The importance of food in the Game of Thrones novels
In A Song of Ice and Fire, food is as important as most of the characters
If there’s anyone who knows how to set a scene with food, it’s George R. R. Martin. His hot pies, creamy soups, sweet Dornish summer wines and frosted lemon cakes all help to transport us to the medieval world.
Many of the most memorable moments in his novels unfold around great feasts. Numerous weddings, tournaments, travels, places and people are described through food.
When the characters are about to eat, the author uses this to describe the circumstances of the scene.
In chapter five of 'A Game Of Thrones', there’s a feast held in Winterfell because of the royal visit. Because of his bastardy, Jon Snow eats at the end of the hall with the squires, instead of eating with the rest of his family and the king.
Across the narrow sea
Another good example is Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding in chapter eleven of 'A Game of Thrones'. Here, the Dothraki’s customs, manners, and traditions are very present.
As Illyrio tells Daenerys, a Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered dull. Thankfully, this wedding was exceptional – with a grand total of twelve deaths by the end of the day.
The Red Wedding
Probably the most important meals in the whole saga. This chapter is quite special because the food gives you hints of what is about to occur. For a wedding, we'd usually expect a big feast with several delicious dishes – but here the characters are served “mounds of mashed turnips that were cold before they reached the table, jellied calves brains, and a leche of stringy beef“.
The Purple Wedding
The biggest, most sumptuous and extravagant feast in the novels is King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell’s wedding in 'A Storm of Swords' (also known as 'The Purple Wedding' by the fans). 77 dishes are served to the guests, including: a pastry coffin filled with pork, pine nuts, and eggs; peacocks served in their plumage, roasted whole and stuffed with dates; buttered pease, chopped nuts, and slivers of swan poached in a sauce of saffron and peaches; and a hot, spiced pigeon pie covered with a lemon cream. While all these dishes are being eaten, the action continues. We can see the story from many characters points of view (Tyrion, Sansa, Cersei, Jaime), since this feast, which lasts a day in Westeros, unfolds over several chapters in the book.
Meanwhile, in other parts of George R. R. Martin's world, we have other characters like Arya, Jon, and the Brotherhood Without Banners, who need to hunt, cut and dry their meat to survive. This way, Martin creates a contrast between those who eat for pleasure and those who eat due to need.
In the Riverlands it gets worse, where an enslaved Theon Greyjoy is forced to choose between eating rats or being eaten by them.
Finally, while the War of the Five Kings leads to a shortage of food along the seven kingdoms and the coming of winter, some characters' last resort is cannibalism. Some Stannis soldiers start eating human flesh while marching south. The Stark kids, while in their wolves' skins, eat human flesh too. Even in Flea Bottom we can see a 'bowl of brown', a dish whose ingredients are not mentioned (though the use of dead bodies is suggested).