Hotels and Inns

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Hotels and Inns have for centuries provided travellers with food as well as shelter. For this, they deserve mention alongside restaurants, cafés, and those entries relating to eating out. Reasons for travel are manifold, but among the most important are religious observance and trade. It is not surprising that these activities are at the heart of the early life of the inn. A medieval pilgrim might seek shelter in a hospice or convent; a visitor to a shrine in Japan would take rooms in a lodging house run by oshi or pilgrim-guides; Roman visitors to oracles would be fed and watered by the temples themselves; and alongside these priestly or monastic services, there grew up a network of secular inns. Chaucer’s pilgrims foregathered at the Tabard in Southwark. Similarly with trade, merchants needed safe havens, as well as entrepôts. The caravanserais that throng the trade routes of the Near East and C. Asia are witness to that. In Georgian English inns, too, samples would be displayed and sales held by merchants from out of town. As well as commerce, the inn acted as the articulating joint to the travel network’s skeleton: the staging post, reservoir of horses, refuelling stop, and the like. When horse transport was superseded by the railway, inns fell on hard times, only to be revitalized by motor travel half a century later. Many inns offered shelter but no food. In Japan, this arrangement was called ki-chin-yado, or ‘wood-fee’, the guest paying for fuel and use of the kitchen. The artist Edward Lear travelling in Albania in 1848 found he too had to hunt up a chicken. Inns, however, became an important site of public eating throughout Europe and N. America, often offering a table d’hôte or no-choice meal, or fashioning the repast according to what was in the kitchen and the traveller’s preference. The cooks of inns in London in the 18th century were as celebrated as would be the famous restaurant chefs of post-revolutionary Paris.