Ask anyone about fictional food and perhaps the first thing that comes to mind are delicious stills from animated movies – the fluffy pancakes of Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, the beignets from Disney’s The Princess and The Frog, and the ratatouille that impresses food critic Antoine Ego’s in Ratatouille.
More recently, dishes from the series The Bear, that chronicles the struggles of a chef, have been recreated by the show’s fans. You can find recipes from the show, such as cola-based short rib, on the YouTube page, Babish Culinary Universe, run by US-based food content creator Andrew Rea.
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Apart from fictional shows, anime has a huge influence on recipe creators. Nadine Estero (@issagrill on Instagram) and Lukian Wang (@xoy on Instagram) turn fantasy food inspired by anime shows into reality on social media.
Food is an integral part of a fandom, defined as a community of people who are fans of a certain person or media.
On a recent trip to London, my family and I considered going to an immersive experience called Mamma Mia! The Party, on the insistence of my mother, who is a superfan of the Swedish pop group, ABBA. The nearly four-hour experience entails food and drinks in an elaborate set made to look like the tavern in the 2008 movie Mamma Mia!
The Mediterranean dinner starts with a mezze platter of olives and bread, a main dish of lamb shoulder, and a Greek lemon cake for dessert. The meal is accompanied by actors singing and dancing to the pop group’s greatest hits. We didn’t end up going because the show was sold out weeks in advance. It goes to show how food and fandom are deeply intertwined for people of all ages.
Unofficial cookbooks, written by fans and not commissioned by production houses of shows and films, feature recipes of dishes seen in movies, video games and literature. Few examples of such books are The Unofficial Studio Ghibli Cookbook and The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. These are popular as they enable ardent fans to cook their favourite characters’ dishes in the comfort of their home.
“When you’re eating what a character eats, you are in the most obvious way putting yourself in their shoes, giving the feeling that you, as the viewer, are truly part of the fictional universe,” said Hadley Sui in an email interview. US-based Sui is the author of Oishisou!! The Ultimate Anime Dessert Cookbook published in 2022 in the United States which aims at recreating foods seen in Japanese animated shows. “Bringing people together around the table by cooking fictional food definitely strengthens community bonds,” she adds.
There are websites like the now defunct Tumblr blog Food of The Wild which focused on recipes from the popular video game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; and there’s the website Pixelated Provisions which has recipes from video games like Animal Crossing and Bugsnax.
Anime-centered food festivals, like the Tanabata Night Market and Otaku Food Festival which took place in the United States this weekend, further affirm the interest in food and fandom. What some may call an obsession is validated as an important part of the community, as other members engage and share the love for fictional dishes.
In recent years, commercial food and cinema experiences for movies have grown more popular. Taste Film, a UK-based company established in 2021, offers its audience the chance to eat what is seen on screen, with screenings of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory complete with candies and confectionery seen in the movie, or Harry Potter, with butterbeer and chocolate frogs.
Sui explains, “When exploring popular TV shows through the lens of food, viewers are able to world-build more thoroughly and enter a parallel universe, if only for a short time. While watching a show is often a solitary activity, food is something inherently social and can connect people. This is the power of food.”