‘It’s the worst thing I ever put in my mouth!’ : my week living off TikTok recipes | Food

For anyone over the age of 25, TikTok is a baffling world of moronic dance routines and teenagers lip-syncing to each other’s conversations. Yet it’s also a hotbed of authentic culinary creativity. Dalgona coffee, cloud bread, feta pasta, the tortilla folding hack, hot chocolate bombs – these crossover food trends all gained popularity on the platform, and they are only the tip of the iceberg lettuce. But what makes certain dishes go viral, and are any of them any good? Will social media replace recipe books? In a transparent, ultimately pathetic attempt to stay relevant, I’ll be living largely off TikTok recipes for one week to find out, and keeping a food diary. Let’s go!

Day 1: Nature’s cereal / hasselback cheesy Marmite hot cross buns / jello frozen grapes

Nature’s cereal @lizzo

Breakfast of champions … nature’s cereal. Photograph: Rowena Price

Pour coconut water over berries and ice. Eat.

I doubt berries in water will replace wheat pieces in milk. Yet pop star Lizzo – among thousands of others – claims to be addicted. And, despite my scepticism, this is … fantastic? The smooth sweetness of coconut water lifts the blueberries and strawberries, with the pomegranate giving crunch. It’s supremely hydrating. Crunching on ice does feel a bit fashion week, though. And have you seen how much coconut water costs? I won’t be doing this again, any more than I’ll be sprinkling saffron in the bath and calling it aromatherapy. Nothing tastes as good as avoiding bankruptcy feels.

Hasselback cheesy Marmite hot cross buns @thisisplanetfood

The Marmite hot cross bun … love or hate?
The Marmite hot cross bun … love or hate? Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Cut vertical slices into a Marmite hot cross bun. Stuff with cheese and grill to melt. Drizzle with Marmite to finish.

Peckish after my water breakfast, I discover an intriguing snack. Hasselback may sound like an 80s German TV star, but it’s actually a way of increasing a potato’s buttering area by 10,000%. I was therefore intrigued by an idea courtesy of @thisisplanetfood, of deep-pleating a Marmite hot cross bun to concertina it with cheese. It’s unquestionably great, like five fluffy, mini cheese-on-toasts. Looks like I’m in for a good week.

Jello frozen grapes @baybradyy

Expect grape things … Jello frozen grapes
Expect grape things … Jello frozen grapes. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Wash grapes and put in freezer bag, still wet. Shake in jelly powder. Freeze.

I was ready to scoff at this health trend, in which frozen grapes are said to taste like juicy candy. But guess what – I dust, I freeze, I experience revelation. The sparkly globes that emerge are sharp and sweet and ice cold; addictive to eat, magical to behold. I scoff the lot; a grape success.

Day 2: Overnight Weetabix cheesecake / ramen lasagne / dalgona

Overnight Weetabix @eatwithjamielee

Moisten Weetabix with milk, in a lunchbox. Spread with yoghurt and chopped strawberries, topped with strawberry conserve. Swirl toppings with a cocktail stick, then refrigerate.

TikTok recipes are simple. That’s because the pop-music-scored videos are about eight seconds long, frantically edited and play on a loop that, after a while, makes you feel as if you’re being subjected to enhanced interrogation. The idea behind this massive 2022 trend is that, after a night in the fridge, thick yoghurt and Weetabix approximate the taste of cheesecake! If I was cheesecake, I’d consider legal action. This tastes like jam and yoghurt over Weetabix. Not bad, but have you ever had someone cancel plans just before you were going to? Now that’s delicious.

Ramen lasagne @ramenkingivan

One for the ramfam … ramen lasagne.
One for the ramfam … ramen lasagne. Photograph: Rhik Samadder

Layer instant noodle nests with pasta sauce and cheese. Bake.

How to explain the existence of ramen lasagne? It was created by Ivan McCombs, a Victor Frankenstein of instant noodles. He also has videos on how to make spring roll ramen, banana mayo ramen, microwave lobster ramen, coffee ramen and more. McCombs’ 6 million #ramfam followers lap up videos of him eating ramen with babyfood, or cooked in cream with melted Skittles, because this is who we are. The lasagne video has been viewed 20m times. Must dash as I’ve now consumed an entire jar of passata and am sweating tomatoes.

Dalgona @saifshawaf

Lick the back Rhik! … Korean street food, dalgona.
Lick the back Rhik! … Korean street food, dalgona. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Melt sugar in a pan. Add baking soda. Pour on to baking sheet, score to shape.

Not to be confused with dalgona coffee, this old-fashioned Korean street sweet is better known as the Squid Game candy. You know, the episode where the contestants have to snap a shape accurately, or get shot in the head. It’s a bit of fun! It’s surprisingly easy to make, with just two ingredients. Whisking and pouring, I struggle to extract the cookie cutters from the quick-cooling foam without everything shattering. If I was in Squid Game, I would fall over my laces and stab myself with the pen while signing up. Pro tip: don’t taste caramel while it cooks – it is a red-hot glue that turns to fibreglass in your mouth. Happened to, er, a friend of mine.

Day 3: Custard toast / corn ribs and smashed brussels sprouts / french-fried korean corndog / yorkshire pudding profiteroles

Custard toast @cookingwithayeh

Berry delight … custard toast.
Berry delight … custard toast. Photograph: Rhik Samadder

Make a custard. Indent a slice of bread, and pour in. Top with berries or chocolate drops, bake to set.

Great to be reminded how easy it is to make custard – here it’s just yoghurt, an egg and maple syrup. The problem is the bread. You have to squidge it down with your fingers to make a shallow basin for the custard. The sourdough I’m using springs right back. Against my political beliefs, I buy white bread that costs 9p; it works much better but makes me sad. I also find that raspberries trap a lot of heat; it’s like eating magma off a baked playing card.

Corn ribs @spicednice

Quarter corn on the cob, lengthwise. Brush with a spicy oil mix, airfry until charred. Serve with chipotle mayo.

This is more like it. TikToker @spicednice created corn ribs – with a nod to Mexican street food elotes – in a video that has 1.8m likes. While corn cobs are harder to slice than titanium, this is still a brilliant innovation. The corn curls as it bakes, taking on rib shape and colour, while the kernels get chewy under a smoky seasoning. Superb. I have since tried these at upmarket Mayfair restaurant Fallow, proof of how far a good idea can travel, no matter where it comes from.

Smashed brussels sprouts @lowcarbstateofmind

Trim sprouts, steam in microwave. Crush, spray with oil and garlic powder. Bake until crispy.

What’s not to love about mini-cabbages? I Hulk-smash these, season, and in 15 minutes am enjoying crispy, garlicky little green sliders. With this recipe (as with many others), TikTokers are obsessed with air frying, but baking works just as well.

Korean cheese corn dogs @stellanspice

‘Medieval club of batter and sausage’ … Korean cheese corn dogs.
‘Medieval club of batter and sausage’ … Korean cheese corn dogs. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Mix yeast batter, let rise. Wrap a sausage in cheese, and skewer. Coat in batter, roll in diced potato and panko breadcrumb. Deep fry.

I invite friends round for dinner, inspired by mukbang, the Korean TV genre in which hosts eat extreme foods in front of a live audience. TikTok also centres dishes with ASMR value: slurpy noods, crunchy nugs, with a sub-genre devoted to Korean corn dogs – half hotdog, half mozzarella, deep fried for the ultimate cheese pull. I wrap a cheese slice around a sausage, which immediately falls off. I compensate with too much yeasty paste. Rolling the hot mess in potato cubes doesn’t feel excellent. The resulting medieval club of batter and sausage, sans cheese, tastes weirdly OK. Sweetly boozy, tangy with cheap mustard and ketchup. I’m too old to mukbang, though. My stomach is squeaking and my friends left early.

Yorkshire pudding profiteroles @foodmadesimple

Yorkshire pudding profiteroles
Doing Yorkshire proud … pudding profiteroles. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Squirt whipped cream in half a batch of cooled yorkshire puddings. Make lids with the rest, and dip in melted chocolate to seal.

I tried this cultural atrocity on my friend, Yorkshire Jill. She wasn’t fazed by me squirting cream into the puddings but she did take exception to the puddings being shop-bought. She claimed to be unaware such a thing existed. Madness. It pains my inner purist to record that these chewy profiteroles, while a little heavy, somewhat too oily for the ambassador’s reception, aren’t bad.

Day 4: Crust pops / spicy cucumber salad with carrot bacon / easy salmon sushi / TikTok crinkle cake

Crust pops @caughtsnackin

Give ’em a twirl … crust pops.
Give ’em a twirl … crust pops. Photograph: Rhik Samadder

Roll leftover white bread crusts into a swirl and skewer. Baste with butter, then grill, then dip in cinnamon sugar.

I wake up with a second wind! These crust pops are super easy, and probably a fun thing to make with kids (unless your kids are on TikTok, hosting professional makeup tutorials and insulting you in a language you don’t understand). Let’s call them cinnamon pinwheels, because “crust pops” sounds like a late-stage skin condition. They make even 9p bread luscious, like a fairground treat. Still, I’ve had bigger thrills. Did you ever ride an empty escalator, pretending to be a Mayan king ascending to the Sky World? I might be hallucinating from lack of vitamins.

Three-minute spicy cucumber salad @michelletiang

On your side … three-minute spicy cucumber salad and carrot bacon.
On your side … three-minute spicy cucumber salad and carrot bacon. Photograph: Rhik Samadder

Slice cucumber. Add sugar, salt, sesame oil, rice vinegar and crunchy chilli oil. Shake in lunchbox, refrigerate.

In need of something green and speedy, I find a video of someone preparing food in real time! It feels like breathing for the first time in days. Michelle Tiang’s marinaded cucumber salad really does take three minutes, and is a juicy, piquant winner. She’s a mum of three, the only kind of influencer I trust.

Carrot bacon @iamtabithabrown

Shave carrot. Marinade in liquid smoke, maple syrup, smoked paprika, garlic and onion powder. Fry till crisp.

Tabitha Brown’s carrot bacon video has 3.7m likes, and they can’t all be from pigs. (Hard to like and subscribe with trotters.) I don’t have liquid smoke, but use sriracha for colour and am impressed with the crispy strips that emerge. Spicy, deeply savoury, almost tandoori red. They are very easy to burn though, which at least compensates for the lack of artificial smoke. With all of my shopping earmarked for TikTok experiments, I raid the fridge for nutrients. I find a bag of iceberg lettuce and push my face into it, like the Titanic going down.

Easy salmon sushi @emilymariko

Flake leftover salmon into cooked sushi rice. Mix with kewpie mayonnaise and sriracha sauce. Scoop up with mini seaweed sheets.

Now for an ancient (ie 2021) technique that I have genuinely incorporated into my repertoire since I first saw it. Vlogger Emily Mariko got 2 million followers from inventing sushi rice with salmon scooped up with mini seaweed sheets. I once grilled a slice of ham until it curled into a bowl, then cooked an egg inside that, and my only followers are stray dogs. I suppose this has broader appeal, especially with added spring onion, sesame seeds and crispy onion. It’s futomaki for sophisticated slatterns, and I love it with my whole heart.

TikTok crinkle cake @ramenasaidwow

Winning … TikTok crinkle cake.
Winning … TikTok crinkle cake. Photograph: Rhik Samadder

Concertina filo pastry in a tray, two sheets at a time, and bake. Brush with melted sugar, bake again. Pour in custard, bake for a final time. Finish with sugar syrup.

FoodTok is built on pudding. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe: people putting puddings inside cakes; people sandwiching cookie dough in Oreos and dipping them in chocolate. Aching kidneys tell me I shouldn’t go near any of that. I am taken with this recipe for crinkle cake however, which has 1.5m likes. It’s a multi-step process but easy. I tweak with pistachio and leftover cinnamon sugar from the crust pops. The result is incredible. Aromatic caramel crackling gives way to cool, vanilla-soaked layers and sweet perfume, something like Greek bougatsa. I will be eating this for the rest of my life. Which I suspect is 10 days.

Day 5: Rice paper boba tea / green goddess salad and replica KFC / snickle

Rice paper boba tea @caughtsnackin

Dunk rice paper in warm water, roll up and slice into balls. Place in cup with scoop of Nutella. Top with ice, tea and milk.

DrinkTok is a wild west. People are making strawberry vodka shots with Haribo melted in a dishwasher. They’re mixing milk and Ribena. Let’s play it safe, I think. Bubble tea is kawaii! The video has such fast cuts, I miss the instruction to dunk the rice paper, and leave the sheets to collapse. Attempting to slice this ectoplasm, the balls stick to my fingers. When I use another finger to dislodge them, they stick to that, turning to gunk all the while. I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh. Cursing, I fling my hands up. Boba mess sticks to the ceiling, the cupboards; some gets trod into the carpet like chewing gum. When I decant tea over the few hairy bubbles I rescue, it runs down the cup, staining the carpet. And the taste? The worst thing ever put in a mouth.

Green goddess salad @bakedbymelissa

The phrase “viral salad” is hardly mouthwatering. It reminds me of the first time I used public transport after lockdown. Still, Melissa Ben-Ishay’s green goddess has 1.7m likes and I need vitamins. It’s a headache to chop, but with an entire cabbage in the slaw, plus a bag of spinach in the dressing, it’s got those to spare. (I’m using a recipe tweak from Delish.com, which adds feta and dill.) I blend the dressing – it’s neon green, as if Hannibal got to Kermit the Frog. Cheesy, yet acidulous and fresh, my guts feel some relief. Shame I’m pairing it with deep-fried chicken!

Replica KFC Nashville chicken tenders @yashodhas_eats

Marinade chicken in buttermilk and Cajun spices. Add hot sauce, rest. Coat in garlicky flour mix and deep-fry until golden.

Recreating franchise food is huge on TikTok. There are instructional videos on making home-style Big Macs, Whoppers, Domino’s garlic and herb dip. I find a not-too-demented KFC-inspired video and follow it. Not quite 11 herbs and spices, but there’s smoky, spicy goodness here. I deep-fry the tenders, burn them, then eat eight. My stomach gurgles like an animal trying to talk. It’s had enough. I have too.

Snickle @liamslunchbox

Shoot, eat and heave … the snickle.
Shoot, eat and heave … the snickle. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Hollow gherkin, insert Snickers. Eat?

Putting a Snickers inside a pickle started as a joke, yet numbers know no irony, and I’ve a job to finish. Maybe this is how strawberry v black pepper started? Or that huge caramel/salt collab? I close my eyes and bite. It’s certainly a job to finish. Heinous. I would describe this as an efficient way to ruin your day, your week and even your year. No wonder nature is trying to take away our sense of taste. We’re not using it right.

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