This essay appeared a couple of years ago in the Smart Pop Books release Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. It was a chance to set down in detail some random thoughts that had occurred to me while rereading the books, or cooking. (If you want to read the article, you should use the above link fairly quickly, as the essay will only be available until March 22.)
…Somewhat later, while Shasta’s being held by the royal Narnians who think he’s Prince Corin, he is given a meal “after the Calormene fashion. I don’t know whether you would have liked it or not,” Lewis says, going on to describe a very acceptable hot-weather lunch of whole lobster and chicken-liver pilaf (though admittedly the snipe stuffed with almonds and truffles might give some people pause) with any number of ices and some cold white wine. But the writer’s enthusiasm seems a little muted. One also has to consider in this context the less-than-positive references to the garlic-and-onion smells of the marketplace in Tashbaan, contaminated by their nearness to “unwashed people, unwashed dogs . . . and the piles of refuse.” The “no-garlic-please-we’re-British” phenomenon was a very late Victorian development that took a good while to be shaken off, and there was also a general lack of experience with the more Mediterranean cuisines.
Lewis didn’t get down that way himself until rather late in life, and the at-home-British take on such food was pretty desperate until the great English food writer Elizabeth David came along and started showing people how to get it right. Either way, the “foreign” Calormene food never really compares positively to the Narnian, which is largely based on historical (or recent-memory) British cooking. You have to wonder what Lewis would have made of the modern Britain, where the number one favorite dish is chicken tikka masala.