We all know of some silly stereotypes directed at real-world places and their local cuisines (or, more stereotypically, their Foreign Queasine...). As weird as foreign food can seem at times, however, most of it still falls within the realm of sense or at least isn't too strange when you really think of it. We're limited to what we can eat based on restrictions such as our ingredients, our dietary needs, and our basic concept of taste and presentation. Logically we could make far more creative dishes, but they likely wouldn't taste very good, even if they don't kill us. Such a thing doesn't need to be true for fictional settings, however. If a writer is looking to show how much different their setting is from the real world, one easy way to do it is to fill the local menu with dishes that simply don't exist outside of their universe.
The idea here is that if the world is different, so too should their food choices. Furthermore, whatever it is that makes the setting weird, it's reflected by their dishes. They might rely on Fantastic Fruits and Vegetables and Fantastic Livestock, or get their dishes from an unusual source. If they're outright inhuman, they may eat anything from local insects to foods that humans can't possibly digest, some of which may involve Insubstantial Ingredients. The world may be made out of the stuff, or they cook and prepare food like we do, except that it's just bizarre and downright alien. The key is that the food reflects how strange the setting is, and the less realistic it becomes, the more alien the world is from our own.
As a result, knowing enough about the setting is important to determining if it's just "gross food" or if the food is linked to where it's coming from. This can be done in a few ways:
- If a character physically goes to this setting, they'll be introduced to the food as an outsider and will learn about the setting alongside the audience.
- The food will be introduced to the audience as a normal snack in that culture without anyone commenting on it, even if eating it in real life would be gross, dangerous, or impossible.
- You get a bunch of snacks that all come from a different strange world, such as a multi-universal vending machine, which doesn't convey a lot about each setting but still uses the idea of "different world" to create silly snack items.
- A character from that world comes to Earth while keeping their original diet. As the above, it might not give us a lot of info on the original setting, but as long as the food is specifically referenced as being from their homeworld, it does the trick.
Compare Foreign Queasine, which is for stereotypical depictions of real-world cultural dishes, Fantastic Diet Requirement, for when nonhuman creatures need to eat weird things to stay healthy instead of simply as a cultural habit, and Palette-Swapped Alien Food, for when the only odd part is that the colors are changed.
No Real Life Examples, Please! This is a specifically fictional trope about worldbuilding, and not an opportunity to joke about how strange some real-life place's food is.
- Made in Abyss: The abyss is a massive, unexplored cave system full of mystery, including odd creatures that live in the depths. The people living near the abyss get all their food from there as a result, and while this is normalized, the food from the abyss still tends to be so grotesque many people find it disgusting even In-Universe.
- The world of Toriko is plentiful with flora and fauna possessing incredibly bizarre anatomy, many of which are made of actual foods cooked or otherwise. One example is the Cookie Alpaca, a llama with cookies growing out of its body. These can range from normal animals given food features, more fantastic creatures such as dragons, or those bordering on Eldritch Abomination. While many can be quite delicious, there are those that taste absolutely wretched when prepared incorrectly or may even be fatal when eaten.
- The Man: Subverted. When the titular character (a mysterious six-inch man who will not say where he is from) arrives demanding food, John assumes that he comes from a mysterious place, and must eat mysterious food; but he eats the same food as humans, especially junk food, instead of "health muck".
The Man: Any grub going? I'm starving.
John: Well... what sort of things do you eat?
The Man: (Angrily) What kind of question is that? What do you think I am, some sort of animal?
- My Little Pony/Transformers: Friendship in Disguise!: Gauge ends up on Pinkie Pie's cooking show and makes a traditional Cybertron dish, which is a casserole filled with metal shavings. Pinkie Pie makes cupcakes, which Gauge finds to be just as weird.
- Strange (2022): Clea and Wong visit the Shrouded Bazaar, a hidden pocket dimension in New York City where magical creatures like elves, fairies, and dwarves come to sell goods and services. Wong orders a "Muspelheim fire-wasp wrap" from a troll to snack on while he window shops. Nearby Clea finds stalls selling vorpal, blessed, and unbreakable swords as she looks for otherworldly coffee, as Earth coffee is Bad to the Last Drop to her. All of things these show how different the hidden magical world is compared to that of the "uninitiated".
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire: When the expedition crew find the titular empire, they're surprised that there are living Atlanteans, and then they eat the food and they question it even further. Eventually most of them get used to the food that crawls down their throats.
- Titan A.E.: During lunch break, Cale and Tec sit down to a company meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Except, being in an outer space scrapyard, the spaghetti is closer to green seaweed, and the meatballs are like small urchins with their tentacles cut off. They're not even cooked to death, as all the ones on Cale's plate hop around in a desperate bid for survival. Not helping is the chief cook, who's a man-sized temperamental cockroach.
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: We're introduced to America Chavez, whose power lets her hop into new dimensions. As she and Strange are walking through one of new dimensions, she explains to him that different worlds have different foods, but most still include some version of pizza — in that world's case, they served pizza balls, a small hint as to how similar and yet so different the two realities actually were under the surface.
- Galaxy Quest: Parodied. The Thermians recreate typical foods from each character's "home planet", so while "Commander Taggart" is given a nice meal of steak and potatoes, "Doctor Lazarus" is given live insects.
Quellek: Enjoying your Kep-Mok blood ticks, sir?
Dr. Lazarus: Just like Mother used to make.
- Stargate: The natives of an Egypt-like desert planet, who are mistaking the visiting earthlings for gods, treat them to a huge banquet, for which the centerpiece is a large lizard. Daniel tries a piece and declares that it Tastes Like Chicken. This shows that while the natives might have a similar culture to Ancient Egypt, it's still a different planet all the same.
- The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear: The inhabitants of the incredibly bizarre 2364th dimension feed on music, which is played on instruments made of milk. To someone from our dimension, it sounds like a horrid cacophony.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey: In the novelization by Arthur C. Clarke, when Dave Bowman inexplicably finds himself in a fancy hotel room towards the end, one of the first things he does is look for something to eat. While there were many familiar pre-packaged foods available such as cornflakes, the boxes all contained nothing but a mysterious blue food. It actually tasted good, though the flavor was indescribable. The only thing to drink was distilled water.
- The BFG: The only food that grows in Giant Country is the icky-poo vegetable, the snozzcumber; and the only drink to be had is Frobscottle, which fizzes downwards instead of up, and causes rude "whizzpopping" noises from the drinker's bottom. This might explain why the giants eat humans; their homegrown stuff is too gross.
- The Elder Scrolls: On the floating city of Umbriel, essentially a chunk of Reality Bleed from the Realms of Oblivion, the high lords have such rarefied palates that they consume only liquors alchemically distilled from the souls of the city's victims.
- Green Magic by Jack Vance: While living in the otherworld of the sprites of the titular Green Magic, a separate and supposedly less primitive realm than that of which humans come from, the protagonist gains nourishment from the same strange things that they do — pink eggs that burst into a hot sweet gas absorbed through the entire body, rains of stinging metal crystals, and even contemplation of specific symbols. When he returns to Earth, the thought of subsisting off of "fried animal tissue and the hypertrophied sexual organs of plants" disgusts him, and he instead devises an inorganic, nutritious liquid to feed on.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy: The cuisines shown throughout the galaxy are consistently bizarre to match the interstellar setting and offbeat, humorous tone of the story. Particular mention goes to the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, a drink so alcoholic that the Guide compares it to a traumatic brain injury, and the meat dish Arthur orders at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (in the book of the same name) that comes from a giant, wrinkled, and casually suicidal bovine humanoid.
- Pâté, a short story taking place in the world of Pact, features the protagonists trying out the top-rated establishment in a village mostly populated by faeries and other supernatural creatures. The food is prepared by a "fleshmongler", and consists of bizarre concoctions of meat, flesh, bone, blood, and other bodily stuffs. One character is served a soup with human teeth as a primary ingredient. For those who manage to calm their stomachs enough to try the food though, it apparently actually is amazingly delicious.
- Prince Star by Anne Dalton: Played with. The titular prince is the son of the Sun Queen and the Moon King, who live on a cloud, and travel around the world by day and night. The young prince accidentally falls down to Earth, and is taken in by an elderly couple; he eats their "strange food" and wears the "rough clothes" they give him.
- Rod Allbright Alien Adventures: The constant reality quakes in Dimension X make it a strange place even by intergalactic standards. However, a giant, floating, macaroni-like food grows abundantly in the sky; it's both a local staple and quite palatable to human visitors.
- Andor: Chandrilan Squigs is a drink served by tossing a live "squig", some kind of worm, into it which causes the drink to fizz and turn yellow. It is noted as a distinctively Chandrilan beverage and several characters indicate that it is gross, at least conceptually with the worm.
- Doctor Who: The show normally avoids showing the cuisine of other worlds, but "Mindwarp" makes a prominent exception when the Doctor visits Thoros-Beta, a colorful rocky planet where most people live in caves. Sil, a native, is repeatedly shown snacking on marsh minnows, a neon-green, newtlike creature that he typically consumes live. In the serial's novelization, the Doctor compares the taste of them to an internal combustion engine.
- The Good Place: It is common for the denizens of the afterlife to eat things that would be considered closer to concepts than food now that they no longer need normal human food.
- Janet's frozen yoghurt store features such flavours as "full cell-phone battery".
- Gen likes to season her burritos with envy.
- Star Trek: Loads of alien races means lots of different alien foods. Probably the most fleshed-out is Klingon cuisine. The food of the Proud Warrior Race Guys is not for the squeamish — most of it is raw. Some of it is still wriggling.
- Bugsnax: The titular Bugsnaxes are giant insects that more than resembles plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, and also processed animal-based foods (including the packaging!) such as hamburgers, french fries, popsicles, snack bags, sushi, pizza, and birthday cake.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- The Bosmer (Wood Elves) are bound to some unusual dietary restrictions due to the Green Pact, a deal they made with their patron deity to never harm the plant life in the forests of their homeland, Valenwood. Because they cannot harm the plant life in any way, they live on an almost strictly carnivorous diet (though it also includes honey, dairy, and mushrooms which do not count as plants), essentially Inverting Veganopia. In order to get around these restrictions, they are also known to eat a variety of insects. Thunderbugs in particular are used along with rotten meat to create the alcoholic beverage "Rotmeth." Additionally, they are known to smoke insects in their bone pipes instead of the usual plant matter smoked by most races. These restrictions are significantly relaxed for Bosmer living outside of Valenwood.
- The Sload, a race of "slugmen" native to the Coral Kingdoms of Thras to the west of Tamriel, are said to serve various molds and fungi as meals. One account even mentions Sload consuming a regurgitated substance from one of their elders.
- A staple food source for the Dunmer (Dark Elves) in Morrowind are a species of social subterranean insects known as the kwama, whose eggs are "mined" and used in a number of dishes. The kwama eggs are very nutritious but apparently have a very sharp and sour taste and gummy texture, which can make them revolting to human tongues, but the Dunmer have developed recipes to make them much more palatable. They also hunt scribs, which are a late larval form of kwama, and are harvested for their meat and jelly, the latter of which has a very sour taste and unpleasant texture without proper preparation.
- Fallout: As a post-apocalyptic setting, most foods in the various games are rather weird, due to a lack of non-mutated plants and animals. Options include hamburgers made from mutant insects, deep-fried angelfish monster, and iguana-on-a-stick. Just make sure you don't order the iguana bits by mistake.
- Final Fantasy XIV:
- The Loporrits living on the moon eat carrots and only carrots. These carrots are each the size of a duffel bag, are packed with all the nutrition one could possibly require, and come in numerous varieties that each elicit a different response from the consumer. For instance, the Carrots of Happiness instill a wave of euphoria in the consumer, while Philosopher's Carrots will, for a little while, open the eater's mind to the secrets of the universe (the number 42 in particular). But the Scions learn that Cookingway expects the people of Hydaelyn to eat nothing else. This emphasizes how out of touch the Loporrits are with the people they were created to safeguard.
- In the last area of Endwalker, the Ea are a Proud Scholar Race who forsook their physical forms to obtain immortality and continue their studies indefinitely. The only sustenance they require is regular bursts of aether that they absorb from a special ritualistic circle. They try to treat the Scions to this, but given that the Ea the heroes encounter are nothing more than recreations formed from the Endsinger's dynamis, there's no aether for them to share.
- Half-Life 2 shows refugees from the Combine's regime living off a diet of headcrabs due to a lack of conventional food sources on Earth following the Black Mesa incident and subsequent Combine occupation. The Lost Coast side story reveals Xen leeches are part of this diet as well, as a substitute for the fish they've preyed upon to the point of extinction.
- Miitopia plays this for laughs, as normal food can be found, only it's treated as rare delicacies that can only be gotten via late game quests or the Roaming Gourmet. Most of the common food consists of things like Frog Juice, soup with a cobra in it, sushi made from spiders, and other weird treats. This shows that while the Miis may seem human, they still live in a foreign world with a foreign culture to our own.
- Pokémon Sword and Shield: Players can cook all kinds of curries while camping. Some of the key ingredients are rather unusual, such as apples, boiled eggs, fresh salad, Slowpoke tails, and a spice implied to have a power similar to the Dynamax phenomenon. The curries are also made from the berries found all over the Pokémon world, with equivalents that would be odd to cook into a curry, such as plums, oranges, and honeydew melons. Ironically, the most normal ingredient of the bunch, rice, is just called "some grain", implying that it's not common in-universe. This all serves in part to remind the player that while the Pokémon world may be an alternate Earth, it's still different enough to have different cultural norms, something that may not otherwise be readily apparent.
- Sands of Destruction: The story takes place in a desert world where the sands are treated just like an ocean, down to having unique versions of real ocean animals. This is first demonstrated when the characters order food like "sand whale" and "sand squid" at a bar, and as the meals continue to be referenced, it's clear they're pretty normal dishes for that universe.
- Super Mario Odyssey: The Luncheon Kingdom, which includes Mt. Volbono, is entirely based around the combination of "volcanic activity" and "food". The world is filled with giant, low-poly vegetables and giant lumps of Swiss cheese that can be chiseled like rocks. The local fork people use these ingredients to make stew, which is boiled in cauldrons heated by pink lava.
- Ultima VIII: Pagan takes place in a world where the equivalent of livestock are the insectoid Kith (in which wild variants were also exist) and pangolin-like (but the size of cows) Torax.
- XCOM: Chimera Squad takes place 20 years after an Alien Invasion resulted in a Vichy Earth scenario, and five years after La Résistance overthrew the alien regime. As a result, humanity finds itself coexisting with former alien Battle Thralls and Half-Human Hybrids, all of whom have very different dietary needs, as alluded to in radio advertisements heard between missions. BIG CRUNCH ("The cereal that writhes!") is made up of gene-tailored larval nuggets that end their dormancy when mixed with milk, but sectoids should never eat it. "NotDogs" are advertised as digestible to every species, but come with a long list of disclaimers such as instructions to not expose them to sunlight, and to throw them away if they turn "the color perceived by humans as blue." Meanwhile, ADVENT Burger has rebranded itself as Burger Palace ("Pending the approval of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission") and is no longer serving Human Resources — instead, its new meals have a "com-patty-bility" guarantee that makes them safe for every species, because if the wrong species tries to eat one, it triggers the patty's flight response.
- "Drawing My SUBSCRIBERS' MONSTERS as FANTASY ARMOURS" by Pop Cross Studios: Discussed. Vasilia Kuznet — a Russian witch who works as a blacksmith in a fantasy world — tells Benny Sharp — an Arms Dealer from New Jersey in a technologically-advanced world of superheroes who makes suits of Powered Armor — about how her brother Vaslo once became so addicted to honey that he killed a man who tried to take it away.
Benny: Whoa! Honey must be somethin' different in this world! Back home, it's just a sweetener made from bees!
Vasilia: "Made from bees"? Is not made from bees, bees make it.
Benny: You don't know my world! Maybe in my world, it's made from bees!
Vasilia: Fair enough.
- Homestuck: The trolls, a race of gray-skinned, horned aliens from planets in an alternate universe to Earth, are implied to make heavy use of insects in their diet as part of their being "not from this world". Elements of their diet include grub sauce, grubloaf (covered with "sweet, tangy mucus"), and tuber paste.
- Unsounded: Kasslyne is permeated with a Background Magic Field to which the local human analogs are bound, and while there are some flora and fauna that overlap with earth's, most are unique and are used to create a different cuisine. Strawberry Fish—which are freshwater fish intentionally infested with a parasitic worm and served uncooked at room temperature fresh out of a tank—are a popular snack. A popular breakfast item is a colorful savory cereal made up of crunchy bits that taste like shrimp and salty biscuits served in warm monny milk topped with monny cheese.
- Burgrrr: The Creepypasta involves a man able to see through the Weirdness Censor surrounding his town's new restaurant, which is serving up transdimensional fast food. Said food is such things as live centipedes, horse's teeth with scraps of gums clinging to them, and nondescript globs of meaty sludge, among other things.
- Looming Gaia: Hunting and eating animals is mostly illegal in Mogdir Kingdom, except for insects, due to a local belief that they have no brains and thus can't feel pain. A good sum of the kingdom's cuisine consists of insects. They also have a giant caterpillar called "pitter" which produces edible silk that is used as a milk substitute.
- Neopets is chock-full of food vendors all over Neopia, each with their own unique types of food based on the culture of the setting. What all of these locations have in common, however, is the fact that much of the food being sold would either be gross or outright inedible in real life. For example, the "desert food" stand includes generic food made of Fantastic Fruits and Vegetables, but they also have a lot of food that is simply made of sand. Meanwhile, most shops in Neopia Central sell "basic" food items like pizza, hot dogs, and baked goods... but those pizza, hot dogs, and baked goods include combinations like the "sour lime pizza," "brain hotdog", and the "French onion soup cake", among others. It's clear that Neopia doesn't even consider these dishes gross, as "gross food" is an entirely separate category.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-261 is a nondescript vending machine capable of dispensing snacks that seemingly come from other realities. Some of these are just regular snacks and drinks in flavors that aren't manufactured, such as dragonfruit-flavored Pepsi, but they can be much stranger. These have included a self-baking loaf of bread, steamed clams of unknown species, and once a drink of some sort that wasn't meant to be opened in an oxygenated atmosphere and exploded violently.
- Amphibia: The titular realm is populated by anthropomorphic frogs, newts, toads, axolotls, and other amphibians, and accordingly, the cuisine enjoyed there are made of bugs. Anne Boonchuy, who is a human, finds the insect-based food that is now her only option for sustenance incredibly disgusting at first, and her starting to not only tolerate the food but also actually enjoy it is one of the first indications that she's acclimating to the absurdities of Amphibia (although it’s implied that it may have been a side effect of her once turning into a bird.)
- BoJack Horseman: Downplayed. The show is set in a world where humans and animals all share the same level of anthropomorphism. Most food is the same as the real world, but the meat is usually oversized due to coming from human-sized animals.
- Chowder: Every episode has the characters cook or eat some wacky food to go along with their wacky, comedically-surreal world. Some are very similar to real-world foods, but with slightly different names and appearances, such as "thrice cream," "grubble gum," and "bluenanas." Others are more whimsical, such as "burple nurples," tiny burping treats. Ironically, all the characters and locations are named after real-life foods. In one episode, Chowder lampshades this by asking why they can't just use yeast to help bread rise instead of a whimsical "toot fruit," and Mung responds, "Because this is Chowder!"
- Dead End: Paranormal Park: While Plane Ten is already demonstrated to be effectively hell and pretty damn weird, when Courtney goes to a tavern there, she orders what appears to be a sapient artichoke. She proceeds to swallow it whole when it offers her friendship.
- Futurama: Played with. Many common foods still exist in the 31st century, but the diverse species population means more alien-like food may casually show up, such as bug legs or horse fries. One episode centers around the Planet Express crew finding a delicious new food on a planet and bringing it back to Earth... only for it to be revealed they're eating infant aliens.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "To Change a Changeling", the changelings — shapeshifting insectoid equines that live in a town-sized hive some distance from Equestria — are seen organizing a lunch consisting of grubs within and without blocks of gelatin, rolls filled with some kind of roe, a snail shell containing some kind of yellow sauce, and a large roasted beetle.
- The Owl House: The Boiling Isles is an archipelago made on a dead titan's skeleton and populated mostly by magical creatures as a result. Beings native to the Boiling Isles eat such things as "fairy pies" (pies made of fairies), and consume "apple blood" as a recreational beverage. In an aversion of No Biochemical Barriers, Luz, being human, cannot digest most of the foods native to the Boiling Isles.
- On Ready Jet Go!, Carrot, a Bortronian, tends to make many odd dishes such as deep-fried lollipops, broccoli ice cream sandwiches, sardine-and-pudding sandwiches, prune juice, caramel-pickle cookies, olive-liver energy bars, and "enchisushisagna." However, the Bortronians' favorite food is the classic three-part Bortronian meal. While it is Palette-Swapped Alien Food, it is still relatively normal and enjoyable to humans.
- Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leo and Donnie take April to Run of the Mill Pizza, a secret pizzeria run by Yokai from the Hidden City beneath New York. When their food arrives, while the Turtles are fine with it, April is thoroughly grossed out at the sight of a pizza topped with eyeball-covered tentacles that talk, and asks if they can just go to a normal restaurant. Leo then points out that as mutants, they can't go anywhere else.
Leo: (With a mouth full of writhing tentacles) What do you mean? What's not normal about this?
- Samurai Jack: A Running Gag throughout the first four seasons is Fish out of Temporal Water Jack getting served something that certainly didn't exist on Earth before Aku took over. In the pilot it was a drink that contained a live clam. However, he seems to have gotten used to it in the fifty year Time Skip between seasons four and five, as he doesn't even react when a bite of sushi temporarily turns his head into a fish.
- Scooby-Doo is known for bizarre food combinations, but those are typically only enjoyed by Big Eaters Shaggy and Scooby. However, in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, a world that we learn is clearly off by the influence of Nibiru, the whole community eats such bizarre foods as Clam Cones. This is one of the first hints that there's something odd about the setting at all, as it's otherwise relatively normal at first.
- Teen Titans (2003): Starfire's alien tastes are quite odd by human standards, and the native Tamaranean dishes she cooks are pretty much inedible for the rest of the team. Special mention has to go to the "pudding of sadness", which is deliberately made to taste bad (Beast Boy implies it tastes like toenails), and is just as disgusting to Starfire as it is for him.
- The Wuzzles takes place on an island filled with Mix-and-Match Critters, and the food they eat also adheres to the show's idea of odd combinations, such as appleberries.