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The joy of video game-themed food

Delicious times, precious memories.

Kirby Cafe
Image credit: Alan Wen

Is themed food, or, more specifically, video game-themed food a tacky over-priced con? I used to think that, until the food also became my highlight at Super Nintendo World during my visit to Japan.

I mean, you are basically forking out for fast food with a licence slapped on. Even so, there was a particular magic to eating at Kinopio’s Cafe (or the Toadstool Cafe as it’s called in the Hollywood version), which was every bit as themed with decorations and displays as the park’s rides. And the waiting times were just as long, if, like me, you decided to go during the lunchtime rush.

Hilariously, I’d have to say my chosen main dish was pretty plain, a hamburger steak topped with an egg gratin, and a green mashed potato in the shape of a tree with a Super Star-shaped cookie on top. That was the winter special at the time. But it was the extras that made it for me, in particular having mushroom soup served from a Super Mushroom-shaped bowl!

Then of course there’s dessert, and while I could have gone for Princess Peach’s Cake based on the one she famously bakes for Mario in his N64 outing (sadly Super Nintendo World Hollywood is only getting a cupcake), I opted for the Goal Pole Cake, almost resembling the park’s own Mt. Beanpole, except the different layers of the hill’s stratified soil are different layers of flavours, including vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate.

The experience was so transcendental that I wanted to hit up more video game-themed cafes when I was back in Tokyo. However, I also felt like I might have been wasting yen chasing an impossible high. In particular, the Square Enix Cafe felt like a downgrade, resembling a student canteen with a few posters slapped on for minimal vibes. When I went, it was during a promotion of mobile game Echoes of Mana, and it was hard not to get over the sense that I had paid for expensive fast food with the most basic of tenuous decorations, such as a burger with a foam doodad of the Holy Sword stuck into the bun.

Fortunately, expectations flipped when I managed to secure brunch on my last day of the trip at the Kirby Cafe at the Tokyo Skytree. Now this was properly special, not just because they take your photo when you enter, but also because they gave me a seat at a round table which has a massive model of Whispy Woods in the centre.

Sure, I did once again pick a burger meal, except here I was also eating a burger with the little pink fella’s face on the bun, just like the ones seen in the Waddle Dee Cafe in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. I also simply couldn’t resist splashing out on the Karby cake, also taken from the latest game’s most iconic mouthful transformation. I call it a cake, but there was really only a single layer of sponge cake at the base, whereas the pink car element itself had the feel of a bouncy rubbery gelatin (I later looked this up, and it’s known as Blancmange).

I think it was in this instance that I finally appreciated the idiom, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it’, because how was I supposed to eat this poor fella with his cute little face? The answer was to eat all the other treats decorating the dish first then slowly de-anthropormophising Karby’s features before finally digging into the strawberry-flavoured stuff. Goodness, there was so much of it! I suppose the hook of the Kirby Cafe is you get to devour gaming’s most iconic devourer, but the cake damn near demolished me.

These were definitely the priciest meals I ate during my whole trip in Japan, and the quality was variable, but then is it that much different from all the random overpriced tat gamers like to collect? When it’s well done, you get something tied to the characters and worlds you love, that experience all the tastier because it’s so finite, ‘Delicious times, precious memories,’ as the Kirby Cafe’s slogan puts it. But fine, I won’t say no to the complimentary coasters.

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