Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party and need to make a dessert. You carefully light a stack of tea candles and insert them inside a miniature, seemingly hand-built, oven structure. You cut up a few pieces of butter and place them into a thimble-size stovetop metal skillet with some brown sugar. This however is just the first step in what ultimately becomes a pineapple upside-down cake.
This, of course, isn’t actually how anyone would choose to make a dessert to serve, but is rather one of the many tiny food videos that are frequently going viral on the Internet. The Tiny Foods Twitter account has 304,000 followers, while Miniature Space has more than 1 million YouTube subscribers. The phenomenon, which originated in Japan, has been written up everywhere from The Atlantic to BuzzFeed.
But why, exactly, are people so obsessed with these impossibly small creations? It’s hard to say. In Japanese culture, tiny food exemplifies the idea of cuteness, which is widely popular throughout Japanese society. In the U.S., this concept is no doubt also part of its conscious, or subconscious, appeal. But what perhaps most quickly comes to mind upon seeing these videos are childhood memories of doll houses. In this way, tiny food seems to tap into a nostalgia for the past, and an aspect of play that is most often largely forgotten during adulthood.
Dolls have certainly proved to be ripe material for creative pursuits in the past. (Think: artist Laurie Simmons’s extensive body of work.) Replicas of food, although most often inedible, have likewise long held a kitschy yet indelible place in the design world. Today, some of the most popular and artisanal varieties can be found at stores like John Derian and Castle in the Air. But the space that occupies both miniature food and television cooking show truly seems to be a nerve-racking yet transfixing world of its own.