If you’ve ever watched any anime, or are even at least vaguely aware of the concept of anime, you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about delicious food in anime looks. Especially the food in Studio Ghibli films, the most well known of which are probably Oscar-winner Spirited Away (2001), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Howl’s Moving Castle 2004), just to name a few.

The host of the panel “Film to Food: The Cuisine of Studio Ghibli” at Connecticon XVII, Melanie Rios, certainly has. After years of enjoying Ghibli films, she decided she would have a go at recreating some of the most interesting dishes Hayao Miyazaki and his team have ever animated.

She started by outlining what she wanted to make and didn’t want to make at the outset. The sponge cake from Spirited Away, the herring pot pie from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the winter vegetable stew from Castle in the Sky got the nod, while other recipes were written off for having too many moving parts, or being too simple (and involving pork, which Rios does not like), like ham ramen and bacon and eggs.

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Rios wanted her pot pie to look as much as the film original as possible. (Photo credit: Melanie Rios)

The first dish discussed was the herring pot pie. Rios said it was a Swedish dish originally, so she tried to make it as authentic as possible to that, though she substituted herring for codfish and acorn squash for pumpkin based on availability.

Although it had many steps and some prep time, it turned out to be a success. However, she did recommend adding salt to traditional recipes, which don’t call for it at all, and having help for prep on this one. Later, she said that this dish was about medium-difficulty, but she would definitely make it again.

Next, Rios talked about the sponge cake from Spirited Away. She said she went into this one with false confidence because only a few ingredients go into a sponge cake. (I attended this panel with a friend who loves to bake and she just shook her head at this point.) Both tries resulted in fallen cakes with the first one being overbaked and the second underbaked.

Rios said she wouldn’t recommend the sponge cake for the impatient baker, adding that, “It was a labor of love and I didn’t love it!” She strongly recommended that anyone who really wanted sponge cake just go out and buy it, and towards the end of the panel named this her hardest dish as well as one she would never attempt again.

Finally, Rios moved onto the winter vegetable stew. She said it was made up of mainly root vegetables, though the stock gave her some trouble. It was made up of seaweed, water, and bonito flakes, which have a rather strong scent. She even brought some for curious panel attendees to smell for themselves.

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Rios’s stew pre-stock. The animated soup can be seen here. (Photo Credit: Melanie Rios)

This stew was a much less harrowing experience than the sponge cake, and in fact, Rios named it the easiest dish of the three, and one she’d definitely make again. She suggested that cooks at home put fewer potatoes in because they absorb the broth, and swap more mushrooms in instead.

After this, Rios opened her panel for questions from the audience. Some asked about specific cooking conditions, others gave advice. But a big question was how she figured out the recipes, much less what the items are in the first place. Rios said she used this Buzzfeed article as a jumping-off point, and then did research online to find a recipe that could work for her. She also recommended the YouTube channel Feast of Fiction for help.

As for how you can obtain your ingredients, Rios recommended going straight to an Asian food store. And she added that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, either–you’ll probably need it for the packaging which is usually in an Asiatic language. Pictures can be very helpful for finding what you need, as well. (If you live near Hartford, I recommend A Dong in East Hartford for your ingredient needs!)

She wrapped things up by talking about what she’d probably try next: the steamed red buns from Spirited Away. And she said that her next anime food series would probably be Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, a series set at a culinary school in Tokyo. Later, she told me she hopes to run more panels next year at Connecticon XVIII.

All in all, it was a great way to officially kick off the first day of Connecticon XVII, even if it left me hungry then, and starving now as I write this. Connecticon XVII ran from July 12 through July 14 in Hartford, Connecticut. For more coverage of the con keep on checking N3rdabl3 over the course of the next couple weeks!

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