Zelda food, from the perspective of a non-gamer

Video game, unlike film, is center on the play, which means players execute the voluntary activity while playing. They have all the freedom on how to play within fixed limits of rules. That brings us to the central part of my research; gamers are active audiences who make meaning from the play. The play is a form of participation in culture. The soft power of the game will affect players in a certain way. I can imagine that the Zelda food impression is embedded in a gamer’s mind. When a player travels to Japan, he/she may want to try that food in real life. 

In this blog, I will discuss the Zelda from three perspectives: culture, modality, and participatory players.


The background of Zelda food and the possibility of using the game to promote Japanese food culture.

So, what is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

  • video game
  • action-adventure game
  • open-world game

“Explore the landscape of Hyrule any way you like. Climb up towers and mountain peaks in search of new destinations, then set your own path and plunge into the wilderness.”

(Nintendo official)

Players are enabled to discover all kinds of playing styles. And the open-air feature leaves more possibility for players. 

One thing I noted is that the game heavily features food-related action in its story and strategy. If Link wants to climb the tower, he needs to full up the hearts; if Link wants to solve the puzzles inside the Shrines, he needs to full up the hearts; if Link wants to fight with Bokoblin, he needs to full up the hearts.

Food is essential to human beings to be healthy; food is essential to Link to continue his adventure. 

In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s up to players to gather their ingredients. And rice, fish, meat, and chilly can be combined in seemingly infinite ways to create a wide variety of important meals. The core is all about experimenting. 

We all know Zelda was published by Nintendo and produced by Japanese producers and directors. That makes me wonder, will they infuse Japanese flavor into the game, and the game food? 

When it comes to the video game, Zelda producer took this opportunity to add Countries’ featured cultural symbols into the game. The best example is Kakariko Village carries a strong Japanese flavor. And a group of food made by Link is also very culturally specialized.

The game has been used as an advertising platform to promote specific products, which is what they call “advergaming” (Advertising+gaming). In practice, advertising messages, company logo, product image would infuse into games. Buckner (2002) argues the advantages of product placement in games over films are its capacity to increase engagement. The player takes an active part in making sense of the playing. Playing games is a form of interactive behavior that will entice potential consumers are possible to receive and be persuaded by creative advertising. A real advergaming example is Nissin Cup Noodles appears in Final Fantasy XV.

My opinion:

In Zelda, there is no obvious product placement standout; at least I didn’t spot any. As a matter of fact, we can apply the brand advergaming theory to cultural advertising, the ‘Cool Japan’ project. 

(“Japan’s Gross National Cool,” as a form of the soft power helps Japan achieved “far greater cultural influence now than it did in the 1980s” Douglas McGray)

Professor Joseph Nye, the father of soft power, stated that Soft power is the ability to influence the preferences of others through attraction rather than coercion or payment. (2008)

I think there is an opportunity for Zelda to promoting Japanese food culture by adding more traditional Japanese cuisine into the dish stock. Besides, the in-game description could tell players more about food culture.

According to Hidemaro Fujibayashi(director), the BOTW’s map is based on Kyoto, and they transferred those famous tourist spots to the game map. So I think the Zelda team can collaborate with Kyoto local restaurant by supplying Zelda food in-store. For example, in the game map place A, Link can gather Hylian Rice, and the real Japan restaurant situated around Kyoto spot A can promoting seafood rice ball. I mean, combining the virtual world to the real world, that would be a fantastic surprise to Zelda fans.


What is cooking like in Zelda?

The second section will be about modality, which contains the game design, how the hunting, collecting, purchasing, cooking, and eating is illustrated in the game. I will also associate the game setting with the major cultural premise: The Jomon period.

How to cook:

-find a cooking pot

  • select ingredients you want to cook from your inventory
  • throw everything into the pot
  • dance with the ingredients, just wait till the cheerful music effect

 If you don’t want to spend time cooking, you can always eat raw food. Or hunt down animals in extremely hot places, you will obtain cooked meat.

What food turns out:

  • regular music: food combination you can eat in real life is usually the safe card
  • xylophone music raised in pitch: you cooked something special
  • crush, glass broken sound: Dubious food with 1.5 heart, still eatable  

Here is a video that explained the cooking in detail, including those bonus effects.

One interesting thing about cooking in Zelda BOTW is freedom. You can mix ingredients follow your real-world common sense. For example, there is nothing crazy going to happen if you cook meat with mushrooms. On the other hand, the player can go crazy, I mean creative with a variety of ingredients by throwing a bunch of nonsense object into the pot(wok) and wait till the cooking dance finished. 

Game modality & history facts:

The Making Documentary and interviews with Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda series creator) and Eiji Aonuma (producer) gave me the answer to the Zelda world setting.

  • BOTW is inspired by the Jomon period, Japanese prehistory between c. 12,000–300 BCE. Art director Satoru Takizawa said, “The Jomon period in Japanese history was the inspiration for the Sheikah Slate, shrines and all the other ancient objects and structures.”
  • The historical study suggested that Jomon people mainly lean on animals and plants that grew naturally. They would hunt animals and gather fruit, vegetables, rather than farming. That is no saying they didn’t know how to farming; in fact, during the final Jomon period, they were gradually skillful at cultivating plants, like rice.
  • Archaeologists have found that in the Jomon time, people usually cook in large rounded pots that sat on top of a campfire. From the burnt shell and charcoal, the researcher suggests Jomon people liked seafood stews and stews in general.

Now, think about Link, and Hyrule land, Link mostly gain ingredients by collecting shining plants, hunting animals, and fighting the Moblins. He can also buy ingredients from the village store. I also noted that there is a small farming area in those villages.

From Reddit, I found that most players enjoy the cooking mechanic, as this ‘extra touch’ makes exploring more interesting, and the ecology of the game brings the immersive feeling.

However, some player thinks the ‘cooking dance’ animation is too long, and hope the game can update different cooking process for different recipes.

My opinion:

I completely agree that when the outcome (heart, or special effects) is the same, there is no reason to make those complicated recipes. I think SIMS did very well in adding the details to cooking. I mean, I don’t expect this can be like the Cooking MAMA, but maybe just add a little bit simulation game mechanic.

Additionally, the game can update recipes follow the season, if possible. 

Participatory Media (including my Zelda food recreation)

Cooking in Zelda, and recreate it in real life

Sometimes just playing the game is not enough, some gamers love that virtual world so much, they become the inspiration for real food

Henry Jenkins raised the theory about the active audience in 1992. He claimed that when people consume media products, rather than receive information passively, they engage in the media texts and decide on what to accept, and how to understand. Furthermore, he also believed fans enjoy talking about the media text with other fans and creating their own media para-text. 

Joost Raessens(2005) provides an interesting counterbalance to the work of Jenkins(1992) regarding audience participation in films and television. Raessens believed that even though the interpretation stage of playing computer games and watching TV is similar, the level of participation is different. When we play the game, we have participated in a two-way traffic communication with the game.

He discussed that computer games, as a form of participatory media, involve four characteristics: multimediality, virtuality, interactivity, and connectivity. Let’s look at the interactivity of Zelda, and the cooking mechanic gives plenty of freedom to players. They can combine, substitute, mix and match all various ingredients. The finished food, most of the time, will surprise us. No matter how weird the combination is, a dish always will be made. In this case, unlike film audience have to sit in front of the screen passively accept information, interactive video game players are capable of taking up the role of creator, and join in the process of constructing. 

Mia Consalvo(2003) took the term active audience into her essay and explained why it is important to note the intertextuality of video games. She believed that “Gamers should be considered active creators of meaning.” Because players able to make meaning from games, including actively reading the game text, sharing gameplay experience with other fans, and producing the para-text fan work in various forms to the digital world. When we study their interactivity, we should look at how they play in Zelda world, more importantly, we should study “how fans interact with other fans, how they make sense of their interests, how their interest is sustained through intertextual means, and how they go beyond mere consumption to active production of media of their own that comment on, praise, and critique the media products that so interest them.”

In my opinion, just like Cosplay, food-related recreation, as a form of fan activity, should also pay attention to it. 

fandom+Zelda= para-text (game walkthrough, cheating style spoilers, cosplay, food recreation)

YouTube :

Babish is a YouTuber who recreates the food from film, television, and games. This is an episode he brings game food to real life through carefully follow the ingredient, instructions from the game. Durian monster cake is my favorite.


#ゼルダ飯 (means: Zelda dishes), is a Japanese Twitter hashtag. When you click this link, you are going to be surprised by the amazingly well-done food recreations. I found Japanese is good at making the food look like they are directly taken from Zelda, but still delicious.

After appreciating those excellent fan work, I wanted to join this trend. What is better than rambling about all the academic and scholarly theories? Practice them and prove them by yourself. Here are my recreations, seafood rice balls, and meaty rice balls.

Seafood Rice Balls
Stuffed with aromatic seafood, the flavor can vary by ingredients but never disappoints.
Meaty Rice Ball
The sweet and spicy meat stuffed into these rice balls will keep you full for some time.

In my recreating (cooking) experience, I found I unconsciously learned more about Japanese food culture. 

My Onigiri researching process:

  • research Onigiri (rice ball) on the Internet, https://www.justonecookbook.com/onigiri-rice-balls/
  • found the traditional way to make it, which is using fresh and hot rice and make it with wet and salted hand
  • most Japanese consider Onigiri as a staple for Bento (boxed lunch)
  • realized the Bento culture is fascinating, even found The Legend of Zelda Bento box
  • most Japanese convenience stores, like 7-11, have Onigiri with various fillings 

In conclusion,

2 thoughts on “Zelda food, from the perspective of a non-gamer”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s