Many of us have used quarantine as an opportunity to learn new culinary skills from baking bread to digging into a cuisine we’ve always wanted to learn to make but haven’t had the time to focus on. Alas, even our favorite food, like guests who overstay their welcome, can get a little pungent after 11 months. So how do we add some…spice (yes, I went there) to what was new and novel but has quickly become repetitive and bland?
How about cooking your comics?
I mean, I can’t recommend eating actual paper, though as a former toxicology nurse I can assure you it won’t actually kill you. Let’s hold that in reserve for the zombie apocalypse, though, and take a look at some comic- and animation-themed cookbooks that will add some fun and variety to your weekly menus.
Food in anime is a thing. It absolutely must look as delectable as possible, from single grains of rice to the contents of a banqueting table, whether or not the anime in question is focused on food or romance or demon-slaying.
Cooking Anime contains the absolute best of the best from simple sides to layered mains to adorable street food, pulling from anime across the medium: Ouran High School Host Club, My Hero Academia, Fruits Basket, Cardcaptor Sakura, Future Diary, Ponyo, and countless others. It won my heart immediately by including the essential Pork Katsudon from Yuri!! On Ice, which I made pretty much immediately (I did substitute chicken for pork—I grew up keeping kosher and still don’t do large chunks of pork—it’s a whole thing) and it was a huge hit with every member of the family (hopefully Yuri, Victor, and Yurio won’t be too disappointed). This is also the only cookbook in my decent-sized collection that has pulled hubs and the kiddos into family menu planning, which is a delightful change of pace from me begging them to help, them wandering away, and then someone complaining every night about what I put on the table.
This particular book is also a fantastic bridge into Japanese cooking as it doesn’t require a ton of specialty ingredients or tools (and trust me, the tayaki pan is 10/10 worth it). You can test some simple, lowkey recipes before you go in search of bits and pieces that are harder to find (especially if there isn’t a Japanese or pan-Asian market in your area) or invest in job specific pans or utensils.
Marvel Eat the Universe: The Official Cookbook by Justin Warner
Marvel Eat the Universe is broken down by main ingredient, which is something I find incredibly useful; when I ask the kids what they want to eat in a given week, they’ll often throw out “shrimp” or “steak,” and being able to zero in on a category is super helpful.
Warner’s recipes are a little different than those often found in comic themed cookbooks; rather than being cute, punny or gimmicky (which, don’t get me wrong, I love), he’s included dishes like Black Panther’s Akabenzi, Iron Man’s Lobster Corn Dogs, and Green Goblin’s Pumpkin Bombes. Eat the Universe is comics elevated. Preparation is a little more intense, some of the ingredients a little more spendy, and several of the dishes more time intensive than the ones you’ll find in Cooking Anime or Cook Korean (see below). They can all be altered, however, to suit alternative ingredients (if, say, the store is out of fresh yellowfin, you tell them they can substitute any kind of tuna) and time constraints, and everything I’ve made so far has been absolutely delicious.
Cook Korean! by Robin Ha
Cook Korean! is a little different than the two books above in that, rather than being a comics or animation themed book, it’s a comic that teaches you how to cook a certain cuisine. I have to be honest: I’ve tried to learn Korean cuisine from several different books and it never came out quite right until I found Ha’s delightful manual at the library (and yes, after I borrowed the max number of times, I bought it).
Prep and cooking techniques are an important part of the texture and taste of a final dish (I always hated matcha, for example, until I watched someone make it properly with a whisk. Now I have my own whisk and I love it). As someone who’s had a TBI and had to change the way I learned from “able to learn from written instructions” to “needs to watch and do with someone before I can do on my own,” the cartoon step-by-steps in Cook Korean have been invaluable in improving the quality of my Korean dishes.
And in the amount of leftovers. As in, there aren’t any.
Entertaining with Disney: Exceptional Events by Amy Croushorn
Disney animation lovers, this is the book for you! It contains not only themed recipes but entire party plans that revolve around the company’s catalog, including a Lion King baby shower, a The Princess and the Frog New Orleans Dinner Party, and a Disney Vile Villains Halloween Bash. Food, games, place settings, decorations, invitations, and a calendar that includes when to get it all ready is included for each event. The parties run the gamut from chill to intense but you can do as much or as little as you’d like for any of them and each plan also contains links to additional online resources if you need an extra assist.
Oshinbo by Kariya Tetsu and Hanasaki Akira
Oshinbo, like Cook Korean, is a manga cookbook, but is also a full-on story about a reporter’s quest to plan the perfect menu for his company’s big anniversary celebration and defeat his father, a word famous chef, in various contests of palate refinement and taste. I love learning the history of whatever it is I’m eating; one of the reasons I cook so much is because I want my kids to understand that food doesn’t simply appear. It takes effort to create and it means something that, for me to cook, others have to do the work of growing and harvesting and packing and shipping and selling. Part of that is learning about how the dish was created, where it came from, how and why it’s evolved, and how it’s endured.
Go forth! Do noms. We’ll still have to eat when this is all over.