“It tasted of oak and fruit and hot summer nights.”
Game of Thrones has its glaring faults, but as a series based on novels, perhaps the most egregious is that it deprives the audience of George R.R. Martin’s sensuous food scenes. If you’re a fan of the show but haven’t read the Song of Ice and Fire books, you may not know this, but they’re actually not a medieval-inspired political drama — they’re food erotica. Martin is terrific at world-creation, and the greatest of his skills is in describing meals in the most sensual way you could possibly imagine. Ahead, we compiled ten times he’s described food more erotically than sex.
‘Heavy on the Tongue’
Catelyn is one of the most boring characters in all of literature, but here we get a peek into her repressed sense of pleasure as she reminisces about her childhood at the Inn at the Crossroads, on her way back to Winterfell after a brief visit to King’s Landing.
“She still remembered the innkeep, a fat woman named Masha Heddle who chewed sourleaf night and day and seemed to have an endless supply of smiles and sweet cakes for the children. The sweet cakes had been soaked with honey, rich and heavy on the tongue, but how Catelyn had dreaded those smiles.” A Game of Thrones, p. 276
Sansa’s on the verge of womanhood, and on the verge of bursting, and Joffrey’s there to guide her at the feast following the Hand’s Tourney. There’s a theme of encasement in this scene — snails in shells, trout in clay, apples in pastry. Joffrey helps Sansa to “expose the flaky white flesh within.”
“All the while the courses came and went. A thick soup of barley and venison. Salads of sweetgrass and spinach and plums, sprinkled with crushed nuts. Snails in honey and garlic. Sansa had never eaten snails before; Joffrey showed her how to get the snail out of the shell, and fed her the first sweet morsel himself. Then came trout fresh from the river, baked in clay; her prince helped her crack open the hard casing to expose the flaky white flesh within. And when the meat course was brought out, he served her himself, slicing a queen’s portion from the joint, smiling as he laid it on her plate. She could see from the way he moved that his right arm was still troubling him, yet he uttered not a word of complaint. Later came sweetbreads and pigeon pie and baked apples fragrant with cinnamon and lemon cakes frosted in sugar, but by then Sansa was so stuffed that she could not manage more than two little lemon cakes, as much as she loved them. She was wondering whether she might attempt a third when the king began to shout.” A Game of Thrones, p. 290
‘One Taste, and You Will Name Your Child After Me’
What’s your pleasure? Whatever you desire, this wine merchant not only has it, but has the most sensuous version of it. He’s seducing Daenerys into a taste of his wine in the Western marketplace of Vaes Dothrak, just before Jorah reveals that the merchant’s ill intentions.
“Turning a corner, they came upon a wine merchant offering thimble-sized cups of his wares to the passersby. ‘Sweet reds,’ he cried in fluent Dothraki, ‘I have sweet reds, from Lys and Volantis and the Arbor. Whites from Lys, Tyroshi pear brandy, firewine, pepperwine, the pale green nectars of Myr. Smokeberry browns and Andalish sours, I have them, I have them.’ He was a small man, slender and handsome, his flaxen hair curled and perfumed after the fashion of Lys. When Dany paused before his stall, he bowed low. ‘A taste for the khaleesi? I have a sweet red from Dorne, my lady, it sings of plums and cherries and rich dark oak. A cask, a cup, a swallow? One taste, and you will name your child after me.’ A Game of Thrones, p. 568–9
Renly Baratheon is known for his indulgence, and the motif here is excess. Great loaves, mounds, immense hams, and whole wheels of cheese are on the table at a feast following a melee tournament at his camp, while Catelyn is in town for a diplomatic mission to forge an alliance between Renly and Robb Stark.
“Of food there was plenty. The war had not touched the fabled bounty of Highgarden. While singers sang and tumblers tumbled, they began with pears poached in wine, and went on to tiny savory fish rolled in salt and cooked crisp, and capons stuffed with onions and mushrooms. There were great loaves of brown bread, mounds of turnips and sweetcorn and pease, immense hams and roast geese and trenchers dripping full of venison stewed with beer and barley. For the sweet, Lord Caswell’s servants brought down trays of pastries from his castle kitchens, cream swans and spun-sugar unicorns, lemon cakes in the shape of roses, spiced honey biscuits and blackberry tarts, apple crisps and wheels of buttery cheese.” A Clash of Kings, p. 262
‘They Spent Long Afternoons …’
Margaery has arrived in King’s Landing and taken Sansa’s place as Joffrey’s fiancée, but for a short time, they’re friends. The eroticism here is in the intimacy of eating together. It demonstrates how small gustatory indulgences help construct treasured, private moments between close friends.
“The cousins took Sansa into their company as if they had known her all their lives. They spent long afternoons doing needlework and talking over lemon cakes and honeyed wine, played at tiles of an evening, sang together in the castle sept … and often one or two of them would be chosen to share Margaery’s bed, where they would whisper half the night away.” A Storm of Swords, p. 221
‘Spices Heat the Blood’
In Dorne, food is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Here, Ser Arys Oakheart, Myrcella Baratheon’s guard, has been seduced by the wild and wanton Arianne Martell, heir to the throne of Dorne.
“Remember, she is Dornish. In the Reach men said it was the food that made Dornishmen so hot-tempered and their women so wild and wanton. Fiery peppers and strange spices heat the blood, she cannot help herself.” A Feast for Crows, p. 236
Tyrion and Sansa, now husband and wife, attempt to survive the sumptuousness of the 77-course feast after Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding.
“Serving men ladeled out bowls of blandissory, a mixture of beef broth and boiled wine sweetened with honey and dotted with blanched almonds and chunks of capon. Then came strolling pipers and clever dogs and sword swallowers, with buttered pease, chopped nuts, and slivers of swan poached in a sauce of saffron and peaches.” A Storm of Swords, p. 821
‘Blossoming in Her Mouth’
Petyr Baelish has whisked Sansa off to his holdings in the Vale after Joffrey’s assassination, where he provides her with all the earthly comforts she desires.
“The wine was very fine; an Arbor vintage, she thought. It tasted of oak and fruit and hot summer nights, the flavors blossoming in her mouth like flowers opening to the sun.” A Storm of Swords, p. 931
‘Just the Thing for a Wet, Cold Night’
After Sallador Saan’s fleet is wrecked by storms, Saan abandons Stannis’s cause. Davos is forced to row to shore, where he’s greeted by Lord Godric at Breakwater. Almost nothing ever seems to work out for Davos, but at least he can take pleasure in this amazing stew.
“The beer was brown, the bread black, the stew a creamy white. She served it in a trencher hollowed out of a stale loaf. It was thick with leeks, carrots, barley, and turnips white and yellow, along with clams and chunks of cod and crabmeat, swimming in a stock of heavy cream and butter. It was the sort of stew that warmed a man right down to his bones, just the thing for a wet, cold night.” A Dance With Dragons, p. 128
‘Aged in His Deep Cellars’
This excerpt is basically a climax. It touches on everything Martin does well with food: evoking color, scent, and texture; describing largeness (fat-bottomed, deep, hills, slabs, great wide pies stuffed to bursting!), and indulging his characters’ appetites as they gorge on the wedding feast for Ramsay Bolton and “Arya Stark” at Winterfell.
“The Lord of White Harbor had furnished the food and drink, black stout and yellow beer and wines red and gold and purple, brought up from the warm south on fat-bottomed ships and aged in his deep cellars. The wedding guests gorged on cod cakes and winter squash, hills of neeps and great round wheels of cheese, on smoking slabs of mutton and beef ribs charred almost black, and lastly on three great wedding pies, as wide across as wagon wheels, their flaky crusts stuffed to bursting with carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, mushrooms, and chunks of seasoned pork swimming in a savory brown gravy.” A Dance With Dragons, p. 493