If Anthony Bourdain taught me anything, it’s that you can see the heart of a nation through its food. Whether it’s in the lonely meals people eat when they stop by convenient kitchens as they journey from place to place, the big event-like feasts we put on when we celebrate, or the food we give as gifts to one another to please, nourish, and entertain, food is the beating heart of culture. In the real world, and the virtual.
There are many game worlds that manage to reflect the soul that goes into food. Final Fantasy 15 and its opulent meals – all made by the human labrador Ignis – come to mind, as do the many meals any competent chef can make in Final Fantasy 14. Monster Hunter has known for years that any intrepid explorer worth their salt will sit and dine with friends before heading out on an expedition. And even sitting down with a lonely tin of lukewarm beans has its own romantic charm in Red Dead Redemption 2.
But The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom does it differently. Much like in its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has lavished an unparalleled level of care and attention on the Hylian food of Tears of the Kingdom. Whether you’re slapping together an impromptu skewer to give you a lift before your next Bokoblin skirmish, or pouring your heart (container) and soul into an unctuous stew that’s going to see you to the peak of the next mountain, playing as a chef in TotK isn’t just invigorating… it’s essential if you want to survive.
Every single new location I arrive in, I immediately start sniffing out the local ingredients – a different genus of pepper? Plucked. A new kind of meat from the local fauna? Hunted. Some peculiar new nut, growing from some craggy plant crammed between two rocks? Taken. Often, these local ingredients play into what you need to do – you find peppers that give you cold resistance growing in the snow, you find lizards that confer heat resistance scrambling about on the dried magma of a volcano.
Lay down some wood, strike some flint, bring one of your Zonai pots out of its peculiarly sci-fi capsule, and viola; you’re cooking with fire. A quick assembly of ingredients, a moment of excitement from Link as he lives out his gourmand fantasies, and you’ve got a meal. Is it a broth that’ll keep the wind out of your bones for a few minutes? Is it a nice, chilled meat dish that will let you endure the sweltering heat of the magma caves a little longer? It’s up to you. Just like cooking in real life, only with the fantastical, unlikely ingredients of your dreams.
There’s a peculiar logic that comes with food in Tears of the Kingdom, too – simply adding an egg to some sliced meat and peppers won’t get you an omelette. In order to really understand Hylian cuisine, you must experiment – toss a pepper and some garlic in with some fish, crush some rock salt over a fluffy mixture of eggs and milk, whack five whole chicken wings into a pot in one go… just to see what happens.
The results can be game-changing. Last night, I was scaling Death Mountain. I’m still fairly early on in the game, finding my feet – and wings – in this newly vertical world. Perhaps I’d have made more progress if I could get away from the crockpot (or should that be Korok pot?). I only have one ring of stamina, and precious few hearts. But nonetheless, unlocking a Sky Tower saw me banking on a gentle breeze to the foot of Death Mountain, and I cannot turn down a challenge of that magnitude readily. So I start climbing.
Taking a break at some hot baths and scouring the edges of the spa for some local flavours, I made my way up the majority of the mountain without pause. But, as I approached the summit, everything started to get quite… steep. The volcano’s multiple escarpments posed a sheer challenge (pun intended) that’d work the arm muscles of even the most seasoned climber. But what I lacked in seasons of training, I made up for in training with seasoning. A quick campfire and some herbaceous cooking later, and I had enough food crammed into my satchel to get me up over the last imposing mantle to the apex.
You see, I’ve figured out that slapping some delicious aromatics into a meat dish will confer stamina recovery – and you can stuff your face with it, mid-climb! So even huge impasses and wide granite slabs become trivial when you’ve got enough Rosemary Chicken in your back pocket. Wonderful.
Therein lies the beauty of Tears of the Kingdom, much like Breath of the Wild before it: you can overcome pretty much any challenge in pretty much any way you like. There is focus (and love, and respect) for food, but it’s just one ingredient in the generous stew that is this open world masterpiece.
I have chosen to roleplay as a chef in Tears of the Kingdom because it’s reminiscent of a life I almost had, but you could equally play Link as an engineer, warrior, pilot, bare-chested prize-fighter, roaming pacifist, expert rally car driver, or… well, pretty much anything. It’s RPG catnip, and it’s easy to understand why so many people think it’s one of the best games of all time.
Buy The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom
TOTK is out now for Nintendo Switch! Check out the links below to secure your copy today.