Foodies and fandoms collide to recreate dishes from beloved fantasy literature
The first time I watched Spirited Away, the 2001 anime masterpiece from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, I was floored—not only by acclaimed writer/director Hayao Miyazaki’s compelling narrative and fantastical visual sequences, but by a much more pedestrian lure: its conspicuous, and drool-worthy, food. Long after the credits rolled, I remembered—in vivid detail—the impossibly springy cakes, enviably fluffy steamed buns, and fantastic lurid foodscapes.
Real life variations of dishes from a food-centric scene in Spirited Away, including (from left to right): green peas rice; a vegetable stew called nishime, which is popular at New Year’s; and katsu. (image courtesy Tofugu)
It wouldn’t be the last time I’d be spellbound by a fictional depiction of food. To this day, I find myself craving the Lord of the Rings’ leaf-wrapped, nourishing lembas bread; the dangerously enchanting spice coffee from sci-fi epic Dune; Steven Universe’s Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches from Cartoon Network.
Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches from Steven Universe (image courtesy Fiction-Food Café)
I’m not the only one salivating over these details that help bring fantastical, literary worlds to life. Articles upon articles expound upon the greatness of not just Studio Ghibli’s culinary depictions, but also those of Brian Jacques’s Redwall series; Turkish Delight as featured in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and of course, the Harry Potter series’ many now-iconic foodstuffs. But while food in general is a familiar and inescapable presence on the social web, the food of fiction, particularly fantasy fiction—in which recipes are alluded to but never quite fully explained—have begun crystallizing into canonical, “official” recipes.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks sell an “authentic,” trademarked butterbeer; meanwhile, George R. R. Martin wrote the foreword to A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook, which offers over 100 regional delicacies: mutton in onion-ale broth hailing from the Wall or honey-spiced locusts from across the Narrow Sea, for example. But before standout series like Harry Potter and GoT ruled mainstream entertainment, fandoms had already begun to actualize the most tangible, and edible, details of these fictional universes, forming their own communities centered on fandom and their subsequent food fixations.
Pastry coffyns filled with pork, pine nuts, and eggs—a Game of Thrones delicacy from the Purple Wedding, where King Joffrey met his untimely death (image courtesy The Gluttonous Geek)
“I started watching Top Chef, and they’d have an episode on food based off of movies, and I’d look at what they created and think, ‘Where did you get that? That has nothing to do with the actual source material,’” says Catherine Barson Eastis, aka The Gluttonous Geek, a blog on which she recreates her favorite fantasy meals to exactitude. “Then I’d start seeing [the same lack of attention] in other geeky-type food on the internet.”
Turkish Delight (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Like many other fantasy food bloggers and recipe makers, Eastis had no formal culinary training when she started her blog, but has over the years entered a coven of fantasy, sci-fi, and folklore enthusiasts whose fictional food appreciations have become IRL, well-researched recipe interpretations. Along with other similarly-minded bloggers like Pretty Cake Machine, Feast of Starlight, and Food in Literature, Eastis has transformed her long-time love of fictional foodstuffs into a social hobby. She’s even parlayed it into a fandom cooking mentorship at Battle and Brew, an Atlanta-based restaurant that caters to fandom diners with Lord of the Rings-themed dinners and regular geek trivia nights.
At first, Diana Ault started off solely blogging about books, but soon found herself paying attention to one specific detail.
“As I wrote posts, I would start to include the food in the books, just making a list of the dishes,” she explains. “It gradually started to stand out to me more. But then food started standing out to me in other media—not just books, but TV shows and movies and video games.”
Corn and leek quiche with a fried sage garnish, inspired by Orange Is The New Black (image courtesy The Gluttonous Geek)
Though these fiction food bloggers find inspiration in everything from Anne of Green Gables to Orange is the New Black, the realms of fantasy and sci-fi not only draw the most attention, but often provide the earliest entry points into fictional food worlds. Both Eastis and Ault cite the Redwall series as formative to their fictional food awareness—“I remember wanting to drink strawberry cordial before I even knew what a cordial was,” says Eastis—and both participated in #RedwallAugust, a Fandom Foodies Facebook group-organized recipe/link swap that brought many enthusiasts together in celebration of the series’ many spectacular eats.
Utilizing the sprawling reach of social media, bloggers from disparate and/or specialized interests (Japanese animation, fairytales) and skills (pastries, bento boxes) can share and expand upon individual bloggers’ recipe libraries, offering comprehensive analyses on and research into both historical and more speculative (e.g. post-apocalyptic) foods.
More treats from Spirited Away
These kinds of organized fandom celebrations are a relatively new development in the fictional recipe-sharing world. Nowadays, “geeky” pursuits are embraced by mainstream pop culture (e.g. the massive popularity of Comic-Con, the rise of fandom pandering by networks like The CW and HBO), but that wasn’t always the case—just look at the recent depiction of the Dungeons & Dragons-playing teens in Netflix’s Stranger Things. Yet bloggers who’ve been celebrating their oft-marginalized fandoms long before studios and corporations seized upon them largely bear no ill will toward the commercialization of some of their most beloved fictional darlings. “It’s not a negative thing to be called a geek or a nerd or whatever. Fans rule the industry now. It’s incredible, and really cool in many aspects,” says Auld.
“It has to do with the fact that we have an entire generation raised on books like Harry Potter,” Eastis adds. “It’s become socially acceptable to be into fantasy fiction as an adult. Just about everyone grew up with some sort of fairytale, folklore, make believe, some kind of fantasy.”
The rise of fandom purchasing power makes it so that every aspect of fandom culture, from attire to music, is now scrutinized—but this seems to be the case with food, especially. Case in point: Just two months after Star Wars: A Force Awakens came out, the official Star Wars blog released a recipe for Rey’s Jakku portion bread. In the face of such rapid standardization, you might expect the fictional food community to become angry or suffer creatively, but both Eastis and Auld are quick to note that straight-up originality is not necessarily the aim of the fandom food community.
Rey’s portion bread (image courtesy StarWars.com)
“We can all look at the same food or read the same description or see it in a movie, and we all connect with it, but we all put our own spin on it,” Auld explains.
And while each blogger has their own personal favorite food universe, they aren’t above following mainstream trends—the Fandom Foodies group’s next monthly recipe theme is #Pokénom.