You can always put your faith in anime to give you the most visually appetizing dishes you'll ever see in your life.
From the thick slabs of bacon and sizzling eggs prepared in Howl’s Moving Castle to the steaming and soothing ramen bowls in Naruto, it seems that the animators in Japan just know how to tease your stomach and make you drool in front of your television screen.
Many with a passion for food and anime have tried to recreate these on-screen masterpieces in real life, but none have found more success than Filipino-American culinary artist Nadine Estero.
Not only has she cooked pretty much every anime dish you can think of–from the ramen hack in Jujutsu Kaisen to the luscious fried rice bowl of Sanji in One Piece—but she also has a cookbook under her belt, filled with recipes of rich anime dishes that you can take a hand in yourself.
Fueling her passion for food
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Estero, who resided in Quezon City before moving to Canada, discovered her love for anime through Dragon Ball Z, a beloved classic among Filipinos back in the day.
“I remember this moment when I knew that anime was affecting my life, when I told my mom I didn't want to go to piano lessons anymore, which is essential for Filipinos. I was like, this is the same airtime as Dragon Ball Z and I can't do it anymore. So I was crying,” she recounted to PhilSTAR L!fe.
One would assume that Estero got inspired to recreate anime food from classic cooking shows like Yakitate!! Japan and Food Wars, but it was actually Dragon Ball Z that ignited her passion.
“I just really love the big meat on the bone that Goku would always eat and he would also eat ramen, and it was amazing,” she said.
Goku’s meat on a stick was one of the first dishes she tried to replicate, but Estero admitted, “It was a massive failure. Like it didn't taste good, but I was really glad that I started because it really sparked this interest.”
“I've recreated another meat on a stick kind of food from One Piece instead. And now that worked out really well, but I was learning from those mistakes,” she added.
Food in anime has long been regarded as delectably appealing because of its elevated features and how they were artfully arranged on the plate. But more than that, Estero was captivated by these dishes because of the “sense of community” they show.
“I think as Filipinos we love that because a lot of our gatherings are based around food like the big lechon. So when it's portrayed in anime, it really hits home, not just the way it looks, but also the way it feels. Because you also feel that feeling of connection when they all eat together,” she highlighted.
Putting on the apron
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Estero first learned how to cook, thanks to her mom who worked as a baker and would frequently create figurines for cakes. Other than that, she is mostly self-taught, with YouTube tutorial videos being her trusty teacher.
Despite knowing her way around the kitchen, there are times when Estero finds herself making a recipe for disaster instead. Anime shows are, after all, still fictional.
“In the anime [Yakitate!! Japan], the dish sounded so real, like ‘Oh yeah, it could work like that.’ But when I tried it at home, it didn't work that way. So I do think that some of these dishes in anime do actually work and some actually don't,” she said.
Estero also finds it challenging to stay faithful to the visuals, which she regards as one of the important things about recreating anime food.
“Sometimes when I'm making things, it doesn't normally come out the same and I think it's all about knowing what your medium is. You have to know the way that egg behaves, let's say when you fry it, or little things like that,” she said.
Most of the time, these shows don’t spoon-feed the ingredients and directions you need to make the dish, which adds to the complication of making real-life versions of them.
Estero finds her way around by doing proper research, highlighting the importance of taking into consideration the setting and timeline of the anime.
“You would really have to know certain types of cuisines in different parts of the world. [I] feel like you wouldn't know what the food is until you actually research a lot or watch a lot of these cooking videos,” she said.
Citing One Piece as an example, the culinary artist explained, “Let's say there was a scene where they were cooking something that was a ball shape and the person who was cooking it was a big octopus. To me, it already was takoyaki, which are octopus filled fry balls that are so delicious.”
Another key, she said, is using her imagination.
“The beauty about anime food is that it's up to anyone's interpretation. It's art. it's so diverse, and you could take any direction that you want to,” Estero said.
Sharing her creations with the world
Ever since Estero started sharing her anime food recreations on social media, she has been building up quite a following. According to her, she has made it her goal to inspire others to cook through her scrumptious meals.
“I think that's the most important thing because it creates a community. It's a great way for me to express my creativity because I love working with my hands. I love that this meshes together so well that I can just do what I love to do and people will be inspired by it,” Estero said.
“One of the best comments is when they told me that they made it with their family and it's just so wholesome. I'm really proud of what I'm doing,” she added.
The food enthusiast eventually took her passion up a notch by writing a cookbook of her own, titled The Anime Chef Cookbook, after being discovered by a publisher on Reddit. It features 75 appetizers, mains, desserts, and drinks from shows such as Haikyuu, Food Wars, My Hero Academia, Your Name, and more.
On her process of developing the book, Estero detailed, “It was about what the most classic anime was because I wanted this book to be for people of all ages. I wanted the book to be coherent in the way that it flows, so I didn't want two of the same things, but slightly different.”
She is now on her way to polishing her second cookbook, which she hopes will hit bookstores in summer next year. Aside from this, Estero sees herself making use of her cooking skills to start her own pop-up restaurant in the future, where people can gather and savor food from their favorite anime.
She has one simple advice for those who harbor a similar love for making food: “Share it to the world. Because there are so many people who want to see what you're doing. You just don't know it yet.”