This feature was originally published in issue 318 of PC Gamer UK and issue 306 of PC Gamer US. Get our beautiful magazine delivered to your door every month and save a bunch of money on the cover price.
Pausing on a snowy Northrend cliff, the icy twist of the wind sharpens as I gaze upon the Icecrown Citadel. I can hear a distant thud of Magnataur hooves and flap of blue drakes. But none of these virtual sensations comes as close to bringing Northrend to life for me as the remembered tastes of biting juniper, smoky pine, and chilled, fresh-caught salmon.
On December 25, 2016, my parents showed up for Christmas Day dinner and I, a disorganised young adult, had no plan for the turkey. In desperation I cracked open one of my Christmas Eve gifts, World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook, and flipped to the recipe displayed on the cover: Slow-Roasted Turkey. A quick skim of the ingredients (common) and the instructions (easy) and six hours later, dinner was presented. It was both tasty and a touch uncanny.
The deliciousness spurred me to try more recipes until, somehow, I had convinced myself that I was going to finish the darn thing: all 100 recipes. It took 15 months. In the end, not every recipe was delicious. But like the turkey, most recipes possessed an uncanny flavour or appearance that whispered of their origins in fantasy and drew me, slowly, back to WoW.
Within each dish is a strange interplay: there are familiar dishes or main ingredients, inspirations from real cultures that in turn inspired the Warcraft culture in question, and almost always an extra ‘something’ that infuses a taste of Azeroth. A memorable example: the juniper berries that flavour the Steaming Chicken Soup. In a single spice, a simple chicken and dumpling dish finds a home in frozen Northrend. Another example is the rosewater in the Delicious Chocolate Cake, which author Chelsea Monroe-Cassel indicates is to stand in for the crafting herb Mageroyal. Just a spoonful, and a simple white raspberry cake is transformed into a herbalist treat straight from the Silverpine Forest.
Recipe for success
For most people and most cookbooks, it’s enough to dabble only in the most interesting recipes. By taking on the entire book, I got a double dose of food world tours encompassing the real world and Azeroth. Monroe-Cassel has concocted a brilliant mishmash of cultures with this work, ranging from Chinese noodle dishes to Italian breads to improvements on basic chicken fingers.
The recipes, which often included ingredients my general grocery store didn’t stock, offered real-life fetch quests that levelled up my cooking and ingredient-hunting skills, too. I visited Asian grocery stores, farmers’ markets, meat counters, spice stores. There, I met fellow chefs fascinated by my project and eager to share their own experiences with food, fantasy, or both. Of course, no recipe was eaten in solitude. My friends and family enjoyed the benefits of the project, and some learned about World of Warcraft for the first time.
Through these discoveries, the cookbook instilled in me not only a love for the craft of cooking, but a newfound love for the game. I resubbed to World of Warcraft ahead of the Battle for Azeroth expansion, and unsurprisingly, I now notice food everywhere. In inns and households you can find hogs roasting on spits over roaring fires surrounded by friendly NPCs and hear the laughter of elves as they take another sip of wine together. We surround an overloaded table and devour a feast before each raid for a stat buff, or pester a mage to drop a table piled with sweets for quick mana regeneration. Food in Azeroth, as in our world, offers warmth and safety during an endless struggle.
Over the years, I’ve returned to Azeroth again and again for the thrill of being an adventurer: powerful, brave and ready to battle my way through its vast and mysterious universe. The escapism of World of Warcraft allows me to be powerful in a safe, virtual space that can (thankfully) never cross over into reality. But in that world of conflict, racial tension and, well, Warcraft, my new favourite experience has nothing to do with division. It’s in the safety and intimacy of sharing a meal that the fantasy of Azeroth can become real for anyone, even those who would otherwise never set foot there. Just drop a table, and eat up.
All the dazzling photos in this piece were taken by Rebekah. Don't miss our 2017 interview with the author of World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. The WoW: Official Cookbook was published in 2016.