Viral food, in general, falls into a few, readily identifiable categories. There's your run-of-the-mill kitchen hack — think air fried eggs. There's your viral, stunty food that's entrancingly weird, like the bell pepper sandwich craze. And then there's, for lack of a better term, professional food. Stuff like Alison Roman's chocolate chunk shortbreads that were known simply as The Cookies or the entire aspirational account of TikTok influencer @Sad_Papi, a remarkably chill fine dining chef.
Then there's Emily Mariko, a wildly — and increasingly — popular food influencer on TikTok. There's nothing all that difficult about her food — her most famous dish involves reheated rice, leftover salmon, and seaweed wrappers. She's not pitching a diet. She's not doing anything stunty or putting off bug-eyed, pick-me energy like men who're budding influencers. Hell, she hardly even talks in most TikToks and went super viral for leftovers.
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And yet, Emily Mariko is the food internet's latest Thing. She's racked up 2.5 million followers on TikTok, primarily posting aesthetic, if relatively uncomplicated, meals. The Bay Area creator added nearly 1 million followers in the last couple of days alone. She is the queen of soothing, approachable food. Stuff that makes you go, all at once:
Wow she did a great job making that
Why do I feel calm?
Fuck, that looks good, why am I so hungry
I should live like that
Here, watch her most popular TikTok, which soared past 30 million views. It's leftover salmon, fork-pulled, topped with a heap of white rice then reheated — importantly — with an ice cube and parchment sheet that will steam the food back to life. Then everything was mixed up with kewpie mayo, soy sauce, and sriracha, topped with avocado and eaten with strips of seaweed and jarred kimchi.
Watch as Mariko takes a big bite, seaweed making a small crunch, and a self-satisfied smile settles ear to ear. I want my lunch to do that.
This is not picture perfect food. But it's weirdly, pardon my French here, fucking entrancing.
Everyone seems to feel this way. Scroll through your For You page (FYP) and be greeted by people either making Emily Mariko dishes or people wondering why they love Emily Mariko, or TikToks that are referencing her without even actually referencing her.
Hell, TikTok itself is posting about her.
Mashable reached out to Mariko through multiple avenues but she did not respond to a request for an interview.
Jump around Mariko's account and you're greeted by a mix of the nearly mundane but soothingly organized. Every thing has its place and every place has its thing. The homemade strawberry syrup is tastefully jarred, veggies are washed, prepped, and tucked into containers, carrots and cucumbers peeled ever-so-neatly.
For people who like food — which is a lot of TikTok — Mariko's account is a respite from confident men-chef who (literally) slap their meat, or people selling you diet culture, or yet another air fryer hack.
Yes, the salmon and rice leftover lunch thing from Mariko looks tasty, but it's what she's perhaps unknowingly selling that really looks good. Her account is a window into a tasteful apartment where lunch is prepared but not meal prepped in the sense that there's boiled broccoli and steamed chicken. There's real flavor — sriracha and soy and salmon and, gasp fitness meal preppers, lovely clumps of white rice — but you can still microwave it. It all looks good as hell but it is not perfect or especially difficult.
"Emily Mariko is living the adult life we should all be living," tweeted one person. And that's it. It's not aesthetic like some Instagram vacation, but her account shows a life that's put together if imperfect. It's good food, done well, and well-planned and my distracted as hell brain loves seeing what I could be, if only...
I'm really digging down here, but even the way Mariko squeezes kewpie mayo — scrunching it in a clenched, awkward fist as if it's a snake wriggling away — would never make the cut in a TikTok promising fine dining. Mariko is giving you. The TikToks aren't super fast, as lots of people (mostly men) do on TikTok. They're paced like real life, as if we're voyeuristically watching someone enjoy their lunch break. It's a glance at the way we could live if we weren't too tired or sad or busy or whatever.
Take this relatively simple avocado toast in a recent TikTok. Mariko toasts bread, smashes avocado, tops with a scrambled egg and sriracha. But there are little touches — a schmear of cream cheese, avocado that's well salted and folded into itself — that make it just surprising enough to be better than your average TikTok recipe. But it's just basic enough — it remains avocado toast, and a simple egg, and her iced coffee is poured into a tumbler, with no effort at making it pretty— that it feels relatable.
It's like a scene in a TV show, where the tension breaks and you see a character do something deliberate and slow — like silently cook eggs — placing you into their life for just a moment. I could see myself actually making this before logging in to look at a screen for eight hours.
I'm not sure Mariko will someday be a big Food Network star. It's tough to imagine her doing the whole loud and boisterous thing. But her TikTok and other social accounts are increasingly focused on all of her life. Her clothes, her exercise, her cleaning routine.
That adds up. Because who wouldn't like a soothing, deliberate life? One where everything is put away in its spot, where you eat good food but don't spend all day making it. One where you're just an ice cube and parchment sheet from a big, relaxed, satisfied smile.