compulsive shopping

I Can’t Stop Buying (Actually Functional) Objects That Look Like Food

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist

A few years ago, I was at Russ & Daughters when I picked up a (now sadly discontinued) tin of “caviar” in royal blue. On further inspection, I realized that it wasn’t really caviar at all but delightful little mints shaped like caviar! What fun it was to whip these out of my purse at a party when someone inevitably asked for a mint. When I next stumbled across a barrette covered in shiny plastic pasta from a stall in Thailand, the same one-two-punch feeling of delight came over me — not only did this lovely thing keep my hair tidily styled, but it meant that I could finally wear pasta. In the years since, I’ve amassed what is now a pantry’s worth of functional objects that look like food.

One rule when it comes to buying these objets: they must be functional. While I understand the allure of marble fruit, I find it much more alluring when these trompe l’oeils actually do something. Here are some of my favorites.

I never miss the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. Described by someone on Twitter as “Coachella for people who think The Sopranos is a documentary,” it’s one of the best places to stock up on cannoli, clams, and … realistic food magnets for 25 cents a pop. Heaped on tables across Mott, Mulberry, and Elizabeth Streets, these resin wonders will make your once-respectable refrigerator look like it’s regurgitated its contents onto itself in a fun way. It’s spunkily matchy-matchy to have roast chicken in your fridge and on your fridge. I constantly give these as housewarming gifts, because I have to help my friends do whatever the opposite of “classing up the place” is and these little refrigerator gems are a great way to do that. For those who can’t make it to the festival, I’ve managed to find a few I bought that you can get online, including this tableau of oysters mid-shuck …

… And a classic tutti-frutti selection.

Then, of course, there are Cereria Introna candles. Six generations of the Introna family have crafted these treasures in Bari. At my dinner parties, a candle shaped like a bottle of wine burns next to my drinkable bottles, and I can’t tell you how thrilling it is when someone drunkenly grabs the wrong bottle for a refill. I regularly bring one of the mini spumante candles to stick on my friends’ birthday cakes at parties. Sounds aggressive but trust me, everyone loves it.

Recently, I brought the ham candle to a porchetta-themed dinner party and was briefly the center of attention.

For birthdays, congratulatory gifts, and even apologies, nothing beats Introna’s cake candles. They are works of art that could rival the finest bakers with their paraffin florets, slices of candied fruit, dollops of cream, and dough latticework.

For New Yorkers, there is no better place to immerse yourself in the Introna-verse than John Derian. The meat and cheese candles are displayed on an elaborate charcuterie board, and the cakes are arranged in an array worthy of Versailles.

A question I ask myself regularly is why have normal tapered candles when you could have tapers that look like asparagus? These are the sorts of quandaries that keep me up at night, people! Thankfully, sometimes other people, like the good folks at Artifaqt, are thinking along the same lines and have crafted asparagus tapers that are as exquisite as the actual white asparagus stalks that mark the dawn of spring. Slender and elegantly tapered, their wicks are encased in wax molded to look like the top of an asparagus spear.

You should also check out the sweet garlic candle.

While they are enormously popular in Japan, I’d be remiss not to include the majorly important sampuru, which are Japanese fake-food displays. Waxy and meticulously crafted with precise attention to culinary detail, these models allow restaurant visitors to simply point at what they want instead of referring to menus. Needless to say, on a recent trip to Japan, I bought as many as I could fit into my suitcase. So without further ado, do you need a keychain that looks like shrimp tempura, a broken quail egg with a suspended yolk, or bacon-wrapped asparagus? Look no further than the company Fake Food Japan.

Here’s a compact mirror or card case designed to look uncannily like “boneless beef short rib” …

… And a rice-festooned one with more-real-than-real-looking salmon roe.

An iPad stand in the shape of a watermelon, kimchee, spaghetti, or an apple? Of course they have that! Fake Food Japan is so vast in its offerings I’d say it’s not just a brand, it’s a lifestyle.

This ice-cream-sandwich-shaped soap looks delightfully deranged in my bathroom. Sure, there are even more “out there” soaps, but do you really want to wash your hands with a chili cheese dog or bowl of mac and cheese? For me, these strike the right balance of cartoonish and charming. They also serve the purpose of never letting your guests forget that you’ve gone off the deep end — even when they are trying to wash their hands of you. I love these soap bars so much I just gave one as a birthday gift a few days ago.

I never leave the house without these and would absolutely lose my Airpods if I didn’t have my cabbage case. Friends and strangers alike are constantly asking me where I got this precious bit of Peterrabbitcore (a subgenre of cottagecore I just made up). And one time, I watched a confused bartender in the dimly lit Nancy’s Whiskey Pub slowly reach out and touch it before recoiling, completely unaware of what her finger had made contact with.

These pearls’ closeness to the actual shape of chicken feet makes me wonder if there was some evolutionary joke played on both oysters and chickens in which chickens really got the short end of the stick. Although naturally occurring, they look like they emerged fully formed from the brain of Rei Kawakubo and make all of my outfits slightly more avant. They flatter all skin tones and add a touch of humor to even my most funerary ensembles. The genius sisters at Gohar World make an elevated version featuring their signature bean logo that recently came back in stock …

… But if it goes out of stock again, here’s one from Etsy.

Erasers that look like peanuts are not only perfect stocking stuffers but adorable presents that I love leaving on people’s desks or in random places in their apartments for them to find at a later date. A way to leave your mark without carving “I was here” on someone’s lovely wooden surface.

Can’t afford Claes Oldenburg? What a coincidence: Neither can I! Instead, go for this hand-painted, surprisingly sturdy molded resin footstool shaped like an ear of corn, made by the clever folks at Third Drawer Down. While I do draw the line at most furniture that looks like food, and part of the charm of the objects on this list is that they are small, I’ve made an exception for this stool.

What’s up, doc? No better way to celebrate New York’s new laws than with this fetching pipe. Try the blue carrot for a more eccentric take.

An inelegant object for an inelegant business. This brings a bit of sweetness and light to an otherwise depressing chore. I keep replacing these to give my bathroom that Oldenburgian touch.

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I Can’t Stop Buying Objects That Look Like Food