The other night, I made a dish for dinner that everyone loved. A recipe had popped up in my news feed that day for baked feta cheese and tomato pasta. The following day, a friend texted me the same recipe. That same night, my older daughter sent me a proud photo from her college kitchen of the same pasta, in a casserole dish as well.
The other night, I made a dish for dinner that everyone loved. A recipe had popped up in my news feed that day for baked feta cheese and tomato pasta. I followed the simple instructions: bake a round of feta cheese in a casserole pan with cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper and olive oil, then toss it at the end with penne pasta.
The following day, a friend texted me the same recipe. That same night, my older daughter sent me a proud photo from her college kitchen of the same pasta, in a casserole dish as well. She’d made it for dinner, not knowing I’d made it just the day before.
What was happening? Had feta cheese stock shot up? Had cherry tomatoes suddenly come into season? No. Apparently, we all indirectly got the viral “Tik Tok original” feta cheese pasta recipe, one of dozens of Tik Tok food phenomenons born this year.
Recipes like these are all over Tik Tok - and Instagram, Pinterest and You Tube. Dinners, desserts, breads, coffees, wraps. They are dishes made by people in their own homes, people who are experimenting on the daily with new ways to make old favorites a year into this pandemic.
But should we turn up our noses at viral cheffery, the recipes and concoctions of Americans cooking and experimenting without prior experience? At first, I wanted to. I wanted to be skeptical. These recipes aren’t tested or proven. They aren’t coming from Food Network, or even my local TV network.
Then, I realized this was why I spent my career writing about food in the first place. I’m no chef. I report about food, learn about it, experiment with it and watch chefs make it. Americans forced to cook in their homes for months have done the same thing out of necessity and ingenuity. They’ve embraced one of the great universal joys in life that bring us all together: food.
Regardless of our heritage, our geography or our cooking experience, food is a language we all speak.
Now, we speak it on Tik Tok, and Instagram and on Pinterest. We trade ideas and recipes from one quarantined home to another. We suggest a dinner here, a coffee drink there, almost like we are chatting over our neighbor’s fence. Except we aren’t hanging mask-free over our neighbor’s fence, sipping a cup of morning coffee. We are stuck in our houses, filming and photographing what we are making, trying to remain social in lieu of dining out as we share our gustatory experimentation and indulgences.
“Oh you have to try this easy dish I made with chicken last night!” we exclaim into our phone cameras. We may be alone in our kitchens, but we know thousands are about to join us in spirit when it posts.
So we get creative. This year alone, Tik Tok has gone viral multiple times for its food frenzies. It’s concocted quadrant tortillas, stuffed with four ingredients and folded accordingly, until it produces a triangular stuffed meal. It’s also introduced three-ingredient “cloud bread,” a whipped egg white bread substitute introduced years ago that’s now showing up in pastels. I’d call it unicorn bread.
Social media kitchens have also reintroduced the benefits of quarantine comfort foods like fried chicken, hot cocoa bombs and even buffet tables, where you cover a table with aluminum foil and dump everything on top. My favorite variation of this buffet trend is the nacho bar table, where chips, meats, cheeses and sauces all get dumped then picked at. I think the draw here is being able to share something with your immediate family after months of sterile isolation from social eating with everyone else.
Then there’s the drink trend. Well before Stanley Tucci’s CNN show “Searching for Italy” premiered last month, the actor achieved cult status on You Tube during quarantine for his cocktail-making skills. People couldn’t get enough of his Negroni tutorials filmed from a bar in his own home. This spring, we’ve graduated on social media from whipped Dalgona coffee and chocolate shell hot cocoa bombs to White Claw slushies and secret Starbucks concoctions. It’s like being able to watch a bartender mix up drinks, except you’re not sitting at a bar, and you probably won’t be for a while.
So is this social media recipe rush - much like virtual cooking classes, take-out food and bubbled outdoor dining tables – going to continue to be a huge part of our spring and summer food experience? I hope so. At least it keeps us all a little more connected. And it sure helps me think of more ways to make chicken after 373 days at home with two teenagers. Tonight: Tik Tok broccoli, chicken and rice casserole.