The Seven Meals:
Sodish Food Ways
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Last week I introduced you to the idea that, in the desert metropolis city-state of Soda Fountain, they eat seven meals throughout the day as the default, instead of the three that we think of as the default in America. This is due in part to the fact that relurian days are longer than our own, as well as the fact that these seven meals tend to be individually smaller than our three, and also the fact that there's no law of the universe that says the default number of meals in a day has to be three.
I introduced the first of those seven meals, aleo and its variant aleo rishpetl. This week I'll take you through the remaining six. But first...
A Word About Folkways and the Lower Classes
I mentioned last week that the seven meals in their purest form are limited mostly to the Sodish upper classes. I should elaborate, however, that, even though the rest of the Sodish people don't necessarily adhere to the forms and of these seven meals, seven is still the culturally accepted default. Just to make that clear!
And now, on to the meals!
Variv – The (Appetizer to the) Second Meal
The second meal is taken in two parts. The first part, variv, is taken in the midmorning. It's a cold meal, highly informal, and usually the lightest and often the shortest meal of the day. It is typically taken alone or with whomever is close at hand. Its purpose is purely to assuage hunger, slake thirst, and grant the body and the mind a short reprieve from toil. Many choose only to drink or will abstain altogether and simply rest or relax. Some people, particularly those who have stationary, sedentary jobs, even take variv at their proverbial desks, without interrupting their underlying activity.
If one goes out, variv is taken wherever one can find a hot kettle, a friendly kitchen, or any eatery. Tea is very common, as are milk and juice. Fresh fruit, where available—like nearly all produce in the Sodaplains—is frequently enjoyed, or preserves on crackers. Another popular choice is cold sausage sliced very thin, or a paste made from undesirable animal parts and spiced, also served cold, on crackers.
The closest American equivalent is the coffee break, though there's an important distinction here: Variv isn't a corporate concept. It is a very old custom, recognized as a formal meal, and has its own system of cultural accommodations and practices. In the streets of the city, musicians often come out to play music during this time. Variv is a popular time to play short games, such as cards, or to exercise, or to engage in the city's popular pastimes of calligraphy, poetry, or letter-writing. Those whose schedules permit will sometimes take variv in a park, while strolling, or at the eponymous Soda Fountains.
(For those wondering, the Kingdom of Soda Fountain is so named because the springs of Soda Fountain, which supply the city its water, are effervescent. The City has enclosed these springs under a great dome and built spectacular fountains upon them, so that people can come in and escape the sun, to marvel at the incredible waterworks or bathe in sparkling or flat water—a real luxury in the desert. These fountains are the pride of the people.)
The history of variv and its sequent, va variv, is a fascinating one: Originally there was no division; variv and va variv were one. They split in two because the meal served two competing purposes: rest and relaxation and a quick nosh on one hand, and important civic business on the other. As time passed, these two pieces grew quite distinct, until today they are related in name only.
Ultimately, variv is one of the most economical Sodish meals in terms of time spent. Relancii days are significantly longer than Terran ones, so there's more time to devote to any specific daily tradition, but even so variv is usually less than an hour.
Va Variv – The (Proper) Second Meal
Va variv is taken about two hours before midday. Unlike variv, va variv is significant enough that people will usually completely interrupt their activity in order to partake. Va variv is usually an "out" meal: The food or bever is typically purchased at a dining establishment, often in portable fashion, to be carried to a sunroom or windowed lounge, a park or terrace outdoors, or some other airy place.
Va variv is a cold meal, and serves two purposes. Foodwise, it serves as an appetizer specifically meant to boost the stomach's anticipation of the third meal. In practice va variv could consist of anything relatively light, but as a matter of tradition sour fruit juice and spiced tea are imbibed, and preserved fish eaten. Seafood is one of the greatest browlifters in Soda Fountain, yet the demand for it is so high that it's actually fairly readily available—at least in preserved form—throughout the year, mainly from Davoranj. Preserved in salt and oil, and sometimes pickled, the fish is rinsed and served with a spicy sauce called jannah that produces heat on the tongue—which, if the fish is properly cold in temperature, makes for a delightful contrast. The dish itself takes on the same name, jannah, and is understood through context. Only a modest portion is consumed, as the point is to whet the appetite rather than sate it.
Culturally, va variv is the meal of the day first and foremost devoted to civic issues and obligations. (It is also frequently used as an overflow for domestic commitments that cannot be fit into the time constraints of the upcoming third meal.) It is typical, for example, for important meetings and discussions to dominate conversation at va variv. The Peers—the richest nobles who, in a sense, govern the city—typically hold public forums at this time, as do many other councillors and officers. It is also a frequent occasion for the exchange of news, and of lively debate.
Variv has no direct translation into English. The literal translation is "replenishment," but the best interpretive translation would be "needy," except with a connotation focusing on hunger. The concept to which it refers is self-deprecating; a rueful acknowledgment (of a somewhat cynical premise) that the viutari constitution is weak and prone to hunger, and must therefore be reinforced often. Neither Sodish culture nor its Imperial antecedent are typically ascetic in tone, and the answer to how this name caught on to begin with has since been lost to time. In practice of course, as with the other meal names, variv and va variv are understood through context, not etymology.
Va is a word which can mean "second," "more," or, in this case, "again."
Va variv is sometimes referred to as lior leja, with lior meaning "the beginning of (something larger)." (Leja is an abbreviation of the third meal; see below.)
Mele Jamn – The Third Meal
The third meal is taken anytime within the first few hours after midday, usually closer to the end of that spectrum. In absolute terms, this is the longest and most self-contained meal of the day. Sometimes it is also the largest meal, especially in winter.
Most people typically go home (or to someone else's home) for mele jamn, and it is considered a "private" meal. At its most formal, mele jamn is taken in the presence of a large company, in a home's best dining room or hall. The setting is usually one of multiple tables made of wood and metal—wood being a luxury in the Sodaplains—with comfortable furniture, ornate dishware, and fine utensils. In larger houses there will be separate rooms for eating and socializing during this meal. Less formally, it often looks a lot like what we call a Sunday dinner. Mele jamn is a hot meal, universally so. If there were only to be one hot meal out of the entire seven, it would be this one.
As far as the cuisines go, the degree of splendor and surfeit depends to a large extent on the context, the prosperity of the family, and the time of the year, but the meal is not considered a success unless one comes away thoroughly full—the first such meal of the day. The spread is buffet-style, and people are free to choose from a wide offering of food and drink. Unsurprisingly, this is the second of the day's three "glutton's meals."
The social occasion of mele jamn is considered excellent for revisiting neglected or fringe acquaintances, spending time with one's spouse or children, hanging out with friends, bonding with a lover, and so on. At a larger ado, there will be live music and entertainment, and at smaller gatherings the diners will often make their own music.
The head of the household, or whomever else is the social superior in the room, will typically open mele jamn, and later conclude it, with a few remarks or a small lecture. Prayers are also common, especially among the more religious households. Many people also use this opportunity to bring questions, comments, and concerns to the heads of their family and other family members. Important domestic meetings and discussions often take place during this time. These so-called "importances" are not only directed toward the enterprise(s) of the family, but toward the enrichment of one's personal life and that of the family. Mele jamn is thus the most common occasion to make major decisions regarding purchases, career, and marriage.
On rest days, holidays, and festivals, mele jamn takes on even greater importance, and can extend its hours so as to cannibalize adjacent meals.
What happens after the eating and socializing usually depends on the season of the year: In winter, when the daylight hours are fewer and the midday temperatures mild, most Kindred societies organize the waking day into one continuous segment; during this season, the mele jamn meal in Soda Fountain is often a bit lighter and people may well go back to work afterward. For most of the year, however, the middle of the day is often punctuated by a heavy nap. During these seasons, mele jamn frequently marks the end of what we would think of as the workday proper. The meal is heavy, meant to induce sleep, and people will afterwards sleep through the heat of the afternoon. For those who don't sleep or go back to work, this time is given to other purposes, such as spending time with family or friends, domestic chores, artistic pursuits or entertainment, various forms of recreation or sport, or sex.
Jamn refers specifically to the heat produced by a warm-blooded being, and mele to the euphoria of being full after eating—or, as we know it in English, having had a meal "hit the spot." Together, mele jamn has the figurative meaning of "the fulfillment of the nature of the body." In such a hot world (yet also at times extremely cold, as deserts can do), heat takes on a special meaning, and it is not lost on the Sodish people that their own bodies are natural heat sources. In this way, life, eating, and procreation are all tied together by the idea of warmth.
Mele jamn is often abbreviated to leja, using the ending characters of the first word and the beginning characters of the second, and Leja is a popular given name.
Oro – The Fourth Meal
The next three meals of the day are treated as three different stages of the same meal, collectively called "Kís Barakís." Oro is the first and largest of these. This is the late afternoon meal, taken after the day's energies are spent. Excepting the fast of sleep, the afternoon gap between the fourth and fifth meals is often the longest period of the day between meals. Despite mele jamn's generous portions, therefore, the oro is typically met with a hungry welcome.
Oro is a hot meal, and widely adopted throughout Soda Fountain. As an "out" meal, people often go to restaurants; however, it is also commonly taken at home. In larger homes during the warm seasons, it is taken in what's sometimes called a shaded dining room, a veranda protected from direct sunlight. Despite occurring within two or three hours of sunset, this is still a very hot time of the day, and the custom is to dress in light, flowing garments or entirely in the nude—the point being to wear as little clothing as is comfortably possible. This style of diminished dress causes some sexually conservative households to either ignore the fashion or segregate the sexes during this meal—and the most severe households segregate the sexes during most meals of the day—but in general the Sodish regard nudity during oro as nonsexual. There are even some public restaurants and other dining establishments that allow diminished dress.
The food and drink served at oro are modest in comparison to mele jamn, but hearty compared to most of the day's other meals. A filling spread of meats, breads, pastas, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, sauces, candies, and pastries is customary, and this is the most traditional meal of the day for carbonated beverages from the city's fountains. Alcoholic beverages, wines and beers and spirits, are meant to be taken to the lucid brink of inebriation, slightly warping people's rigid mental faculties. Numerous exceptions exist, especially for those with the alcohol allergy, but when alcohol is not taken then any of several spiced teas are drunk.
Singing and especially dancing are popular at oro, particularly in the winter months when things are cooler and moving around isn't quite such a sweaty proposition. In the summer, bellydancing and other sensual dance forms prevail, in which, customarily, all sexes participate.
Oro has no English equivalent. Literally, it means "family," but in Soda Fountain there are several words for "family" due to the many different kinds of relationships that exist in the city. In this case, the word is self-referential, referring to the bond created by sharing many aoro together.
Sharkosa – The Fifth Meal
The fifth meal, the second meal of Kís Barakís, is taken roughly two hours after oro, and is thought of as a dessert meal. In viutari anatomy, a satisfying meal will often generate an "after-hunger" impulse roughly two hours later. These pangs are ignored when they occur following mele jamn but are indulged after oro, with this meal. Sharkosa consists of leftovers from oro, and also features originally prepared desserts and refreshments. Cakes, creams, pastries, cheeses, and cookies mark the heavier fare, while lighter options include fruit and candy. The meal often carries a connotation of rummaging, so quite often people prepare their own snacks.
The main value of the meal is social: It is a time for thoughtfulness at day's end. Sharkosa frequently coincides with the evening twilight and its aftermath, just as aleo concurs with the morning twilight. Also like aleo, it is considered both a "private" meal and an "out" meal, though there is no named variant like aleo rishpetl. If eaten at home, sharkosa is usually taken in the evening rooms of wherever an individual will be sleeping that night, or in the same shaded dining room as oro.
Sharkosa is a fine time for storytelling. Whether these are anecdotes of the day's events, or old family tales, or pure yarns, the tradition of narration is quite strong here. Fires are lit as the hour grows dark, and minds are free to wander. The meal concludes either with a final story, or with a round of songs, ushering in the end of the evening and the commencement of night. It is considered tasteful to be able to perform no further labor in the day after sharkosa.
Sharkosa means, literally, "(I desire to) re-experience."
Fahroe – The Sixth Meal
The sixth and final meal of the majuscular day (i.e., the primary waking interval of the day, sometimes divided into the antemeridian and postmeridian majuscular day), and the last of the three meals of Kís Barakís, fahroe is taken just before bedtime. This is a cold meal, and typically very brief—the briefest of all the meals except sometimes for variv. It is taken either in the dining lounge (like aleo), or in the evening rooms. The individual who so desires will customarily consume a few last pieces of something from oro that is high in nourishmentâ€”usually fatty meat with bread. Creamy, sweet drinks, cold or hot, wash down the food.
Fahroe are one of Relance's most commonly-raised livestock animals, similar to sheep on Earth in that they are utilized both for their nourishing flesh and dairy products as well as their thick coats, which are sheared for use in garment-making. The sixth meal takes its name from them due to the fact that fahroe meat is commonly consumed here.
Kís Barakís refers to the custom of annual body fat storage. Most Relancii societies do not have a sufficiently ample food supply to ensure year-round nonscarcity. This is the historical norm, and the viutari body has evolved, like many other animals, to naturally gain weight during the summer and autumn, and then burn that weight during the winter and spring. The metaphor, then, is to eat the largest meal of the day—Kís Barakís, so large that it requires three separate meals to contain it—before bedtime, so as to hold a person through the lean period of the night—here analogous with winter and spring—until aleo comes again.
Flame – The Seventh Meal
Flame occurs during the bright seasons of the year (though sometimes also in the winter), as the sole meal of the minuscular day. Due to the length of the relurian day (132 percent of our own tellurian day), the viutari body is optimized for dividing a single calendar day into several interspersing segments of sleeping and waking: The main waking portion, or majuscular day, is what we would consider simply "the day" here on Earth. During the brighter seasons, many Kindred societies divide the majescular day with a midday nap, not unlike the Spanish siesta, except longer and more restful. Meanwhile, during the darker seasons there is a counterpart to this: the sleep of the long night is often punctuated by a short waking period, called the minuscular day. We have this here on Earth, especially prior to the advent of electrification, but on Relance it is longer and more distinctive. This midnight waking period is associated with many curious customs, and virtually all Relancii societies mark it with the meal of flame.
Culturally, flame is one of the most diverse meals of the day. It is a private meal; very few people go out (though there are some). It is considered a hot meal, though practices vary widely and many do not do any special cooking for flame.
Flame is often accompanied by conversation, and sometimes light domestic chores. Most people try not to work too hard physically, as this can disrupt the resumption of sleep.
Unlike the other six meals, the name of flame can uncontroversially be given in English, since the meal's meaning is simple: The tradition of flame arose from the need to give the body food to be able to generate heat throughout the night, which in many Relancii societies is equated with bodily heat. So, the name is quite straightforward in its metaphor.
This meal is farthest removed of the seven from its adjacent meals, and constitutes the third of the day's "glutton's meals," as appetites often run sharp at flame, which, though easily appeased in most cases, can lead some to great indulgence.
And that's the seven meals of Soda Fountain. Similar variants exist throughout the Sodaplains as well as in the Empire and parts of the Middemesne, making this one of the main families of meal customs on Relance.
Join me next week when I'm going to update the site to features all of my Curious Score compositions (and ancillary compositions) to date, in preparation of a new piece of music the Saturday after that.
Until then, may your next meal be a thoughtful one.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!