Food is plays a central role in Final Fantasy XV -- and it's not just obvious Cup Noodle product placement, either. Meals add to your vitality and strength, increase magical resistances and even offer the chance of more experience points to grow your team. They're integral to your near-daily camp-outs, when you recover from battles and thumb through all the photos your bros took. Each dish has different benefits, and there are a lot of ways to learn new meals, from eating your way around the restaurants of the world of Eos to buying cookbooks and even just being "inspired" by poetry and random ingredients (often monster body parts) you pick up along the way.
FFXV also attempts to offer some sort of regional differentiation in cuisine as you road-trip across states and towns. Some dishes are more elaborate twists on meals you've already eaten, but they're nonetheless different, with different local fish or delicacies. But is it actually possible to cook such varied cuisine, from rice balls to delicate sweet pastries, on (Coleman-sponsored!) cooking equipment? I took my high-school home-economics skills to my kitchen to see how I stacked up against Ignis, the game's designated cook. He's a glasses-wearing, English-accented, car-driving butler type. And now, my eternal rival.
I set a few simple guidelines: no microwaves or ovens. I would endeavor to cook with the same skills afforded to a camper. I would avoid anything instant (with one notable exception), and I would have to make it all from scratch (within reason, anyway). Naturally, I would be substituting my own ingredients for things that don't exist. Behemoth tenderloin turns into beef. Because reality. While the (shocking) lack of an official FFXV cookbook persists, I took to the internet in search of real-world recipes and tried to make them.
I picked recipes that required some skill (I skipped toast and rice balls, for example), yet there are plenty of in-game meals that were impossible to cook on camping stoves and grills. Puff pastry is not camp-friendly (I Googled a lot), nor are any of the in-game sweet treats. Yes, it's a game, and perhaps investing far too much time in the recipes and their real-life iterations made me slightly humorless to the ridiculousness of it all. That said: I learned a new recipe I might cook outside the confines of editorial demands, and realized that nothing can truly upgrade the guilty pleasure of a Cup Noodle, at least not without feeling like you wasted whatever you added. Here's the tale of my culinary adventure.
Chapter One: "Croque madame"
Suggested ingredients: Gighee ham, Birdbeast egg
Real ingredients: Thick-cut ham, egg, bread, cheese, oil
The importance of food in FFXV is clearly communicated through the sheer amount of effort the team took to render each dish: It's usually glistening and looks downright delicious, something I've never been able to say about in-game food. Look at that egg!
My first challenge is a successful one: The joy of a cheese-and-ham toastie with an egg on it is beautifully rendered in Final Fantasy XV -- and my version looks pretty good, too. The croque madame is a strong candidate for a kind-of-fancy camping meal. Although it does depend on carrying around fresh eggs and cheese, the sandwich is easy to cook on a stove. You might notice that the in-game shopping list (made of things you can either buy or find in FFXV) fell short of the experience of cooking the same dish in real life. Ignis' recipes consist of a few ingredients and an idea. And a lot of filling in the gaps.
Chapter Two: Green-curry soup
Suggested ingredients: Chickatrice leg, Allural shallot, sweet pepper
Real ingredients: Chicken thighs, onions, coconut milk, sweet red pepper, mushrooms, green curry paste, seasoning, chicken stock, oil, cilantro
There are around 103 dishes inside the game (ignoring the DLC extras that continue to roll out), but this recipe is something I've made for myself in the past, so I was confident. Again, the recipes of FFXV follow very, very loose guidelines. (How can you make a Thai curry without an aromatic paste and coconut milk?!) That said: The game's iteration was arguably a better-looking one. While not even slightly green, mine tasted pretty great; it was a one-pan dish that was both tasty and easy to cobble together. I'm not sure if chickatrice would taste different than chicken.
In-game dishes were made through combining existing food photography of the game's recipes (or a dish that approximated them), with actually cooking them. As Eater details in its own deep-dive: The art department would plan out the dish's ingredients and appearance, after which a different team would take it outside and try to cook it on a camp stove -- just like in the game. Realism! Dishes were photographed from multiple angles and even scanned to help ensure the digital dishes better approximated the real thing.
Chapter Three: "Mother and Child" rice bowl
Suggested ingredients: Chickatrice leg, Birdbeast egg, Saxham rice
Real ingredients: Chicken thighs, onions, egg, short-grain rice, soy sauce, mirin, cooking sake, chicken stock, brown sugar, oil
Ignis picks up how to make this one when he sees some woman chowing down on it midgame. This inspires his own version. The creep. His chef skills "level up" the more dishes he makes, opening up more-potent stat-boosting cuisine in the process and adding another reason to expand your tastes during the whole "battle with the empire, save your betrothed and avenge your father" thing. The food in FFXV might seem like it's a distraction, but as you play further, the stat improvements and benefits often became necessary for big fights. This meant I was actively looking for more recipes and eating at every restaurant I could find in order to unearth stronger, more-potent dinners.
This is a classic Japanese home-cooked dish that I've always wanted to nail. And I did! The ingredients I listed above were all I needed to achieve a real depth of flavor with the chicken, eggs and rice. The rice wasn't perfect, but then again, I rarely cook rice in a pan. I'm not a chef -- yet. All told, this, too, was another realistic campside meal ... if you were to carry around all the required Japanese seasonings.
Chapter Four: The perfect "Cup"
Suggested ingredients: Behemoth tenderloin, Cup Noodle
Real ingredients: Beef steak, Cup Noodle
Now we're cooking. Later in the game, gratuitous product placements give way to a quest dedicated to crafting the ultimate Cup Noodle. Medium-rare Behemoth meat atop a mix of MSG, freeze-dried vegetable bits, noodles and other stuff.
I did this for my job. I also feared that this would be the worst-tasting menu item: a waste of steak and even of said legendary noodle snack.
However, while I wouldn't call it a glorious taste fusion, it kind of worked. The black pepper I added to the steak kept the two disparate foodstuffs together, and the steak managed to leach some juicy flavors into the latter half of my cup. It wasn't not perfect, but it was edible. Maybe even better than a standard Cup Noodle. Perhaps.
But there was no way I could photograph my attempt to appear even close to appetizing. The game's version didn't exactly look like fine dining, either. I can assure you that it tasted better than it looked. And I'm sorry you had to see that.