When I bought George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, I didn’t intend to devour the first book in a three-day nerd fest. After all, Game of Thrones, the super-popular HBO show based on the books, is a full-on fantasy of dragon eggs, sword-fighting, decade-long winters and half-naked slave girls. And while the show has been nominated for 13 Emmy awards, reviews have been a mixed bag.
But as I read Martin, it became clear to me that this story was far more complex and nuanced than the show’s reputation as geeky soft-core porn. And what really stood out in this very magical place was...the food! Sure, the Stark family’s stony Medieval castle is a mysterious labyrinth of mossy, frozen rocks, but its air is “sweet and cold as a winter peach.” And while I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the architecture of this treacherous mountain staircase leading up to a sky castle, I knew the road snacks were kebabs. Obviously. Because it turns out the Game of Thrones world is full of familiar dishes and ingredients.
While we can’t always identify with these ice kingdoms and horse-riding armies, Martin makes their pleasures immediately recognizable—a slice of strawberry pie and a glass of honey-sweetened milk. In fact, by the time I finished the book, it didn’t seem so strange that Gilt Taste’s own boss lady is something of a GoT super fan (don’t tell her I told you!).
Maybe it’s because imagining the flavors of a dragon roasting on a spit is too much—a suspension of disbelief that even fantasy readers aren’t willing to make. Maybe the familiarity of the foods Martin chose are key to the book’s wild success (I actually think it’s the compelling narratives and interesting female characters). But either way, within the first hundred pages or so, I found myself craving a joint of roasted meat and a great big beer...
That’s when I found Inn at the Crossroads, a food blog that imagines and creates the recipes from Game of Thrones. I love how the blog divides recipes by regions and styles the dishes accordingly—Bantam and Random House love it too. The two women behind the blog have scored a book deal and these days they’re busy developing recipes at the home they share in Boston. I caught up with Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer just after they’d experimented with one of their most adventurous recipes to date: honeyed locusts. “We sauteed the freeze-dried crickets in butter until crispy, then drizzled them with spiced honey. It was better than we expected, but we won't be craving it anytime soon.”
Though they freestyled it for the honeyed locusts, they often consult Gode Cookery—a site that expounds on the difference between a 14th-century recipe for apple pie and a 16th-century one—and a number of historical cookbooks. So when picky commenters scoff at the inclusion of modern ingredients like sugar in this Medieval world, the girls might retort with a fact about the booming sugar industry in Medieval Cyprus. Then again, they might not. Much like Martin, Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer toe the line between historical accuracy and fantasy. “Okay,” sighs Chelsea, “so curly endive probably wasn’t around, but our modern bean and bacon recipe is seriously delicious!”
It is. I added a generous glug of olive oil, some fresh herbs, and a tartine of grilled, garlic-rubbed bread to make it a meal. And with that, sadly, my Game of Thrones weekend came to an end.