By Helen McCarthy.
Les Recettes des Films du Studio Ghibli by cook Minh-tri Vo, with photos by Apolline Cartier and film research by Claire-France Thevenon, is out now from Ynnis Editions in France, just in time for your New Year’s Resolution to…. cook a bunch of dishes inspired by Studio Ghibli films, while practising French.
This cheerful paperback entices Studio Ghibli aficionados into the kitchen to re-create meals seen onscreen. It presents some challenges, not least linguistic. My schoolgirl French was reassuringly equal to the challenge, although anyone whose curriculum didn’t include la cuisine might also need a dictionary for help with some kitchen terms.
It’s two years since I reviewed a cookbook, but my form in the foodie arena goes back much further. Long ago, as editor of Anime UK magazine, I commissioned artist-chefs to create Ah Oishi!!, a series of absurdly easy recipes presented through illustrations of anime characters. It was hugely popular with readers: make things simple enough, and anyone can cook.
The more intriguing challenge here would be how to spin 21 films, none of them Ratatouille, into eighteen euros’ worth of cookbook. Even including the non-Ghibli Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which predates the studio’s foundation, the material is slim. Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle cover very similar ground with a breakfast egg sandwich. In Only Yesterday the food that features most prominently is an under-ripe pineapple. Unsurprisingly, the book contains just twenty-three recipes.
But the team, under the editorial direction of Asian pop-culture entrepreneur Cedric Littardi, has a secret weapon: design. A spacious layout with large, clear text and wide margins gives each film and recipe plenty of room. An introductory page identifies the title and recipe above an image from the film itself. A page about the film and the context of the food within it features a second large image directly related to the recipe. A third page sets out the ingredients, time required and difficulty level, on a scale of one to five soot-sprites – a scale which the Guide Michelin might do well to adopt. The recipe is laid out in simple steps, with photographs, over one to three pages. Overall, the book looks reassuringly simple to follow, yet feels substantial, despite its limited material.
There are flights of fantasy. Nausicaa doesn’t bake Asbel a nut cake, even in the abominable American release Warriors of the Wind, and the pineapple from Only Yesterday isn’t made into an upside-down cake in the film. Yet, overall, the book keeps faith with its concept, showing you how to make food that appears onscreen, however briefly.
It offers recipes for both the fish pie and chocolate gateau from Kiki’s Delivery Service, ramen from Ponyo, the worker’s spaghetti lunch in Porco Rosso, the stew Sheeta cooks for the pirates in Castle in the Sky and Howl’s breakfast sandwich. You can learn how to make tuna-stuffed onigiri and red bean paste-filled anpan as seen in Spirited Away, and master the Japanese delicacy castella, imported by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century and glimpsed in The Wind Rises.
Along the way, you’ll practice solid, basic cookery techniques and, if you make every recipe, be able to serve up a respectable range of meals inspired by the films of Studio Ghibli. This light-hearted, lightweight introduction to real kitchen skills is perfectly pitched to get otaku cooking.
Helen McCarthy is the author of Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation.