I love food. I love eating it, I love cooking it, and I love watching it. And anime food can be some of the best, most appealing food in media. Artists put effort into making dishes look delicious. The characters eat with gusto or joy. Even the cooking process can be anything from soothing to silly. While plenty of anime are cooking or food-based in plot, you don’t even need to rely on cooking anime to see great examples of food. Plenty of regular anime have fantastic food scattered throughout the series.

But sometimes anime puts more meaning into food than you’d first think. Food can be used to demonstrate character, further plot, and echo themes present in the storyline. Anything from cooking methods, to the type of food, to the way that people consume it can give meaning to an otherwise simple instance. Interested in the secret meaning behind your favorite anime foods? Below are five different anime with excellent examples of a food’s hidden meaning.

GRAND BLUE Serves More Than Drinks

The characters of GRAND BLUE toasting with beer in the series trailer.
Alcoholic drinks play a major role in GRAND BLUE. | Image: Crunchyroll

Summer hit GRAND BLUE offers a wild depiction of college party culture. But you can’t have a party without food, and GRAND BLUE provides cooking with surprising significance. GRAND BLUE’s story follows Iori Kitahara, who moves to his uncle’s house while he attends college. There, he reunites with his cousin Chisa Kotegawa. Thanks to the drunken antics of Iori’s diving club, Chisa believes that Iori changed for the worse since they were kids. Although Iori tries to change Chisa’s opinion of him, it seems like it will be unlikely.

That is, until episode four. Here, the diving club attends the school festival, running an okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) stand. When Chisa and Iori take their turn manning the stand, they fall into a surprisingly efficient pattern. The two anticipate one another’s needs, divvy up work evenly, and quickly turn out food for the hungry crowd. The speed and competence that they demonstrate provides insight into their relationship. They work well together, and they have similar thought processes. The two would make a great team if given the opportunity.

The okonomiyaki scene depicts Chisa and Iori’s relationship in a different way than other anime would have. Similar relationships, laden with misunderstandings, don’t tend to receive a lot of depth. Part of the joke can even be that the pair can’t function together. Making the okonomiyaki allowed Chisa and Iori to demonstrate that they aren’t that different from one another while still maintaining the show’s tone. Rather than their conflict being the joke, the comedy was in other people reacting to how in sync Iori and Chisa are. Cooking allowed for a moment of insight that still proved to be funny.

NARUTO’s Foodsona

A bowl of tonkatsu ramen being placed on a table in NARUTO
Naruto’s favorite ramen from Ichiraku in NARUTO. | Image: Crunchyroll

Famous shonen NARUTO has a pretty clear connection to food. Its protagonist, Naruto Uzumaki, got his name from the spiral fish cake in Japanese noodle soup ramen. Suitably, Naruto’s favorite food is ramen. But his relationship with the dish doesn’t just extend to his food preferences. Ramen is Naruto’s representative food. This means that Naruto’s personality and interactions with others have the same characteristics as the food he loves.

To start, ramen is a casual food. It’s a simple and fast way to get a warm, comforting meal. Similarly, Naruto doesn’t concern himself with propriety. He engages each individual equally. His warm demeanor and his passion fit well with the warmth of the dish. And since Naruto has a lot of energy and he is always on the go. He perfectly matches the optimal ramen lifestyle.

In addition, ramen shops are often set up bar-style, with a counter that looks directly into the chef’s area. Bar style seating can facilitate two styles of conversation: interaction with the chef and other patrons, or mostly-silent transaction between chef and customer. The two methods show Naruto’s two social experiences: being alone in the crowd as a child, and making plenty of new friends as he gets older.

As such, every time Naruto meets with someone at the ramen shop, he becomes closer to them. By eating ramen with them, he shows them his true self and they accept him. That’s why Iruka’s first trip with Naruto was such a big deal. And Hinata Hyuga, Naruto’s future wife, can easily out-eat Naruto at the ramen shop. She can handle more Naruto than anyone else. Ramen offers Naruto the sense of comfort he couldn’t receive from his parents or peers as a child.

THE WALLFLOWER’s Food Brings Opposites Together

THE WALLFLOWER is a shojo manga about a girl named Sunako who moves into her aunt’s mansion. Already living there are four handsome young renters. Sunako, who enjoys horror and sitting inside in the dark, has trouble relating to her relatively normal roommates. Her largest foil is her housemate Kyohei, an extremely gorgeous young man with a rude and hot-tempered personality. As her interests are so drastically different from the others, Sunako wins over her housemates with her cooking skills. One of the ways she and Kyohei bond is over ebi furai: fried prawn.

Sunako and Yuki of THE WALLFLOWER look at Sunako's attempt to deep-fry a plate
Sunako from THE WALLFLOWER accidentally deep-fries a plate. | Image: IMDb

Sunako’s cooking allows her to express herself. When she is emotionally strained or distracted, her food suffers. She cooks primarily for her housemates, signaling her future of helping them through their hardships. As for the dish, making fried prawn usually involves a person buying whole or partially-cleaned prawns. So every time Sunako cooks the dish, she gets the chance to cut open the prawn and remove its vein. This allows her to exercise her horror-loving urges.

On the other hand, Kyohei enjoys eating food. Fried prawn is one of his favorites, and as such, easily represents his person. The texture of fried prawn is crisp and crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. This is not unlike Kyohei’s personality, which is aggressive on the surface but covers up a layer of extreme vulnerability. Even the food’s golden color resembles Kyohei’s hair and “shining” appearance.

Sunako cooking the fried prawn that Kyohei eats equals the meeting of their minds. She opens herself up to him through sharing her food, and he accepts her as she is. They do have the closest (and most romantic) relationship among the cast. Their exchange of food shows mutual acceptance in their relationship.

RANMA 1/2 Spoils its Plot

Remember RANMA 1/2? The Rumiko Takahashi classic centers on teenage martial artist Ranma Saotome. Ranma turns into a girl when splashed with cold water due to a curse he received at Chinese training ground Jusenkyo. RANMA 1/2 contains a lot of food-related jokes and themes. There are several characters with representative food dishes, many minor characters with food-themed names and appearances, and plenty of food-driven plot lines. In a sea of culinary references, one dish stands out for Ranma: fruit parfaits.

A photo of the Romance Fortune-telling Sakura Mochi Parfait from the RANMA 1/2 cafe in Tokyo
A photo of the real Sakura Mochi Parfait from the RANMA 1/2 cafe in Tokyo. | Image from Casey Baseel at Sora News 24

The fruit parfait is a cute dish. Fruit and ice cream layer in a delicate glass cup, topped with swirls of sweet cream. Ranma admits that he wanted to try a parfait for ages, but that he felt reluctant about it because it was a “girly” food. With the ability to become a girl, he felt comfortable enough to order the food he wanted. In loving the “girly” fruit parfaits and using his curse to acquire them, Ranma inadvertently reveals something about the series. He will never be free of his curse.

While Ranma acts like he’s waiting eagerly for his curse to lift, he doesn’t really feel that way. He loves using his girl-type to his advantage. And time and again, Ranma gives up the chance to become all-boy a little too easily. In reality, Ranma is simply conscious of others’ opinions. Knowing that it would be something other people would want to be removed, he makes a big deal about becoming normal again. This reflects on his nerves about eating the parfait as a boy. He’s worried about being perceived as weird for liking girly things. In reality, he doesn’t have his full heart in becoming all-boy again because he’s happy being both.

SILVER SPOON Cooks up Something Heavier

Hachiken eats a bowl of egg over rice in SILVER SPOON.
Hachiken enjoys egg over rice after a long day of farm work in SILVER SPOON. | Image: Crunchyroll

SILVER SPOON follows a young man, Hachiken, who attends an agricultural school despite having no farming experience. He struggles with adapting to the lifestyle and the idea that farm animals will be meat one day. As farming is the focus, food is a major part of SILVER SPOON. Many of the major realizations Hachiken comes to about the nature of farming are punctuated by eating.

Unlike the anime previously listed, SILVER SPOON explicitly uses food to tell stories. Characters often analyze the significance of their food on-screen. For example, the other students point out to Hachiken that they’ve never had pizza before. This highlights that Hachiken comes from the city and that his background knowledge and experiences differ from his classmates’. Later, Hachiken has to clean a deer carcass for consumption and notices the smell of blood on his hands afterward. This causes him to lessen his enthusiasm when eating as he struggles with the death involved in his meal. So although SILVER SPOON may not be a food-based anime like FOOD WARS!! or  YAKITATE!! JAPAN, the food remains integral to the storytelling.

When the time comes for Hachiken’s favorite pig, Pork Bowl, to die, Hachiken buys the meat and smokes it into bacon. As he and his friends gather around the smokehouse, one of them remarks that the scene resembles a funeral. And it does — friends stand beside Hachiken in a half-circle. Many of them are dressed monochromatically. Even the smoke, drifting from the chimney, resembles a funeral pyre, or even an ascending spirit. Cooking and eating the meat thus honored the animal’s life. It was the perfect conclusion to a season about the cycle of life and death.

The Only Language we all Speak

Despite major differences in cuisine around the world, food still means the same thing to people. It can be sustenance, nourishment, comfort, familiarity. Additionally, when analyzing food in media, it often has its own language. The manner in which people prepare the food, the feelings they express while cooking, and the way they behave when eating contributes to the message the food conveys. Since it’s done without verbal language, anyone can pick up on the queues. Sometimes we don’t even consciously recognize the impact that certain food and cooking scenes can have. Instead, we subconsciously grasp it and interpret it as part of the show’s tone, or a character’s personality. Food gives us a deeper understanding of the show. And with that deeper understanding, we can enjoy the show all the more.

The examples above are just the beginning of food in anime. If you search your favorite shows, you’ll likely find other moments where food and cooking are storytelling tools. What anime food stands out to you? Have you found any foods that reflect the themes in the show? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

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