fairly easily, by dividing it into classes.

    Lowest Class (In prison or starving) Mainly gruel, or a thin soup (usually only a single vegetable like onion or potato, or it might be out of something like bread). You normally see this only for someone starving, or being mistreated.

    Lower Class (The average starting adventurer) The above dish. Beer.

    Middle Class (An adventurer, after a quest) Some sort of animal leg, usually a chicken or turkey drumstick. Lots of beer.

    Royal Feast (Usually only if treated by a king) Many, many animal legs, sausage, as well as other stuff. Usually wine, and lots of it.
  • January 19, 2013
    justanid
    Anime and Manga
    • Averted in Slayers where the heroes may visit a place simply to try their local cuisine and tear through several plates of it. An entire episode was devoted to the killing of a large dragon as the main ingredient of a local specialty.
  • January 19, 2013
    Antigone3
    Nitpicks - a ploughman's lunch does not include stew, it's a cold meal. And turkeys are a New World bird, no one in Europe would be eating them unless they were imported post-Columbus.
  • January 27, 2013
    Met
    ^They DID have a game bird they called the turkey, after Turkey, from which they were imported.

    When the colonists discovered a similar bird here, they named it after the turkey. The original European turkey is probably extinct.

    ^^^I'm pretty sure the people in Medieval times had a much wider variety of food than we generally eat today, and much, much wider than is presented in fantasy movies and books. People in earlier times were not likely to waste any food, so almost anything remotely edible was eaten. This could include:

    Partridge, pheasant, pigeon, dove, duck, goose, quail, grouse, etc. Rabbit, venison, beef, mutton, pork, and products such as brains, sweetbreads (glands), kidneys, tripe, tails, feet, and "headcheese" made of the whole head. Eggs of various birds including ducks, geese, and wild birds. Eggs could be pickled to preserve them. Meat and eggs could also be packed in rendered lard as a preservative. Seafood would be any type of fish, plus fish roe, scallops, crabs, mussels, cockles, oysters, shrimp, and anything else that came up in the net like squid. It didn't matter if they didn't know what it was. If they could find a way to cook it they ate it.

    And that's just the meat. Poor people or travelers could always pick up various roots, herbs, and tree nuts from the side of the road. Rarely do these stories show anyone doing this. Before nut trees such as walnuts were cultivated, they grew wild. Chicory, dandelion, wild carrot, wild onion, wild sweet potato, nettle, watercress, and many others would have been available.

    Of course, nobody ever said this was Truth In Television.

  • January 27, 2013
    Megaptera
    Is there a trope in here about Stock Fantasy Food? Stew is one that a lot of authors use, but individual authors may have standard foods that show up often in their own works. I can't help but remember that in The Elric Saga the characters frequently end up in a tavern drinking "strong yellow wine". Or rather, Elric drinks a lot of it but nobody else can drink much without ending up under the table.
  • January 27, 2013
    StarSword
    Video Games:
    • In a random conversation in Dragon Age, Leliana asks Alistair what the recipe was the party had for dinner last night. Alistair says it's a traditional Fereldan stew: you throw meat and vegetables in a pot and cook until everything turns uniformly brown. Leliana says it was awful.
  • January 27, 2013
    SharleeD
    ^^^ The original "turkey" was guinea fowl, actually. They're still around.
  • February 10, 2013
    Met
    ^ Oh, thanks. I know what those are. They make funny noises, like fingernails on a chalkboard.
  • February 11, 2013
    aurora369
    Oh, I think we need a Useful Notes page on medieval food.
  • March 21, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Lejendary Adventure Essentials, introductory adventure "Moon Slaves". The Savory Swine tavern serves an evening meal of stew (made from wild game, herbs, roots and mushrooms) and plenty of crusty bread.
  • March 21, 2013
    chicagomel
    Merlin seems to have several instances of the bread and cheese popping up, but Gaius and Merlin often had meat as well. Averted with the scenes of Arthur, Merlin and the knights traveling, they seem to have often brought food from the castle (usually stew ingredients) and added to it whatever Arthur could hunt. Probably justified in both cases, since all of them had access to the king's kitchen, even if Gaius and Merlin still got less luxurious meals.
  • March 21, 2013
    McKathlin
    I'd suggest renaming this Stock Medieval Lunch; that makes it clearer at first glance that this will be about the bread-and-cheese combo that a traveler in simple times might take on the road. The title for Stock Fantasy Meal brought me to expect the meal (of whatever kind) would somehow involve magic.
  • March 21, 2013
    Generality
    Justified in David Eddings' works, as the characters are on the move almost constantly and need foods that won't spoil. They usually have dried meat and beans as well as the things already mentioned. The same justification probably applies to a lot of these.
  • April 11, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dragon magazine #29 article "Inns and Taverns". A list of food available at taverns included three types of stew (snake, rabbit and wolf) and bread.
  • May 3, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons
      • Mayfair Games' Role Aids supplement '"Dwarves''. The Corn Dodger tavern in the town of Fin serves sausages, fish stew and venison stew.
  • August 13, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons Judges' Guild supplements
      • Several establishments in the Revised Guide to the City State.
        • Taverns: The Balor's Eye (snake stew), Grub & Grunt (wolf tongue sausage), the Silver Goblet (otter stew)
        • Inns: The Blue Dolphin Inn (wolf stew), Wayfarer (bread, goat cheese, ox sausages)
        • The Fire Drake mead hall: Hydra toe stew
  • August 13, 2013
    Quatic
    Lord Of The Rings makes a big deal of how the ringbearers are stuck with bread for their meals. Elven bread. But still.
  • August 13, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    The description could use some padding.
  • August 14, 2013
    69BookWorM69
    Seconding the Useful Notes page on medieval food.

    Also wonder if it matters in re portability. In other words, if the travellers aren't stopping at an inn, but rather eating on the road, is that when the bread-and-cheese combo comes in?
  • August 21, 2013
    Melkior
    ^^^ The Lord Of The Rings "example" doesn't apply. The elvish "waybread" isn't bread at all, but a kind of biscuit which is baked so that the outside is a hard, protective shell to keep the nutritious interior fresh.

    The movies totally mucked this up by incorrectly referring to it as "elvish bread". The word "bread" in "waybread" is a metaphorical reference to the way it sustains a person in their journey (along the "way"), much the way bread does in real life.

    Bread was historically referred to as "The Staff Of Life" because life could "lean" on it the way a traveller could lean on a staff for support.
  • March 14, 2015
    Gowan
    • In Dragon Bones, while fighting bandits, the heroes live on (increasingly mouldy) bread and cheese.
  • March 14, 2015
    DAN004
    Who wanna grab this?
  • October 13, 2016
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons Judges' Guild supplements
      • The Mines of Custalcon. In the town of Byrny, the Golden Chimera Inn serves stew, roast beef, potato soup and beans and the Inn of the Four Winds offers beef stew and roast beef.
  • April 17, 2015
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Midkemia Press generic supplements.
      • Cities 2nd Edition. Appendix 2 "Taverns/Inns/Hotels" has a list of available foods that includes soup, stew, and cheese.
      • The City of Carse 2nd Edition has the Spear Inn. Its bill of fare includes food that's plentiful and cheap but of average quality, such as thick stew, soup, bread and cheese.
  • April 20, 2015
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Lady Blade, Lord Fighter. When Timper and Softalis eat dinner at an inn their meal includes soup, bread and cheese.
  • April 20, 2015
    robinjohnson
    A "ploughman's lunch" is specifically a cheese sandwich with pickle (chutney) and a salad on the side. I don't think it really belongs here.

    The whole thing seems a bit chairsy really. What is it adding to the story?

    That said,
  • April 20, 2015
    Antigone3
    Heralds Of Valdemar: Higher-class inns have more variety, but the "menu" at poorer inns/taverns like the Hollybush from Take A Thief is stew made from better inn's scraps, coarse bread, and stale beer.
  • April 20, 2015
    Antigone3
    Suggested rephrase of the intro:

    When the protagonists of a fantasy novel stop for a meal, they don't get much of a choice on what to eat. If the setting is anything close to "generic copy of Europe", they'll be handed cheese, bread, stew or soup, and beer.

    Actual medieval cookery was far more advanced than this (though admittedly the extant cookbooks were written for noble households), but unless the author is a history and/or cooking buff you won't see any sign of this. Basically, this is The Dung Ages as applied to what people ate.
  • April 21, 2015
    robinjohnson
    It also might be worth noting that it takes a bit of artistic licence to make potatoes ubiquitous in a society based on pre-Columbian Europe.
  • May 14, 2015
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Elminster in Myth Drannor. While traveling to the elven city of Cormanthor, Elminster stops at the Herald's Horn Inn. The menu includes bread, cheese and soup.
  • May 15, 2015
    Antigone3
    Redid the intro, I'll try to get examples pulled over this weekend.
  • May 16, 2015
    Arivne
    I think that Stock Medieval Meal is better so people reading it don't think it's limited to lunches.
  • May 16, 2015
    Bisected8
    Plus it alliterates.
  • May 17, 2015
    Exxolon
    A Song Of Ice And Fire averts this for anyone who's at least middle class by the setting's standards if A Feast of Ice and Fire is anything to go by.
  • May 17, 2015
    Antigone3
    ^ Can you elaborate?

    (I'd also appreciate more info on The Tough Guide To Fantasyland entry — I just checked, and it's out of stock at the local Barnes & Noble, so I'd have to order a copy.)
  • May 17, 2015
    AgProv
    A British prisoner of war making his escape from Italian-occupied Greece into Yugoslavia was hosted by peasant families and resistance fighters in the Balkans. He described a way of life unchanged domestically for centuries, and noted that a communal meal involved a stew-pot being placed centrally on the table where everyone could reach it to fill their bowls. he noted that had they needed to run for safety mid-meal, the Germans could have deduced how many people were in the partisan group from the number of slopped trails radiating out from the central pot.
  • May 17, 2015
    SharleeD
    In the Brother Cadfael novels, whichever unfortunate fugitive the monk-detective is helping elude an unjust execution or unwanted Arranged Marriage is liable to eat bread and cheese, smuggled to them by a Love Interest or Cadfael himself.
  • May 20, 2015
    NemuruMaeNi
    • Knights And Merchants: Original release has three types of food: loaves of bread, barrels of wine and strings of sausages. The game has a medieval setting and food production involves making use of farms and then Refining Resources. In one visit to the tavern, a hungry worker won't eat more than one of each and will return to work only partially sated if one or two types are not available.

    I'm not sure how that way of packing the sausages is properly called, sorry. (edited per the tip below, thanks)
  • May 21, 2015
    randomsurfer
  • May 21, 2015
    Antigone3
    FYI, I put together a proposal for a Useful Notes: Medieval Food page, but it could use some help.
  • June 2, 2015
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Chivalry And Sorcery main rules (1983). Rule 12.13 Staying At The Inn has stew, bread and a "joint of meat" on the menu.
    • The city of Sontra in the Companions' generic RPG supplement Streets of Gems
      • The menu of the Dancing Dolphin Inn includes bread, cheese, meat stew, joint of mutton and meat pie.
      • The House of Laughter tavern serves bread, cheese and stew.
    • Judges Guild magazine The Dungeoneer Journal #23, story "Rattling Bones". When Sigrid and Suzienne stop at an inn for a meal they order two joints of beef as well as bread and cheese.
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