Food it the center of most societies. It binds families and groups together. What is eaten and when, determines patterns of distribution and agriculture. Why people eat it says much about them as well.
This piece organizes various food related threads and posts. You can learn a great deal about a people learning about their food and food traditions. You can also express a great deal to your players through food and food traditions.
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Tapas, or "little plates," are Spain's national culinary passion. At first glance, they may seem similar in appearance to hors d'oeuvres and appetizers (at least in portion size), but the tapas ritual is more than just food enjoyed with drinks or before a meal. It is an indispensable part of daily Spanish life.
Eating tapas is part of the tapeo, the daily congregation to eat, drink wine and socialize, starting at midday and continuing into the night. Food and conversations go together. In fact, one should not think of tapas bars as "bars" in the English/ American sense. They are more like conversation establishments; with topics ranging from the topical to the serious - lottery, bullfighting or local politics." Spaniards traditionally go to tapas bars or tascas before meals to meet friends, converse and people-watch, usually "tasca-hopping" for several rounds of small plates and drinks before settling into the evening's chosen restaurant.
The tapas tradition is believed to have originated more than a century ago in Andaluca, Spain's sunny south, where a clever barkeep is said to have started placing slices of cheese or ham on top of drink glasses to keep out the dust and insects. Hence the "tapa" term, which means "cover" or "lid."
The practice quickly caught on with Spain's other little bars to eventually become a social staple wherein small plates were passed around and shared communally with drinks. This tapas tradition spills over onto the other regions of Europe as well. Thus Europeans will often eat small plates of food with drinks before a meal.
(Based on Article by Tiffany Owens on link:
The following was taken from a letter to Lord Coornistan from his brother Lord Hubret concerning Lord Hubret's recent visist to the Parslexburgs. Lord Hubret was advising his brother on living conditions and the cutlures of the Burg's inpreparation for the forth coming Crusade. The plan was that Crusading forces would be marshalled at the burgs and then depart from the Burgs to liberate the Noric lands.
Food: Soup! Soup in a bowl! Soup is served at both the meals they take during the day. Not served in a trenchant of bread, but in a earthen ware or wooden bowl and it is eaten with a miniature ladle. This soup course seems to be so important to their sensibilities that no meal can be served without. This was true even when staying in the field. And as mentioned before they only eat two meals a day, they do not break fast but take only a midday and evening super. Which is not to say their mouths are ever lax, if not flapping out a long disgusting speech; they are constantly eating. They pick all day at bits of cold food, either carried with them in a small sack or purchased from one of the constant harassing criers.
But they do sit at table at least once day. There are no songs at these tables, and they sit all, men and women, around the tables. The tables worst of all are positioned in the middle of the room. This means that the servants have to approach you from behind to refill your goblet. I damn near killed a half dozen serving wenches and porters during my stay. But Gods be Wise, and I learned a few things while at these meals.
As I said before the meal starts always with a soup, even when I spent two days on the road with a Parslex caravan. And the soups is always so strongly flavored that you cannot taste the meat, but instead taste what ever ancient weed they chose to boil in milk, oil or butter that day. Then once you have your food on the table one of the other guests will ask you a question. This is not a challenge, it is fact what is considered polite in the Burgs. But if they are use to outsiders they will either ask each other questions or sit their as nervous as a treaty wife on her wedding night. Breaking the silence with toast or tails does little to put these peasants at ease. So it is best to have a question. If there is music at the meal you are not expected to join in either with voice or clap, but instead continue to act as if fellows at the table are more interesting than the bard (who will be in front of you if you are lucky). Most horrific of all, after the soup they bring out the meat, which must have been on ice block since last winter since they always cover the meat in some sort of sauce or bake it in some type of bread. Our camps would best served by buying livestock and grain, and keeping our kitchens next among the tents.
Sushi is identified so strongly with Japanese culture by most Americans, that they can not seem to seperate the two.
Sushi, at its most traditional, is vinegared rice, usually topped with other ingredients, including fish, various meats, and vegetables. Outside of Japan, sushi is sometimes misunderstood to mean the raw fish itself, or even any fresh raw-seafood dishes.
The word sushi itself comes from an archaic grammatical form of a word that is no longer used in other contexts; literally, sushi means "it's sour."
What has become a Japanese culinary art with delicious flavor and colorful form, actually evolved from very meager beginnings.
Begining in the 7th century, sushi arose out of a way of preserving food. Fish was placed in rice and pressed in a form. It was then allowed to ferment, which allowed an individual to keep the fish edible for some time. The rice was thrown away and the fish was eaten when needed or wanted. NareSushi is 1300 years old and refers to the finished edible product resulting from this early method.
However, due to its lengthy process, anywhere from 2 months to a year, an altered form appears through the 15th and 16th centuries. Namanare refers to this more rapid process of pickling which cut the fermentation time while including the rice as part of the meal. Ancient sushi such as, Naresushi and Namanare were the foundation for what later became the delightfully tasteful sushi we are familiar with today.
Improvements through the centuries came about because of a few entrepreneurial Japanese who possessed the knack for recipe variation. The 17th century saw this delicate finger food complimented with vinegar. Matsumoto Yoshiichi of Edo (Tokyo) introduced the use of rice vinegar into the sushi rice. The vinegar was a welcome ingredient. It served to reduce the usual lengthy preparation while adding a pleasant flavor of tartness. Although the process of fermentation was shortened, the custom of aged pickling with the boxed or rolled method was continued until the 19th century.
In the 1820's Hanaya Yohei of Edo (Tokyo) brought to Edoites a recipe most similar to what we are served today. His morsels, which included Sashimi (fresh sliced raw fish) or seafood combined with the vinegared rice, were prepared and served for customers directly from his sushi stall. Not only did Hanaya introduce raw fish to sushi rice (Edomae-Sushi/Nigiri-Sushi), he began a tradition of serving snack food at it's freshest and fastest. His idea won immediate favor over the more time-honored sushi dishes. The portable stall was popular through WWII and was the "Fast Food" predecessor to the sushi bars of today.
After World War Two, the sushi stalls were shut down and moved indoors, to more sanitary conditions. More formal seating was later provided (the first iterations were merely an indoor version of the sushi stalls) and sushi changed from fast food to a true dining experience. Sushi spread around the globe, and with the advent of the promotion of seafood, this unusual style of serving fish was quickly adopted by western cultures, always eager for something new, especially something that had grown as sophisticated and unique as sushi.
The terms "Itamae" and "Shokunin" are used as a title for the chef. "Itamae" refers to a skilled sushi chef, while Shokunin means simply someone skilled at a profession.
A little about eating Sushi in a "proper" way.
Arriving and being seated
It is polite in any restaurant to greet the host or hostess, who may greet you with the traditional "irasshaimase!" which means "please come in." And in most sushi places, as opposed to Japanese restaurants, they yell it out. Sometimes it is the entire staff. You just need to acknowledge their greeting and are not required to say anything back, other than to answer the questions about your evening (seating, etc).
If you are interested in watching your food preparation or conversation with the itamae (sushi chef), ask to be seated at the sushi bar, otherwise a table is fine (and the bar better left for those who would prefer the interaction).
If you are seated at the sushi bar, only ask the itamae for sushi. Drinks, soup, and other non-sushi (or sashimi) items are handled only by the waiter/waitress.
Ask the itamae what he would recommend, never "is that fresh?" as it is insulting to imply that something may not be. If you think it may not be fresh, you shouldnt be eating there, however a good itamae will steer a diner towards the food he feels will be most satisfying and highlight his skills.
Respect the itamae, he is often quite busy. But feel free to engage him in conversation if he is able. This is also a good way to build a rapport with him and you may reap the rewards later as a regular (I really have with one particular itamae at one of my favorite places).
Keep your palate in mind and order accordingly. It is impolite to leave food on your plate after your meal or act as though a particular item is "gross" if you dont like it.
You may be offered a hot, wet towel (called an oshibori) at the beginning of your meal. Use it to wash you hands and try to fold it back neatly the way it was offered to you before returning it.
Do not rub your chopsticks together. When not in use they should be placed parallel to yourself on the holder (if there is one) or on the shoyu dish. They should also be placed there when finished with your meal.
Dont be afraid to ask for an item not on the menu as the sushi-ya may have special or seasonal items that are not listed. It is perfectly acceptable to ask, and often the itamae will appreciate your interest.
Dont put wasabi directly in the shoyu dish. Nigirisushi (fingers of rice topped with fish or another topping) comes with wasabi placed under the neta (fish) by the itamae, and reflects what he feels is the proper balance of wasabi to fish. Some of us like a little more, and you can always sneak some separately on the fish or with it.
It is OK to eat nigirisushi (sushi) with your hands. Sashimi is only to be eaten with your chopsticks.
Pick up the nigirisushi and dip the fish (neta) into your shoyu, not the rice (which will soak up too much shoyu). The rice is like a sponge, and too much shoyu will overpower the taste of the food and could also lead to the rice falling into your shoyu dish and making soup, which is not a good thing.
Do not pick up a piece of food from another persons plate with the end of the chopsticks you put in your mouth. When moving food like this use the end you hold, which is considered the polite way.
Eat nigiri style sushi in one bite. This is not always easy (or possible) in North America where some sushi-ya make huge pieces, but traditional itamae in Japanese sushi-ya will make the pieces the proper size for this. In North America, try your best and dont worry if they wont let you.
Gari (ginger) is considered a palate cleanser and eaten between bites or different types of sushi. It is not meant to be eaten in the same bite as a piece of sushi.
Slurping noodles is OK, less so for soup, but a bit is fine, at least by Japanese standards.
In more traditional sushi-ya, if you are not given a spoon for your soup, do not ask for one. You are expected to pick up your bowl to drink the soup, using your chopsticks to direct the solid pieces to your mouth.
Its nice to offer a beer or sake to the itamae (but of course not required). He may remember you and treat you well upon subsequent visits.
Never pass food to another person using chopsticks as this is too close symbolically to the passing of a deceased relatives bones at a traditional Japanese funeral. Pass a plate instead allowing an individual to take food themselves.
Also, never stick your chopsticks in your rice and leave them sticking up. This resembles incense sticks and again brings to mind the symbolism of the Japanese funeral and prayers to one's ancestors.
Technically one doesnt drink sake with sushi (or rice in general) only with sashimi or before or after the meal. It is felt that since they are both rice based, they do not complement each other and therefore should not be consumed together. Green tea is a great option with sushi or sashimi.
With alcoholic beverages, it is considered customary to serve each other (if not alone) instead of pouring one's own drink. Be attentive of your fellow diners glasses and refill them. If you need a refill, drink the remainder of the beverage and hold the glass slightly and politely towards a dining partner.
Sake is available both chilled and hot, depending the quality and style. Experiment to learn what you like, but generally, higher quality sake is served cold. And some is quite good as well as sophisticated.
Belching is considered impolite at the Japanese table, unlike some other Asian cultures.
"Kampai!" (empty your cup) is the traditional Japanese toast you may hear. Do not say "chin chin" as to the Japanese, this is a reference to a certain male body part best left out of proper conversation.
If you can, find a sushi boat restaurant. Along the eating counter, there is a small "river". On said "river" there is a small flotilla of boats. The Itamae will prepare each boat and set it into the water. Each place has its own traditions. Some just slip them in the waters, others have a cry Uusually there is eis Each boat will have one to three plates on it. Each plate will have one to three pieces of Sushi and be a specific color. You collect the plates of all the things you eat. The color of the plate determines the price. I do recomend that you check the price of plate before you begin. If you eat your fill of this delicious fare, you could wrack up an huge bill.