To Seek Out Strange New Worlds ... and Eat Their Foods
The J. J. Abrams–helmed Star Trek movie opens tomorrow. As I was reading up on the new installment, I came across this line in the Wikipedia entry: "Another reference to Abrams' previous works is Slusho, which Uhura orders at the bar she meets Kirk at."
That reminded me that food and drink is depicted routinely in the Star Trek franchise—across ten movies and six TV shows. There's no doubt—or at least, I hope—that there will be food references in the 11th movie, which will feature Romulans, Vulcans, Orions. As a refresher, I thought I'd take a look at what passes for serious eats in these alien cultures. Join me on this mission, won't you?
Romulans: Huge Drunks Fond of Tart Candy
The biological cousins of the Vulcans, Romulans are devious, paranoid, and militant.
The Romulan Star Empire has been at odds with the United Federation of Planets since before the Federation's inception in 2161, and was in fact the catalyst for the Federation's formation. By 2379, however, relations between the Romulans and the Federation had warmed somewhat.
A Romulan named Nero is the villain in the new movie, traveling from the future to destroy the Federation before it gets off the ground.
Any Trek fan worth his or her salt (included in Starfleet emergency rations, by the way) knows that Romulan ale is one of the most widely referenced food-and-beverage items in the franchise. It's an ultrapotent blue drink that reportedly results in instant drunkeness. [After the jump, recipes for Romulan ale, Klingon bloodwine, and why Vulcans hate barbecue.]
Science fiction often holds a mirror up to contemporary culture, critiquing its practices, politics, and mores. So, too, with Romulan ale. Because of the United Federation of Planets' standoff with the Romulan Empire, the drink is illegal within the Federation—much like Cuban cigars are in the U.S. But like the captains of industry of today, captains of starships indulge in this vice. As Kirk said in The Undiscovered Country, the routine violation of the embargo is "one of the advantages of being a thousand light years from Federation headquarters."
Its proper Romulan name may be kali-fal.
Recipes: There are several recipes out there for Earth-bound Romulan ale.
- Jumbo Romulan mollusk: a delicacy that appears to be served over rice, with perhaps scrambled egg
- Osol twist: A very tart candy first mentioned in Deep Space 9 episode "Image in the Sand"
- Viinerine: A military staple, it first appears in TNG episode "Face of the Enemy"
Vulcans: They Don't Like Barbecue
You know what the Vulcans are all about--ultra logical, emotionless, intellectual, cool under pressure. Their food seems equally bland, too, and from what I can remember in all my years of watching Trek shows and movies, there hasn't really been a standout dish that's mentioned again and again in the way Romulan ale is.
Most Vulcans are vegetarians, and while it would be easy for other folks to take a swipe at the veg lifestyle, I've had pretty damn good meatless meals--so there's no excuse for lame food in the Vulcan repertoire.
A little digging shows that Vulcans are absolutely prissy when it comes to food and drink. First of all, alcohol reportedly has no effect on them (even though they do produce spirits on the planet Vulcan). And this doesn't sound very appealing--according to Memory Alpha, "Vulcans have a superior metabolism to Humans. Caffeine and sapotoxins have little effect on them. They are also capable of surviving for long durations without food or sleep."
Oh, and they don't touch food with bare hands, unless using special gloves. This means that Vulcans would hate (if they could hate--emotionless, remember?) Buffalo wings, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches of all kinds. And barbecue would make them spaz--again, if they could spaz.
Anyway, let's engage...
- Brandy: Alcohol supposedly does not affect Vulcans, so Vulcan brandy may be used for ceremonial purposes or for export only
- Gespar: Some sort of breakfast food
- Jumbo mollusk: Related to the Romulan jumbo mollusk
- Mocha: You'd never guess that this was a coffeelike beverage, would you?
- Plomeek soup (Plomeek broth): A bland breakfast soup. In the original series (TOS), Spock threw a bowl of it at Nurse Chapel while he was going through his pon farr (crazy, horny mating period)
- Plomeek tea
- Pok tar
- Vulcan port: Again, Vulcans are supposedly immune to the effects of alcohol... You know, I really love Memory Alpha. It's so geeky and thorough. Its entry on Vulcan port goes into AOC/DOC territory, noting that a port wine is techinally from the Douro Valley in Portugal and hence Vulcan port probably "is a colloquialism, which suggests that the production of Vulcan port, and the production of Vulcan alcoholic beverages in general, are an imported practice not native to Vulcan culture"
- Redspice: Helped make a dish so tasty that Chief Miles O'Brien (DS9) asked for the recipe
- Vulcan spice tea: Seems like it was Captain Janeway's (Voyager) version of Earl Grey
- Vulcan tea
Orions: Watch Out, Boy, She'll Chew You Up
You know when casual Star Trek fans refer to Captain Kirk getting with green alien women? Well, he only encountered one such alien. She was an Orion, a race little seen in the franchise.
As Wikipedia notes, "Not much has been revealed of Orion culture. Orion pirates often harassed and attacked early Earth cargo ships. Stock for the Orion slave trade is obtained mostly through kidnapping of other species. If slaves don't command a high enough price at auction, they can be sold as food."
Sadly, Klingons Are Not Part of This Movie
J. J. Abrams reportedly wanted to focus on Romulans as the bad guys instead of Klingons, since Romulans are less well-known.
And, because Klingons eventually ally with the Federation and became heroes later on in the Trek universe, Abrams didn't want to show them in their earlier incarnation as Federation enemies.
Still, while in the rabbit hole of Memory Alpha, I couldn't help look at their cuisine, since it appeared regularly in TNG and DS9. Here are some of my favorites.
Along with gagh, this is probably one of the best known Klingon foodstuffs. Served warm, it's an alcoholic beverage that you probably don't have the conjones (or whatever they call them in Klingon) to consume. Jonathan Archer (Enterprise) was the first human to give it a go. According to Memory Alpha, Lieutenant Commander Worf "liked his young and sweet," which sounds kinda dirty. Also according to Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Cookbook seems to suggest it's made with fermented blood and sugar.
Recipes: If you want to go really nuts and make an Earth-bound version, here's a recipe for fermenting your own Klingon bloodwine that uses 10 to 15 packs of unsweetened Cherry Kool-Aid. Wow. Sounds almost as potent as the actual stuff from Qo'noS. If you're too much of a bIHnuch for brewing your own, the Klingon Imperial Diplomatic Corps has a number of cocktail-based Bloodwine recipes.
Update: Eugen Beer of Coldmud points out that buy' ngop, which would translate to "That's good news!" literally means "The plates are full" in Klingon.
Other Klingon Food and Drink
- Bahgol: A warm tealike beverage. Well, not too different from humans ...
- Bregit lung: Spoke too soon. Bregit lung is not actually a respiratory organ but a dish of reptilian animals. Commander Riker (TNG) professes to like it. (Of course, Riker would--didn't he try to impress a Klingon female in one episode with his love of gagh?) Bregit lung is often eaten with grapok sauce
- Gagh: A Klingon delicacy--live serpent worms. "Allegedly, the actual taste of gagh is revolting and it is eaten solely for the unique sensation of the gagh spasming in one's mouth and stomach in their death throes." But the real question is, Would Andrew Zimmern eat it?
- Gladst: Finally, some vegetable matter. I was beginning to get worried about Klingons' regularity
- Klingon martini: Neat. It's a bit of cultural fusion--vermouth, gin, and a dash of bloodwine
- Pipius claw: Looks like chicken feet. I doubt it tastes like chicken, though
- Racht: A big bowl of live worms
- Raktajino: The rare Klingon foodstuff that humans enjoy. Probably because it's a coffeelike beverage
- Rokeg blood pie
- Targ: A type of Klingon herding animal. Eating heart of targ is believed to instill courage in a warrior, and the milk of the creature is apparently consumed as well
- Zilm'kach: Some fruit to round things out
Video: Klingon Food Critic
This really weird fan video of a mock Klingon newscast has the anchors tossing it to a Klingon food critic who reviews popular Earth foods. I think it's supposed to be funny. It's not, really, but it is oddly compelling and--what's the word?--oh, yeah, warped.
Star Trek Cookbooks
Lastly, there are a couple of Star Trek cookbooks, if you really want to replicate the food of the universe here on Earth.
There's the prosaically named Star Trek Cookbook, by William J. Birnes and Ethan Phillips, whose character, Neelix, could often be found cooking in Star Trek: Voyager (his feragoit goulash is known across 12 star systems, after all).
And the Official Star Trek Cooking Manual has a cool spin on things, written as if it's Nurse Christine Chapel's recipe book that was somehow transported to the present time. As Memory Alpha notes, "The introduction includes what is purportedly a food synthesizer algorithm for Dr. McCoy's favorite dish; in fact, it is FORTRAN source code for a program that prints the message, 'CHICKEN 3.14159 SKEPTIC.'" Whatever that means.
Close the Channel
When I started poking around for info for this post, I thought it would be a quick one. But, crap, I've pretty much spent all day tooling around various Star Trek sites, with Memory Alpha being a huge help and awesome resource. I think I now know more about Star Trek food than anyone should. Tomorrow night, though, I think I'll skip the osol twists and get a big bucket of popcorn--it's a Terran snack made from dried corn kernels that are heated until they burst, commonly eaten slathered with butter at movie theaters during the 20th and 21st centuries.
Live long and prosper.
10:41 a.m., 5/8/2009: Jason Kottke linked to this today, saying, "Oddly, my only complaint is that (somehow) his piece isn't long enough. Adam, you didn't even get in to 'Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.'"
I know, Jason. I would have loved to have included Picard's iconic food-replicator order, but I had to limit the scope of this post somewhat or I could have spent weeks in the food quadrant of the Trekiverse. I figured focusing on the aliens encountered in the Trek reboot was a fine way to do that.
As it is, I'm relying heavily on Memory Alpha. Going any deeper into ST food, I'd just basically be aping what they've done on their awesomely extensive database of food and drink across the entire franchise.