When the Main Characters 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 , 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. See also All Beer Is Ale and The Need for Mead. For general information about actual medieval European cuisine, see our Useful Notes page for Medieval Food In Europe.
- Parodied in Delicious in Dungeon, where the sight of a group of adventurers sitting down for a meal of bread and salt pork sets Team Chef Senshi off on a rant about how typical adventuring rations (bread, meat, and wine) are nutritionally deficient. As the Touden party's cook, he considers his job not only to feed them but to feed them well, using foodstuffs hunted and foraged from the dungeon itself to keep their meals balanced and healthy.
- 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, although the characters don't actually get to eat it because the flesh is very poisonous and takes months to make it edible.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: In Meet the Locals, the narration describes Ami's first meal at an inn like this: "The waitress appeared and set a plate down in front of the famished girl. It contained steaming potatoes and some kind of sausage she didn't recognize. The meal also came with a large mug of foamy beer". A later meal, at another inn, has "milk, honey, bread, and slices of bacon".
- 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.
- A parody example via expospeak occurs in the Dragaera novel Issola. Here, the protagonists order at an inn what is described as the house bread with some kind of cheese and smoked fish; however, it's pretty clear that what they are actually ordering is bagels and lox. The series generally averts it, in part because Food Porn is Author Appeal. In one book (possibly Teckla) it's implied that a local inn/restaurant serves (American) Chinese food. And in Dzur, Vlad sits with a guest to a multi-stage meal, where the main course is something you forget you've ordered because of everything you've sampled before it arrives at the table (and Vlad, as narrator, suggests not finishing each stage... you'd end up too full to move).
- Mocked in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, naturally.
- "Stew is the staple food in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time."
- "Bread is quite well known in Fantasyland, but you will seldom get much of it and it will never be fresh. You might be given some to sop up your stew in an inn of an evening, but in the morning, just as that day's baking should be ready, the Rules state that you will make a hurried departure, having time to grab up only a piece of stale loaf and a hunk of cheese."
- David Eddings loved this trope, and 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.
- Partly averted in the Owl Trilogy. While the Tayledras team needs foodstuffs that won't go bad while they're traveling, Ayshen and the other hertasi make sure every meal includes something "green and growing" instead of just meat and travel bread — even in the dead of winter.
- 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. Averted for the nobility in the novels, where Martin devotes pages to describing in detail the elaborate meals everyone is eating. (Binging with Babish did an episode devoted to the foods of Game of Thrones, including two high-class dishes—the game pie served at the Purple Wedding and the lemon cakes served at Highgarden—and a less high-class one—Dothraki blood pie).
- 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.
- In The Princess Bride: "This was after stew. But then, so is everything. When the first man crawled out of the slime and went to make his home on land, what he had for dinner that night was stew."
- In the Drenai novels by David Gemmell, the meals of soldiers and townspeople tend to consist of black bread, often with cheese and beer (or wine, and meat for those who can obtain it). Averted in the case of a wealthy, famous competition fighter, who eats a sophisticated variety of nutritious foods and coaches his students to do the same. The books often describe other peoples of the world in detail, in terms of their culture, dress, religion and philosophy, but their regional foods are rarely described beyond, for example, the cookpots of an encamped horde.
- Redwall: Mostly averted. Though the simpler staple foods will be mentioned, especially eaten by travelers on the road, the author would usually go into mouth-watering elaborate detail about what's served at the feasts (which are frequent). It's to the point there's a cookbook with recipes of the dishes mentioned in the series.
- Discussed in A Hat Full of Sky, where Tiffany wonders what lunch Miss Level packed for facing down the Hiver, and notes that every fairy tale says it's bread and hard cheese. Miss Level actually packed ham sandwiches with pickles, with biscuits.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons module B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The menu of the Traveler's Inn includes bread, soup, stew and cheese.
- Mayfair Games' Role Aids supplement '"Dwarves''. The Corn Dodger tavern in the town of Fin serves sausages, fish stew and venison stew.
- Judges' Guild supplement 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
- Judges Guild supplement The Mines of Custalcon. In the town of Byrny, the Inn of the Golden Chimera serves stew, potato soup and beans.
- Dragon magazine
- #29 article "Inns and Taverns". A list of food available at taverns included four types of stew (snake, rabbit, wolf and otter) and bread.
- #277 article "The New Adventures of Volo: Dragonwing Stew". Played with, the article starts by saying the primary food in most inns is stew and bread, but adds that, depending on the locale, there may also be fish (fresh or salted), joints of meat, fruit and vegetables, sausages, "hand tarts" (basically Cornish pasties), or a kind of rodent kebab called "darkback skewers".
- Dungeon magazine #71 adventure "Priestly Secrets". Falco's Tavern has a lunch of stew and bread, with ale and beer to drink.
- Polyhedron magazine
- Issue #60 article "The Living City". The Dancing Bear Inn serves bread, vegetables, cheese, soup, fish, mutton and beef.
- Issue #79 article "The Living City". The bill of fare at the Painted Boat restaurant includes bread, cheese, vegetables and soup.
- White Dwarf magazine
- Issue #43, article "Irilian Part 2". The inns in the town of Irilian serve the following foods: bread, cheese, fruit, roast fowl, soup and stew.
- Issue #52, adventure "The Serpent's Venom". At the Black Rose inn, the Player Characters can eat bread, cheese and stew.
- 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.
- RuneQuest supplement RuneQuest Cities. A chart for determining the quality of food at inns and taverns mentioned stew, bread, cheese, soup and fish.
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay draws heavily on Medieval European Fantasy, including this trope. Typical poor peasant rations are rough bread and malodorous pottage, while common fare usually consists of ale, bread and cheese, and stew or pie. Or, as 2nd Edition describes it:
Loaf of Bread: The staple fare of the Old Worlder's diet.
- Barring future changes to the cooking system, in Dwarf Fortress, raw food comes in countless different forms but will always be cooked into either a biscuit, a stew, or a roast, depending on the number of ingredients used.
- Houses in The Elder Scrolls (basically Oblivion and Skyrim) 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: Origins, Leliana asks Alistair the recipe for last night's dinner. 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. This is probably a joke about British cuisine, as Ferelden is basically fantasy Britain and Leliana is from Orlais, which is fantasy France.
- 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.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild averts this. While not exactly medieval in terms of certain technologies, the environment and combat in Hyrule closely matches the standard medieval affair. The game provides a significantly wide variety of ingredients for the player to use, and many complex combinations can produce special food like cakes, pies, and several regional dishes from the different villages.
- The Ploughman's Lunch is a meal specifically created to evoke this trope, consisting of the simple breads, cheeses and cold cuts of meat that would have been eaten by working class laborers as a portable meal. More specifically, it was conceived as a pub lunch in the 50's as a way to reintroduce cheese as a snack (rationing from the war having recently ended).
- 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.
- Medieval fairs usually have recreations of taverns based on Medieval Europe and High Fantasy media that serve you Medieval food like bread, cheese, potato,* some kind of meat and a beverage (not always beer, also can be fruit juice and wine), and usually with no forks or knives to eat them.