The Taste of Home

The Taste of Home by Cora BuhlertOnce, Anjali Patel and Mikhail Grikov were soldiers on opposing sides of an intergalactic war. They met, fell in love and decided to go on the run together.

Now Anjali and Mikhail are trying to eke out a living on the independent worlds of the galactic rim, while attempting to stay under the radar of those pursuing them.

Mikhail is on his way home, an anniversary present for Anjali in his pocket, when he suddenly finds himself irresistibly drawn towards an unremarkable storefront and comes face to face with his past.

Meanwhile, Anjali is preparing a special anniversary dinner for Mikhail, only to find that he is late to come home.

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Some background information:

  • This is a story of 9300 words or approx. 32 print pages in the In Love and War series, but may be read as a standalone. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • The Taste of Home was written during the 2018 July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2018. However, while most published works to come out of the July short story challenge were single stories, The Taste of Home actually combines two stories written during the challenge, since the Mikhail and Anjali segments were originally written separately as “The Taste of Home” and “Anniversary Dinner”, until I realised that they were actually two halves of the same story.
  • Like many July challenge stories, the two stories that make up The Taste of Home were inspired by a writing prompt. In this case, it was one of Chuck Wendig’s writing prompts where the task simply was to write about food. That prompt was certainly fruitful, since it inspired four different stories during the 2018 July short story challenge. I also combined the food prompt with another of Chuck Wendig’s writing prompts which was simply to write a space opera, which resulted in an In Love and War story.
  • Since Mikhail has food issues due to his deprived childhood, he seemed like the ideal protagonist for a story about food. What is more, Mikhail not just lost his home and his family with the destruction of Jagellowsk, he also lost his entire culture and that includes food. Mikhail can’t even eat his favourite childhood dishes again, since there is no one left who knows how to make them. But even though the vast majority of the survivors of Jagellowsk were children under twelve for reasons explained in Evacuation Order, there also were adult survivors, people who were not on Jagellowsk when the planet was destroyed. Natalya Shepkova, whom we meet in Evacuation Order and later briefly in Freedom’s Horizon is one of them. And at least a few of those Jagellowski expats would have opened a restaurant somewhere, serving the cuisine of a dead world. And so I decided to let Mikhail stumble upon a Jagellowski restaurant on the rim.
  • Since the people of Jagellowsk are descended from Russians who left Earth centuries, if not millennia ago, it makes sense that their food traditions would be Russian as well. So I thought back on my experiences with Russian cuisine and quickly remembered a memorable dinner at Restaurant Bellevue, a more than one hundred years old Russian restaurant in Helsinki, which I visited during WorldCon 75. The food served at Restaurant Bellevue is largely based on the cuisine of Czarist Russia and therefore fit the theme of food from a lost world. And so the Restaurant Demirdova in the story is very much based on the real world Restaurant Bellevue in Helsinki.
  • Initially, I had intended to give Mikhail a full meal. But describing a full meal takes time and The Taste of Home was still a short story written under the time constraints imposed by the July challenge. What is more, Mikhail would not have a full meal elsewhere, while Anjali was waiting with dinner for him at home. And so I settled for just letting Mikhail enjoy a pot of Russian tea. Which is doubly poignant, for while tea is not exactly rare in this universe – though more common in the Empire than in the Republic – hardly anybody makes or serves tea in the way Mikhail is used to.
  • I wrote Anjali’s portion of the story, originally entitled “Anniversary Dinner” a few days later. On that day, I just happened to make turkey biryani for lunch, which is a fairly complicated and work intensive dish to make (though mine is a bit simpler than Anjali’s version). And when the time came to write my story for the day, I thought of the food prompt I had used a few days earlier and started to write a story about Anjali making biryani, while reflecting about her relationship with Mikhail. And since biryani is very much a festive dish for special occasions – not to mention that Anjali even procured some meat, which is a rare and expensive treat in this universe – I decided that this should be a special meal for a special occasion. And since I’ve already given Mikhail and Anjali plenty of adventures since getting together, it made sense for them to be celebrating their first anniversary together.
  • Of course, a festive meal needs a festive dessert. And since I’m not much of a dessert person (I can whip up a dessert, if necessary, I just rarely bother) I scanned recipe websites for Indian sweets and desserts and eventually came upon Ras Malai which looked suitably tasty and festive. I even found step by step instructions how to make it. And so Anjali makes Ras Malai for herself and Mikhail.
  • The cover is once again stock art by the talented Thai artist Tithi Luadthong a.k.a. Grandfailure.
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