The Dunmer race in ESO can be divided into two distinct cultural groups. One being the Indigenous Ashlanders and the other being the city and town dwelling Dunmer. When talking about the major foodstuffs of these groups, it’s important to keep them separate, as the city Dunmer have a great deal of Imperial influence to their cuisine where the Ashlanders appear to keep to more traditional cuisine.
Despite the separation, there are a few shared foods between both groups. Saltrice and Kwama, in its various forms, especially eggs, are something all Dunmer incorporate into their cooking.
As meats come only in generic terms, all Dunmer eat poultry, white and red meat, game, and small game. Though the sources of these meats are different from other regions in Tameril. Dunmer pulls their meat sources from the local animals, which all appear to an outside observer like myself to be lizard and insect-derived fauna.
Now here is where we start to see a divide in preferred foodstuffs. Ashlanders will eat Nix-hounds, guar, a verity of fish, and mud-crabs. This is what we can pick up from not only recorded recipes but also from examining the food preparation in the Ashlanders camps.
City Dunmer doesn’t appear to eat many kinds of seafood, though there is a recorded crab recipe for the Redoran. Examining the City Dunmer kitchens and pantries, we see meat sources that are not local. Pheasants, ducks, and geese are among the exotic foodstuffs we see. There is a noticeable lack of fish found here. This is clearly explained by the City Dunmer’s access to a wider variety of trade items than the Ashlanders, who are known to be reluctant to deal with outsiders. .
Beyond meats there are several other reoccurring foodstuffs in the City Dunmers’ recipes; melons, seasoning, cheese, pumpkin, tomatoes, greens, flour, radish, potato, Jazbay grapes, garlic, beets, carrots, Frost Miriam plant, perfect roe, scrib jelly, Namira’s rot, Imp stool, and lemons. We can add Bananas to the mix as well, but only when dealing with the southernmost reaches of Dunmer influence, again showing a cultural mixing between the Dunmer and their southern neighbors.
Outside fo the city, we lose the exotic ingredients such as cheese and flour for the most part and many melon dishes. We see the incorporation of more Ashyams and pumpkin to the diet. Though there is evidence of a cheese and bread plater associated with Ashlanders, though it’s such an outlier, it’s authenticity is questionable.
Another distinct difference between Ashlander and City Dunmer cooking is the concept of ‘plated’ meals versus one-pot meals. Ashlanders favor meals that can be cooked in large pots, possibly communal, and eaten with fingers or dipped bits of bread. There is an Ash Yam Loaf recipe and is probably the common bread type among the Ashlanders. Its main ingredients are Potato (Ash Yam) and Flour (unspecified type, but possibly local wild Whickwhaet).
City Dunmer seems to prefer meals that separate ingredients and are served on individual plates or bowls. They are eaten with typical utensils, knife, fork, spoon, along with an individual drink as opposed to a water skein. Again this appearers to be due to the embracing of outside cultures’ influences.
Now, this all is mostly learned via interacting with the game world. Stepping back slightly and looking at player interpretation of Dunmer food and food culture expands our understating of City Dunmer cooking, while not really expanding Ashlander foodways much.
There is in-game precedence that Dunmer food is considered very spicy. There is also some precedence that Ashlander food is often seasoned with ash, specifically volcano ash. The game only provides “seasoning” as a generic catch-all category, however showing in-game spice markets with a variety of spices. These spice markets aren’t represented in Dunmer territories, and it’s entirely possible these markets only came into game-reality recently with a newer expansion for Northern Elsewyr. It could also be the games subtle way of showing the difference between food being Heat-Spicy versus being Seasoning-Spicy, ie, chilies vs. curry.
With only “Dunmer food is spicy” and the 27-ish in-game recipes, players and ESO scholars have worked diligently to recreate the ‘taste’ and ‘flavor’ of Dunmer cooking, trying to find a real-world comparison to use aa guides. This has led to some very inters ting discussions about Who the Dunmer are based on IRL.
To my knowledge, ESO officially has never said who or what culture is based on in the real world. Which I think is smart as they appear to take elements from several cultures and weave them together to create a new in-game culture that is *almost* recognizable but still distinct on its own.
Speculation has picked several good IRL influences for the Dunmer. Two cultures that are regularly picked are Japanese and Indian food culture. This is based on the cannon spiciness of Dunmer food and the prevalence of rice dishes, bread, and bugs.
The bugs need a bit of explaining.
Kwama and Nix, the two major meat sources on Vvardenfell, are both fairly insect looking, though both drop either poultry or red meat. Scribs, which are the larva of Kwama, and Kwama eggs, are their own substances. Scribs producing Scrib Jelly and jerky and the eggs being used much like eggs IRL. So it’s not really that Dunmer *eat* bugs, as it is, their food sources look like insects.
That being said, it’s not uncommon for IRL food cultures to incorporate bug and larva into their diets. Who likes shrimp? Yeah.
So, what we’ve looked at here is the major foodstuffs available to the Dunmer and Ashlander food cultures. What we’ll look at next time, is the recipes themselves, both in-game, official cookbook, and player-made content.