What Do The Food Emojis Mean? I Tried Making Them In Real Life, And Let's Just Say It Wasn't Easy

By now, you have probably figured out what all of those hand emojis mean and how to use them, and it's possible you've even mastered the art of emoji sexting, but how well do you know what all the food emojis mean? Some of them are easily identifiable — a bowl of rice, a cookie, spaghetti and sauce — while others are, well, a little less obvious. What the heck is that stick with the green, white, and pink balls on it anyway? Turns out, it's dango, a sweet Japanese dumpling, and it's a lot harder to make than you think. How do I know? I tried to make food that looks exactly like emojis, and the results were... interesting to say the least.

Emojis have become a beloved and universal way of communicating quickly, but people's adoration for these little images has reached an all-time high. From charm bracelets to lockets, there is emoji-themed jewelry to fit all your needs when texting is no longer enough. Emojis have become a popular theme for parties and costumes, and one brave soul even went on an all-emoji diet for a week. People have incorporated emojis into their everyday lives, and by trying to make food that looked exactly like the little graphics, my goal was to bring emojis to life in a deliciously real way. 

If you have ever suffered a major Pinterest fail, then you know how hard it is to recreate a DIY project that looks exactly like the picture, especially food. Try as you might, your rainbow cake roll is destined to turn into a solid mess of brown color, and anything you attempt to shape like an animal ultimately looks demonic and not at all kid-friendly. After a week spent counting chocolate chips in my cookies and shaping sticky rice paste into balls, I can say that trying to make real-life emoji food is no different than trying to make real-life Pinterest finds — that is to say, it's pretty much impossible.

This is what happens when you try and make food that looks exactly like the emoji:

1. Roasted Sweet Potato

I started my emoji-recreations with the simplest foods. The produce — corn, tomatoes, cherries — don't require any real cooking or preparation, so it seemed like an easy first step. That is until I got to the grocery store, and found that no melons are perfectly round and bananas are never that yellow. I opted to recreate the roasted sweet potato because it was the most attainable looking option...

Or so I thought. I took my potato home to boil it, and found that while the outside skin stayed the right shade of purple, the inside of the yam turned white. I should have known then that nothing is as simple as it seems.

2. Cookie

Easily identifiable and easily made, I next turned my attention to the cookie emoji. How hard could it be to recreate such a commonly made food? As long as I paid attention to the oven timer and counted my chocolate chips ahead of time, I figured I would be in good shape. 

OK, so maybe I made an entire batch of cookies, and only two of them looked like their emoji-versions, but you can't argue with the results. Five chocolate chips (check), not quite round (check), and plenty of texture on the cookies surface (check). I might just send my cookie image in place of the emoji from now on.

3. Spaghetti

The spaghetti and sauce is one of my most beloved and frequently used emojis (my last name is Trombetta, after all), so it had to be on my list of recreations. All I needed was four basic things — pasta, sauce, plate, and fork — and I was in business.

I should have known pasta is never as simple as it looks. For my first attempt, I used regular spaghetti, but the noodles were too round and skinny and didn't resemble the emoji at all (though it was delicious). My second attempt using thick spaghetti was more successful, but then I had to face the next big question: what is the shape of that emoji fork, anyways? It looks like a crooked chopstick. As you can see, my version was not an exact replica, but I got pretty close.

4. Poultry Leg

Whenever I look at this emoji, I can't help but think of the Flintstone family, because it looks like a hunk of meat from prehistoric times. If you ask me, it should be replaced with a chicken wing emoji, because, duh, chicken wings are the best food ever. Regardless, the poultry leg seemed like a doable recreation, as long as I was willing to do some experimenting.

I tried two methods to recreate the perfectly browned poultry leg, baking and frying. The baked leg got too greasy, and didn't get dark enough to match the coloring of its emoji, whereas the fried leg looked almost identical. The one major issue was keeping the protruding bone a fresh white color, which was pretty much impossible. I even tried cooking the meat separately, and reattaching it to the bone, but the bone was still a purple-brown color. OK, maybe I got a little too into this project...

5. Egg In A Frying Pan

Technically, the egg in a frying pan is the cooking action emoji, but it involves food, so it made the list. Anyone who loves breakfast knows that finding the perfect sunny-side-up egg, one as perfect-looking as the emoji, is like hitting the jackpot. Being an egg-enthusiast myself, I felt confident I could handle it.

Success — and it only took three attempts! You'd be surprised how hard it is to keep the yolk centered in the egg whites, but I think this photo speaks for itself.

6. Fried Shrimp

Something about the shrimp emoji makes it look more realistic than its fellow food pics. Maybe its the little bits of crunchy batter hanging off the edges, or the perfect shade of pink in the shrimp's tail — or maybe I just like this one because shrimp is one of my all-time favorite foods, which is most likely the case. Either way, the fried shrimp called out to me, and my deep fryer answered.

If you squint and tilt your head a little to the right, then my shrimp looks just like the emoji shrimp, I swear. While I was able to recreate the right crunchy look thanks to an egg wash and some panko crumbs, getting the tail to hit the right shade of pink was no walk in the park. Like most cooking-related things, it was all about timing, and it only took me half a dozen shrimp to nail it.

7. Taco

Now that there is finally a taco emoji, I felt obligated to attempt to recreate it. While I considered going to the Taco Bell drive-through to get a hard shell beef taco (since I am convinced they were the model for the new emoji), I stayed in my kitchen and got to sizzling and chopping instead.

Presentation is key when it comes to tacos, especially emoji tacos apparently. Achieving the right meat-to-topping ratio was the challenge here, but like Barney Stinson, I accepted. A little propping up here, a little stuffing there, and voila — and edible taco emoji! You're welcome.

8. Cooked Rice

If you haven't already noticed, a lot of the food emojis are from Asian cuisine. There's the bento box, the ramen noodles, and a whole lot of other things I had to Google. Before I tried to make homemade sushi, though, I thought I would boost my confidence by making the easiest of the options: a bowl of cooked white rice. 

If you thought "hey, I'll just cook rice, put it in a bowl, and flip it over to get this nice mound-like shape," YOU ARE WRONG. My first attempt at the cooked rice bowl was made with just simple minute-rice, but it didn't hold any kind of shape. I tried to pile it on high, but the little grains kept rolling away, leaving a strange rice pyramid. I had to turn to sticky rice — what is used in sushi and rice cakes — instead, but after a little molding and shaping, I finally had the perfectly rounded rice bowl.

9. Rice Ball

Though I didn't know exactly what this emoji was, I could tell it was mostly rice. After some searching, I learned that little black square was not, as I imagined, a napkin, but instead a seaweed wrap. My hands were already sticky from the rice bowl, so I moved on to making rice balls.

It's a rice triangle, technically, but it is called a rice ball, and it was the most fun to make! With clean, wet hands, I played around with sticky sushi rice until it was the same shape as the emoji, and carefully trimmed a piece of seaweed wrap to fit. Nailed it.

10. Sushi

I had been looking for an excuse to try and make my own sushi, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Besides, the pictured sushi emoji is a kind of nigiri (sliced raw fish on  top of a ball of rice), not some complicated rainbow roll, so I felt I was qualified to handle it.

It was very lucky for me that the sushi emoji is not in roll-form, because as I would later learn, hand-rolling is not my strong suit. Slicing raw fish and stretching it over rice balls, though, totally is. Using sticky rice and sushi-grade salmon from my grocery store, this emoji was a quick and simple recreation. Though I would have liked to find a darker colored salmon, I would say this is one of the most accurate of the bunch.

11. Dango

I stared at this emoji, probably even slipped it into texting conversations, for years before learning what it is. Dango is a sweet Japanese rice dumpling that is commonly served on a stick (like the emoji), or with a sweet sauce for dessert. Now, dumplings are insanely easy to make — mix, shape, steam, serve — so I asked myself, how hard can this really be?

The answer: way harder than you'd think. The ingredients are simple: sweet rice flour, sugar, tofu, a little green tea powder, and some food coloring, mixed in three separate bowls. But getting them into nicely shaped balls before steaming them? A nightmare. I am still cleaning sticky, gooey dumpling paste out from under my fingernails, I swear. 

12. Fish Cake

If you eat ramen, then you might actually know what this white-and-pink swirl is. Commonly called narutomaki, it is a Japanese fish cake that is steamed in a log-form and sliced before being served. Remember when I told you I would learn how bad my hand rolling skills were? This is how.

Making fish cakes is easy, as long as you DGAF how they look. I threw white fish, rice flour, sweet rice wine, and eggs in a blender to get the base, which was the simple part. I then split the mixture, adding a few drops of pink dye to half, and then flattened each half before layering the pink on top of the white. I attempted to roll the sticky, messy mix, but squished several rolls before getting one that (kind of) looked right. I steamed the roll, which seemed easy, but when I was done, I noticed the pink dye pretty much took over. I'm just going to let this picture speak for itself now.

13. Strawberry Cake

Can you emoji your cake and eat it too? If you have some determination, you can certainly try. I did, because really, is there anything as sweet and mouthwatering on the emoji list as this white-and-red slice of cake?

This cake could have gone a lot of different ways. The white layers leave much to the imagination — is it vanilla flavored, or maybe shortcake as the strawberry would imply? I went with angel food for my cake base, because of its bright white coloring and its ability to keep its shape. For the strawberry layer, I simmered fresh berries and some sugar on the stove to make a sticky fruit filling, and for the frosting, I chose to go with fresh whipped cream. My result wasn't perfect (OK, maybe the middle isn't perfectly scalloped), but it certainly captures the spirit of the emoji cake. 

Conclusion:

So what was it like using food emojis IRL? A whole lot of fun, a whole lot of mess, and a whole lot of experimentation. It's one thing to try and recreate a recipe from Pinterest, but it's another thing entirely to create your own based off of a small, digital icon. (If you think mastering the art of souffles is tough, I urge you to try this.) There are some things I know for sure though: the next time I text my friends about getting sushi, I'll be looking at the little salmon nigiri with a whole new level of appreciation, I will never be able to request pasta for dinner via emoji the same way ever again, and the next time I get a picture-meal, I'll be sure to eat it with the respect it deserves.

Images: Emojipedia (13); Sadie Trombetta (13)

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