It’s been 20 years since Cibo Matto burst onto the music scene with their debut album, Viva La Woman! While times have changed, one thing is for certain: the Japanese duo’s music is utterly memorable. It’s fun, it’s ambient, it’s funky, it’s nonsensical, it’s weird, it’s awesome. Many of the lyrics in their small but mighty collection focus on food. The group’s name, “Cibo Matto,” even translates to “food madness” in Italian.
In honor of their work—and because food and music make everything better—I’ve ranked Cibo Matto’s top 10 food-centric songs.
Take a bit of C&C Music Factory, a dash of Brian Setzer Orchestra, and a hunk of Cibo Matto’s signature wacky lyrics (“Can you take my silver wheat? Mix it up with butter and treat. I feel a chill go down my feet. Your maple is so sweet”) and you have “Le Pain Perdu.” A fun, infectiously catchy ditty, it will leave you bopping about and probably subconsciously craving French toast, which is typically made with “le pain perdu,” or stale bread.
A gem from Cibo Matto’s second release, the EP Super Relax, BBQ reminds me of what the founding members, Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda, might do if they were challenged to do their best Beastie Boys impression—and it’s delightful. Both women rap back and forth, ultimately cheerfully rapping “make it funky, let’s get greasy, let’s get chunky.” It’s like aural BBQ ribs: you’ll get a delightful case of the -itis, but without any heartburn, gout, or other unsavory side effects.
A spicy sonic jam from their second album, Stereo* Type A, “Sci-Fi Wasabi” delves even further into the group’s hip hop sound (even shouting “CIBO MATTO 1999!”) while packing in as many random food references as possible (standouts include “Yuka Honda knows her water – pass the Volvic. No wonder her fingers are smooth like butter” and “feeling stromboli, not ravioli”) in a song about the struggles of urban life. Food for thought, indeed.
The first song on their debut, “Apple” is an ambient, abstractly poetic piece. With lyrics like “When apple leaves fall, You may feel something in your mind’s eye. When the earth drinks in squall. You may plan to escape on the sly,” they belie some of the band’s signature lyrical silliness. It’s one of those songs that should be included on the playlist for everyone you want to impress.
Quite frankly, the fact that this song’s chorus is “I know my chicken, You got to know your chicken. I know my chicken. You got to know your chicken” warrants it a decent ranking. Despite managing to mention blue and magenta baby chicks, taking a female lover (how on Earth did I miss that 20 years ago?), and dropping yet another f bomb, they somehow manage, even while you marvel at the weirdness, to make you wonder if those aren’t really words of wisdom.
I’m sure there are people out there who sexually fetishize artichokes. I don’t know what the term to describe them would be, but I’m pretty certain this song is their anthem. And it would make all the rest of us understand how they could feel that way when listening to this song. It’s slow and sensual, wherein Honda and Hatori ask the listener “Can you squeeze a lemon on me?” and “Can you peel my petals, one by one?” It will likely make you rethink your stance on this edible relative of the thistle.
The first single from Viva La Woman! and one of the most well-received by fans and critics alike, “Sugar Water” is a cool, atmospheric ride that’s basically the sonic equivalent of a refreshing sip on a hot day. Propelled to popularity by its practically balmy music, soothing lyrics (featuring a lot of “La la la’s), and innovative split screen music video, it’s as sweet as it sounds without being saccharine in the least.
Another surprisingly sensual number, “White Pepper Ice Cream” conjures the erotic cinematic classic 9 ½ Weeks with its suggestive food references (“White pepper ice cream. Sweet or spicy? I was shot with bullets of pepper. On my lips, I feel a nip”). The last time food and sex were combined this adroitly, we had Seinfeld’s George Costanza to thank.
A serious contender for the top position, “Beef Jerky” is an upbeat, energetic lyrical masterpiece. Her mom calls her kinky. She responds with “Who cares? I don’t care. A horse’s ass is better than yours!” A brief celebration of a “baby horse, Jennifer” (“What a beefy hip,” “what a fine coat of fur”) is met with the same response. This nonsensical even-Steven-ness guarantees a good mood. Plus, meet your next go-to insult or random social statement (try not to use it at work, though).
First of all, birthday cake is unequivocally delicious. Then, to have this spastic song from a mother to her son on his 30th birthday about the cake she’s baking him is just genius. The oft-screaming lyrics include the cake’s ingredients (“Extra sugar, extra salt, extra oil, and MSG!”) while mother’s response to her son’s lament “It’s moldy, mom,” is an effusive, joyful “I don’t give a flying fuck, though!” Feminist, fun, and it features an f bomb? I’m eternally besotted.
Brook Bolen is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia with a penchant for newborn baby-sized burritos and used bookstores.
Photos by Sootoro san CC BY-ND and Hans G CC BY-SA.