The Gourmand's Guide to Neopian Dining: Meridell
My Neopets and I have been around Neopia more than a few times, exploring exotic lands and immersing ourselves in varied cultures and atmospheres, and one of the foremost things we've noticed is: there is a lot of food out there. In our travels, one of our favourite things to do has been to indulge in each world's unique culinary traditions. We scout out the best restaurants, shops, and chefs, test their mettle, and come away feeling gastronomically enlightened—and really, really full.
With the realisation that such things are nearly as much fun to write and read about as to experience first-hand, my pets and I have decided to compile these guides to Neopian cuisine, by world, restaurant, or individual as our experience (and variety of items available) allows.
Each article begins with an overview of a culinary tradition, including its history and what recent developments in Neopia have done to influence it. Next is given a travelogue-esque description of the kinds of dining experiences one can expect when encountering this fare. Finally, we will describe a list of dishes we found particularly interesting (and delicious).
Not only will these articles be useful for planning trips to the region, but our hope is that the reader will be given a brief respite from everyday cares as they escape into a cultural food fantasy for a while. Bon appétit!
The kingdom of Meridell is the subject of this Gourmand's Guide. While bearing a cursory resemblance to the baseline cuisine of Neopia Central, due to historical ties between the two regions, Meridell's cultural differences have lent a distinct flavour to its traditional foodstuffs.
As a country whose leading industry is agriculture, produce plays a central role in Meridellian cooking. With the wide range of seasons Meridell's temperate climate bestows, its residents rely heavily on seasonal fruits and vegetables, and thus the contents of their table spreads shift throughout the year.
Wheat and barley are the traditional grains of Meridell, and as a result bread is ubiquitous. The art of baking bread is one passed down through generations of farmers, while in villages and the castle town, some families specialise in it. In fact, Neopia Central's own Breadmaster is a son of one of these baker families who has struck out on his own to take the art in new directions.
Potatoes are undoubtedly the best-known source of Meridellian starch, thanks to Potato Counter and its Extreme variant. This staple crop is so important that during the Kass Wars, potato fields were deliberately targetted by Draconian troops, who knew that destroying this keystone food would destabilise the entire way of living for the nation. So profound is the Meridellian reliance on potatoes that they have become a cultural icon, appearing in such works as the Potato Tapestry, the Illustrated Potato Codex, and the epic poem The Lay of the Tuber Knight.
Along with Meridell's agricultural dependence comes the twin industry of dairy production. Cheesemaking in particular is such a time-honoured craft that each village may have its own heirloom variety of cheese. When the Cheese Maker set out to create Cheeseroller, he gathered these varieties from all over Meridell and made them centrally available near Meridell Castle—the catch being that one must succeed in a game in order to take home a cheese wheel. Those who are not inclined toward the rolling of cheese down hills may be better off touring the countryside for the cheeses' regions of origin. (The writers find this activity to be far more rewarding, anyhow.)
Meat's presence in Meridellian meals is largely dependent on the economic status of the diners. For the peasantry, meat is a rarity due to lack of time for hunting, and the need to use livestock for other resources such as milk, eggs, and wool. Most farmers' protein intake instead comes from peas and other legumes.
Sausage is the most common form of meat in the countryside, due to its thriftiness and ability to store well when smoked. Moving down the spectrum, many villages have a butcher, allowing town-dwelling Neopets a more reliable, if pricey, source of meat for holidays and special occasions. Only the gentry and nobility can afford meat at every meal.
Most visitors to Meridell will find their dining experiences at inns, whether in the castle town or smaller villages along the highways. These establishments house and feed travellers, but serve the dual purpose of being a town's hub. On nearly any given evening, the bottom floor of an inn will be filled with Neopets mingling over bowls of hearty soup and thick chunks of bread.
When dining here, expect a loud, lively experience filled with laughter and song. Pull up a chair and swap gossip and complaints about the weather with the old regulars, or cast furtive glances at the wandering strangers who prefer to sit in dark corners and sup alone.
If one is in Meridell visiting a member of the nobility, meals will be quite different. Those who stay at Meridell Castle or in the hall of a lesser lord will be treated to feasts that go on for hours, as they are also a prime form of entertainment. Musicians, dancers, or jesters will put on performances while you eat, and your fellow diners might burst into impromptu ballads as well. The conversation will often last until the great hall's blazing fire has gone down to embers.
Those used to Neopia Central-style dining may be shocked to observe how Meridell's etiquette superficially resembles that of Tyrannia: all solid foods are eaten with the hands, not silverware. This might be terribly unhygienic if not for the basins of magical cleansing water found at every table. This water comes from lakes and ponds inhabited by Water Faeries, and even the remotest of farmsteads has a Water Faerie living nearby who can be petitioned for such a service.
Instead of plates, Meridellians dish their food onto large, round slices of bread called trenchers. The trencher absorbs the food's sauces and can then be eaten afterward—or given to a begging Petpet beneath the table. In fact, it is from these trenchers that a food more familiar to residents of Neopia Central evolved: the sandwich.
Nowadays, increased contact with other regions of Neopia has allowed Meridell's cooks to branch out with new ingredients and methods of preparation, and the upper classes enjoy a diversity of food not experienced before. For the simple farmers who keep the country fed, however, traditional home-cooked meals are still the norm.
It is only fair to briefly discuss some outstanding examples of Meridellian cheeses, the ones you simply must ask for if attempting to play Cheeseroller. Alkenore Cheese is smooth and mild, almost sweet in its flavour, as befitting the Faerie Petpet whose milk it comes from. Brick Cheese is so named because of its crumbly firmness—and because, it is claimed, its robust, tangy heartiness will leave you feeling full in no time. Bubbling Blueberry Cheese contains blueberries which have stained this soft cheese into its characteristic colour; it's perfect for spreading on toast. Spicy Juppie Cheese incorporates Mystery Island peppers for a little extra kick.
Blancmange – A delicious sweet dessert made of lots of milk and sugar
A quintessential Meridellian dessert often found on the tables of banquets. Something like a custard in texture, it has a delicate taste courtesy of almonds and rosewater. An old folktale has it that its creator claimed she was inspired by a journey to an entire land made of similarly gelatinous desserts, but this is unquestionably a flight of fancy.
Butter with Roll – Why put butter on your dinner roll when you can just do the opposite?
Butter is a staple fat in Meridell, used to add richness and palatability to otherwise meagre and bland dishes. Farmers only have so much to go around, so the Butter with Roll is a delicacy limited to the upper classes. Among the gentry, corpulence is seen as a desirable trait which indicates wealth, manifested in the ability to feed oneself and one's house well. To those who hail from more health-conscious cultures, such an excess of lipids in the diet may be seen as unappealing.
Indeed, the butter in this dish entirely overwhelms whatever flavour – and nutritional benefits – the roll might contain. However, Butter with Roll is also one of King Skarl's favourite dishes, so if you are privileged enough to be dining at his table, know what to expect.
Chunky Meaty Stew – A filling stew made with large chunks of whatever is left over from the castles kitchen.
The kitchen of Meridell Castle is legendary, in both its size and scope. King Skarl holds massive banquets nearly every night, and his kitchen is well-equipped for such constant productions. But what happens to the leftover food? Rumour has it that Skarl himself eats whatever is left on the table. While that tidbit of gossip might have a grain of truth to it, in actuality, a large portion of the leftovers are transferred over to this thrifty stew, which is then charitably given to the poorer population of the castle town.
The most interesting thing about Chunky Meaty Stew is how the ingredients vary from meal to meal. If you get a helping with Ummagine in it and you dislike Ummagine, never fear! Tomorrow's stew might be laden with delicious marrow! As the name suggests, however, meat is always a key component of this dish, providing the lower classes with sorely needed protein and fat.
Designer Blackened Potato – Burnt means done, right?
At first glance, this looks like an ordinary overdone potato. Upon closer inspection, though, one can see that an intricate design has been etched into the potato's skin. While one might take this to be some sort of marketing ploy by unscrupulous food dealers, in actuality, decorating blackened food is a time-honoured Meridellian tradition.
These foods are used to provide variety and decoration at a meal, and carving designs into blackened potato skins is an activity enjoyed by rural youth every Day of Giving. Perhaps not the most elegant tradition, but farmers know how to make do with what they have. And, as a matter of fact, the food is still mostly edible once the blackened bits are removed.
Giant Shish Kabob – As tasty as it looks, the shield is actually decorative so we wouldnt recommend eating that part.
This food assortment on a skewer is a prime example of how Meridell has historically borrowed culinary elements from other lands of Neopia. In this case, the shish kabob is a grilling method from the Lost Desert. Cultural exchange between Meridell and the Lost Desert was limited until several centuries ago, when the beleaguered kingdom of Khamtef sought Meridell's help in a war. The campaign lasted for twenty-two years, during which time Meridellian soldiers gained a fondness for aspects of Lost Desert culture—especially the food.
Although Khamtef ultimately lost the war, the troops who returned to Meridell brought with them a desire to emulate their favourite Lost Desert dishes at home. Most popular of these was the shish kabob, an exotic and efficient way of preparing food, and one which Meridellian knights found their long, straight swords especially handy for.
Golden Stalk – Nothing but the most golden Broccoli for King Skarl!
It is no secret that the King of Meridell enjoys certain foods that are off-limits to the lower classes, as a sign of his being set apart from regular citizens. The Golden Stalk is a highly venerated ceremonial food, created by some long-ago Earth Faerie during the founding of Meridell. The seeds from this plant are kept in a special repository by the castle gardeners, and it can always be found growing in the gardens, even in the depths of winter (probably a side effect of its magical provenance).
As part of the coronation ceremony, each king and queen of Meridell must eat a Golden Stalk as a symbol of their acceptance of the crown. Afterward, a bowl of Golden Stalks is placed in front of the monarchy at every supper. Of course, actual taste varies from person to person, and King Skarl is actually not that fond of the vegetable unless served with his favourite spicy cream sauce.
King Skarl Mashed Potato Tribute – A tasty tribute to King Skarl. Mmm... Potatoes!
This rather whimsical use of mashed potatoes was first documented during a JubJub Day feast at Meridell Castle in Year 13, when a bored young viscount decided to play with his food and ended up sculpting it into the likeness of his king. Skarl was so pleased with the results that he promoted the viscount to an earl on the spot. Perhaps in an attempt to duplicate his success, this dish became all the rage across Meridell for a season before dying down, although reports from the castle have it that Skarl still orders it for his table every supper.
Gruel – A nourishing bowl of gruel is great for a famished Neopet.
Without a doubt, the most ubiquitous food item in all of Meridell is gruel. Consisting of nothing more than boiled grains (usually oats, wheat, or barley), gruel is often breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the peasantry. This fact has earned it a fair bit of infamy in Neopia at large, as gruel is seen as a symbol of poverty and desperation.
This reputation is actually ill-deserved, as gruel is simply an efficient way to access the vital carbohydrates and nutrients within grains. It is the fuel that feeds the farmers who work so hard to supply Meridell and its outlying areas with produce. It could be said, really, that this humble food is what keeps the entire kingdom running.
So give a cheer for gruel and give it a try! It's really quite tasty with some cream and honey stirred in, and fresh berries sprinkled on top.
Meat Skewered Meat – What is better than skewered meat? Why, meat skewered meat, of course!
Unbeknownst to many a noble who feasts on this extravagant protein source, this particular method of preparing meat was actually pioneered by the Werelupes who live in the mountains between Meridell and Brightvale. Master hunters who incorporate large amounts of meat into their diets, Werelupes roast their catch over open flame, giving it a distinctive smoky flavour. The rare few who have managed to curry the Werelupes' favour brought knowledge of this cooking technique back to Meridell, where it caught on.
Pick Your Own Berries
Meridell is famed for its enormous berry diversity—some varieties stranger than others. Legend has it that ancient magic in the soil causes the stranger berry breeds to grow. Aquaberries are in high demand during the summer months because of their high juice content, coupled with a near lack of flavour which makes them convenient packets of liquid refreshment. Brown Broadberries are high in fibre which makes them a filling, stick-to-your-ribs meal that holds up well to cooking. Eyeballberries are in high demand in the Haunted Woods, for obvious reasons, but are actually quite sweet past their off-putting appearance. The intense colour of the Voidberry hints at its deep, rich flavour with just a hint of tang.
Plum Pudding – Despite the name, it actually doesnt contain any plums...
Every Day of Giving sees a plum pudding on even the most humble table, as it is a traditional holiday luxury that many families save all year to afford. Contrary to expectations, the pudding gets its name from its deep red colour and round shape, resembling a plum. It is actually a savoury pudding topped with a fruit glaze, bringing a sorely needed bit of festive cheer to the bitter Meridellian winters.
Regulation Meridellian Rations – Its probably got potatoes in it. Everything in Meridell has potatoes in it.
What to do to feed the knight on the go during a long march or a week of intense training? In olden times, extensive kitchen crews would have to travel with Meridellian troops in order to supply them with necessary food, supplemented by individual foraging and hunting. The invention of Regulation Meridellian Rations came after a military gastronomist visited the Virtupets Space Station, bringing back her research on food synthesis and preservation techniques.
With her culinary breakthroughs, the Meridellian army was suddenly able to augment mess tents with tidy little packets that fit a week's worth of nutriment into one knight's satchel. While the taste leaves something to be desired, these condensed food bars are packed with carbs, protein, and a special blend of essential vitamins and minerals, making them effective meal replacements.
And they are, indeed, potato-based.
Stone Soup – A low calorie alternative to all those creamy soups.
Stone Soup is at the center of an old Meridellian folktale about a Tyrannian who travelled to the region during a great famine. The Tyrannian offered to teach the reigning king a recipe for a special soup made with magic stones from his homeland. All he needed to make this miracle soup was a cauldron of hot water—and an advance payment of one million Neopoints.
Desperate to save his people, the king paid the Tyrannian, who proceeded to place the stones in the water and chant a mysterious incantation. The Tyrannian told the king that the soup would need to cook overnight, but in the morning it would be a hearty stew. Then, he left town while people shouted his accolades.
In the morning, the king tasted the soup—and discovered it was still just water with rocks in it.
To this day, a common idiom in Meridell when someone is being tricked is to say that person is "cooking stone soup".
Vegetarian Stuffed Courgette - A nutritious courgette shell stuffed with cream of courgette and various veggies.
The courgette, a smaller cousin of the marrow, is a summer squash that sees copious use in Meridellian cuisine. This elegant dish makes excellent use of it by using it as an edible bowl to hold a hearty array of vegetables in a puree of courgette pulp. For many farming families, this is part of a standard meal during autumn.
Here ends our brief overview of Meridellian fare. We hope it whetted your appetite enough to go and try some of these foods yourself!