After a string of jobs in hospitality, from dish pig to chef’s assistant and everything in between, I like to think of myself as a culinary frontierswoman. I even love to see illustrations of food onscreen. Seriously, when I played through Skyrim most of my meals consisted of a heel of bread, a wedge of cheese and a joint of meat. But nothing comes close to making me ravenous like a Studio Ghibli animation.
It’s not just the food, but the way it’s presented. Cooking is an act of nurturing in a Studio Ghibli film; the way people eat is charming and stirs feelings of nostalgia. Eating is imbued with comfort and emotion. Mealtimes in these anime classics have the ability to speak to something deeper within us, as we recall the textures and smells of early childhood. The way the characters react to food is wonderful and needs no dialogue, unless it’s Ponyo yelling about HAAAAAAM!
I have never had the good fortune to visit Japan, but I have done my best to approximate many dishes that also feature in Studio Ghibli films (incidentally, it is purported that all the meals in the films are dishes from the repertoire of Miyazaki himself). Can anything transport you so fully into another culture as food? I think not.
Now to wax lyrical about the food. Not much is better than a bowl of ramen. Big fat noodles sleeping in an umami broth with the yellow-orange soft yolk of a split egg bathing to one side. Or should I extol the yum-factor of a great fish pie. Its flaky pastry just golden on the top, while the magma-hot filling is a delicious combination of herring and pumpkin. For the more intrepid gourmand there are onigiri, little triangles of rice wrapped in nori seaweed. And what self-respecting foodie hasn’t wanted to craft an exquisite bento box for lunch? If you’re not salivating after all that, then maybe I could tempt you with the fried bacon and eggs in Howl’s Moving Castle?
You may think I’m alone on the hill marked with a flag for anime food appreciation, but it’s not so. There are accounts on Instagram (with more followers than I could ever hope to have) that are endless stills of food from anime. There have been exhibitions on this very topic too. There are even people who try to emulate the illustrated food on screen into real meals. These are my people, and they are on that hill right next to me!
Studio Ghibli infused food with magic. It’s not just about the food, but the care that went into it and the love of nurturing another. It’s comfort and charm and nostalgia all wrapped up into a big hug. This is why I hope one day Miyazaki will cook me dinner.
Darcy L. Wood’s fiction has featured in Thirteen Podcast, After Dinner Conversation and Land Beyond the World Magazine. Darcy works in a pet shop and lives with a Swedish boyfriend and their menagerie in deepest darkest Oxfordshire. You can find Darcy procrastinating on Twitter @DarcyLinWood.