My girls are into Pokemon. Yes, they are completely and totally unique in that regard. Yes, that’s called sarcasm. But let’s not forget, Pokemon has been around for 20 years now and is still finding new fans. There’s no shortage of new Pokemon related products to mark the anniversary, one of which is The Pokemon Cookbook, which boasts “Easy and Fun Recipes” on the cover. Can it live up to the promise? And is it good?
The Pokémon Cookbook: Easy & Fun Recipes (Viz Media)
My hopes were that The Pokemon Cookbook would do its best to replicate the taste of real Pokemon with everyday ingredients. Alas, when I read the cookbook I found it was merely taught kids how to make Pokemon-themed food. Obviously I needed some help. I enlisted my youngest daughter to help make a recipe.
After picking a cake that looked like Pokemon mascot Pikachu, I scanned what I would need from the grocery store. Castella, a cake that is readily available in Japan, and un-readily available where I live, was the main ingredient. Ok, lets look for another. “1/2 sheet of nori…” Ok, I can get seaweed sheets in my grocery store, but I’d like something my daughter would eat. It was becoming clear that the “Easy” part of the cook book might not live up to its name. I do a quick scan of the back of the book and confirm my suspicion that this is in fact a translated version of an original Japanese cookbook, with the same recipes.
Great translation, yes — but many of the ingredients would have to be purchased in a specialty food store and would likely be unfamiliar to other western 6 year olds, like my daughter. Many recipes favored things like Mochi, Sushi rolls, Boxed lunches and an abundance of ketchup as a main ingredient (Ketchup rice? Ugh). In fairness, most of them included substitute suggestions. Unfortunately, most were vague and unhelpful, leaving it up to the reader to find something they could use.
Still, I was determined to find something we could both make together and that she would eat. So we settled on the “Combee Banana Trifle”. Trifle is one of my favorite desserts and this one’s main ingredients consisted of angel food cake (substitute), vanilla pudding (substitute), bananas, and whipped cream. The only actual “cooking” that would be done, was a simple syrup with a teaspoon of lemon juice that could be poured over a layer of the cake.
My daughter loved grabbing a handful of the sponge cake and crushing it like her father’s hopes of finding Castella in a local grocery store. She liked stirring the water and sugar together and loved holding measuring cups. I asked her what she liked about the Pokemon “Combee” and she said she liked “Squirtle”. “He’s not the best,” she added, in reference to Combee.
Sure, you’re no Squirtle — but maybe your delicious trifle will make up for it, Combee.
We went back to cooking. After layering the cake, pudding, bananas and whipped cream, it looked exactly like… a bowl of Trifle. The “Combee” portion of the recipe was entirely separate. We decorated three slices of banana, with the peel still on, with pepper corns, paper wings and dried cranberries, on a different plate to look like the Combee. It was completely inedible. I guess you could eat it, if you were a nut, but it was mostly there to look at you, as you ate a bowl of cake and whipped cream.
After trying our handiwork I grilled my daughter in an exit interview. I wanted to see if her palette was refined enough to pick out the tart hint of lemon juice I snuck in while she was busy destroying cake. She said, “It tasted like banana pudding”. Fair enough.
Is It Good?
My daughter had a lot of fun making the dish and was very proud of herself afterwards. Older kids and parents who pick this up thinking they will be making burger patties in the shape of an Eevee, are going to be disappointed. The problem is, this isn’t indicated anywhere on the outside or in the preface of the book. It would have made a neat marketing strategy to get western kids interested in a cuisine from the land that makes the show and games they love.
Sure, a quick scan inside would let someone know the kind of cuisine featured in the book; but with the amount of shopping that’s done online by parents checking off a list from their kids, without seeing the product first hand, lots of Pokemon fans aren’t going to know what they’re in for. They might end up searching fruitlessly for a damn Castella cake on Amazon, like me. It could have been a better book, with a higher score, if the people in charge of bringing out the English version had done more of the legwork finding suitable substitutes. My daughter said she’d like to make another recipe from the book, so they got the “Fun” part of the promise right. Unfortunately the “Easy” didn’t refer to the difficulty of cooking the recipes, instead it was the path taken by the publishers by bringing out this version of The Pokemon Cookbook.