Every time I go to Japan, I marvel at the artificial sandwiches, omelets, bowls of noodles, and parfaits displayed outside even the humblest shopping-arcade cafés, all made to give the customer a more vivid sense of the dishes on offer than would any two-dimensional photograph. But while those fake foods, made to scale with polyvinyl chloride and other inedible materials, do reflect Japan's long tradition of high-quality hand-craftsmanship, they don't reflect some of the culture's other virtues: the advanced Japanese skills of miniaturization (remarked upon by even the earliest Western visitors to the once-closed country), not to mention the deliciousness of actual Japanese food.
At a stroke, the Youtube channel Miniature Space combines all of those into a single project: its creators replicate a variety of classic Japanese, Western, and Japanese-Western dishes like shrimp tempura, curry, and okonomiyaki on video, all at what seems an impossibly small scale. Not only that, but they use only miniature kitchen tools, right down to wee knives, spatulas, and rolling pins as well as tea candle-powered stoves.
Some of these, writes iDigitalTimes' ND Medina, "come from Re-Ment, a Japanese company noted for the impressive detail of its miniatures. However, many of the tools used have long been out of production, like anything by Konapun, a brand which made fun miniature cooking sets for kids to experience the joys of cooking."
Miniature cooking at this level of rigor requires not just considerable manual dexterity but a certain knack for creative substitution: toothpicks instead of standard skewers, quail eggs instead of chicken eggs, special shrimp from the aquarium supply store small enough to fit inside one's thimble-sized cooking pot. Though aesthetically satisfying on many levels and technically edible to boot, these mini-meals wouldn't satisfy any normal human appetite. Nevertheless, watching enough Miniature Space videos in a row will almost certainly get you hungering for a regular-sized grill of yakitori, bowl of spaghetti, or plate of pancakes — and leave you with some of the know-how needed to make such dishes, even in a non-miniature kitchen.
You can view a playlist of miniature Japanese cooking here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.