What do your characters eat? Food is an important part of any culture, so it’s a good way to ease some authentic atmosphere into a book’s settings.
I was reminded of this as I finished re-reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris this weekend. They are set in Bon Temps, a fictional town in northwest Louisiana near Shreveport. Most people hear Louisiana and think of the food associated with New Orleans and Cajun country, but once you get out of the New Orleans-to-Lafayette belt, Louisiana cuisine is simply Southern. So the non-vampires in the Sookie series eat Southern. They eat a lot of casseroles because if a Southern isn’t able to fry and batter something, she’ll put it in a casserole and drown it in cheese and cream of mushroom soup. Southerners eat a lot of chicken fingers, because all Southern chickens have fingers. We eat biscuits, because no self-respecting Southerner would publicly eat wheat toast.
In my first New Orleans novels, my characters mostly bemoan the things they can’t eat because Hurricane Katrina has shut down all the restaurants. They eat a lot of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), which were provided by the military. I still have some MREs in my closet in case really hard times ever fall again. The main thing I learned about MREs, and which my characters note in the book, is the bizarre combination of foods in them. Lasagna, crackers, Tabasco sauce, mustard, and a muffin might be a typical combination. Say a prayer for our troops.
In the second book, New Orleans has bounced back, so my characters eat what you might expect–po-boys, muffalettas, beignets, red beans. Their meals help set the rhythm of the story, and the cuisine helps establish their place.
Want to make a quick muffaletta at home? It’s easy. Take a round Italian loaf and half it horizontally, smother the bottom in a thick combination of deli meats (usually prosciutto, salami and mortadella), top with slices of provolone cheese, then pile the whole thing high with olive salad (if you don’t want to make your own, Progresso makes a perfectly good bottled version), and toast. The toasting part is optional. Central Grocery in NOLA, which claims to have invented the muffaletta, doesn’t toast theirs. My favorite places to eat ’em (Napoleon House in the Quarter and Franky & Johnny’s uptown) do toast them. Cut the megastrosity sandwich into quarters and serve. [If, unlike me, you enjoy cooking, you can make your own olive salad by mixing green and kalamata olives, pickled vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, garlic and capers–mix, chop coarsely, and let it mingle in the fridge for a day or so.]
By the way, for my review of the tenth Sookie novel, Dead in the Family, click HERE–the Southern Fried Gothic site is still a month or so away from officially going live, but I’m starting to prepopulate it.
So, what do your characters eat?