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The Irresistible Charm of Tiny Dollhouse Food

You can’t eat it, but you can keep it forever and it won’t take up much space

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A miniature rice bowl on a hand for scale
Teeny, tiny bibimbap
Etsy [Official]

As an only child I found many ways to entertain myself, but none were as soothing as making home goods for my dollhouse, as I did with a headboard recycled from an old yogurt lid or an apron with a ric-rac trim that I stapled — rather than sewed — together for my Madeline doll to wear around her kitchen. Though I am no longer a kid, I still love dollhouse miniatures, especially of the inedible food variety.

With so much of our life now confined to our homes, it can feel like we’re in an alternate reality where we are the playthings, forever trapped in a dollhouse. So while you’re at it, this might be the perfect time to invest in some charming miniatures to dress up your living arrangement.

With their budget-friendly prices and small footprint (great for small apartments!), fake food minis are a benign (and shelf-stable!) hobby to take on during the pandemic. Plus, mini meals have the ability to plunge us into a fantasy realm, a reminder of a bygone era when you could casually pop into a restaurant or host friends for a dinner party without worrying about catching (or spreading) a potentially-deadly virus. How quaint!

It seems I’m not the only one seeking out dollhouse miniatures right now. The New York Times recently ran an op-ed by Rebecca Ackermann, a designer who has turned to making tiny clay renditions of recipes — such as a Reem’s California falafel salad, Sohla El-Waylly’s miso clams, or key lime pie from Back in the Day Bakery — to quell pandemic-related anxiety. At the start of COVID-19, fashion designer Susan Alexandra raised money for the food justice non-profit No Kid Hungry by selling custom miniatures of meals; customers requested recreations from menus spanning NYC’s acclaimed Via Carota to the U.S.-based fast casual chain California Pizza Kitchen (the latter may become a collector’s item, as the company just filed for bankruptcy).

Four miniature pani puri spreads and a hand for scale
Itty-bitty pani puri
Etsy [Official]

But beyond the radical, outsized joy that mini meals bring me, they also provide me small reprieve from my disappointing life-size cooking. Throughout quarantine, I’ve watched as friends and colleagues made sourdough loaves, and, later, decadent, flaky pastries. As I scroll, I am impressed and jealous all at once. “Think. Of. All. The. Dishes,” my brain purrs at me.

While in many cases cooking can be a therapeutic way of winding down, the pandemic often leaves me struggling with culinary indecision. It’s resolved most typically by throwing together an effortless mix of fermented foods and rice, or something else of the like, that allows me to leave room for other, more pressing matters — like ordering tiny inedible meals off Etsy.

With perfectly-sculpted dollhouse miniatures of food you can live out your wildest recipe dreams and have them memorialized in your home, without having to exert any brain energy or fret if the pastry crust didn’t turn out as you’d planned. Why have disappointing-but-digestible baked goods when you could have a small and perfectly iced millefeuille in perpetuity? Prefer savory fake foods? Consider this cheese board or these adorable steamed pork dumplings nestled in a carefully woven petite basket. If you’re looking for a full meal, this little pani puri spread is for you. For those who want to go retro Americana with their miniature doll foods, here’s some colorful molded Jell-O.

Or maybe you don’t know what you want beyond, you want it to be cute, tiny, and meant for dolls. Here are some more suggestions for your mind’s menu. Bon ap-petite, but please don’t eat.

Emma Orlow is a writer for Eater, Grub Street, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Bon Appétit (among others), where she covers the intersection of the food and design worlds.