A Man Cooks Strangers' Favorite Childhood Meals & Delivers It To Them—The Results Are As Moving As They Are Delicious

Who knew the meaning of life could be found in a bowl of your mom's soup?

TikToker Yimin Lin and people he's cooked food for @literally.starving/TikTok

Most of us have that one meal from childhood that sparks a core memory and takes us immediately back in time. 

Whether it's a dinner our mom made, a Christmas cookie our grandma was known for, or our dad's famous barbecue, food can be just as strong a tie to our history as stories and relationships are.

That's why it's called "comfort food" in the first place, after all. 

For food ethnographer and TikToker Yiming Lin, known as @literallystarving on the app, exploring these connections for others is the core of his work, and the results are as moving as they are delicious. 


RELATED: Homeless Mom Shares 5-Star Recipes She Creates For Her Kids In Motel

Food ethnography is a branch of anthropology focusing on the historical, cultural and even political aspects of food.

As part of his work, Yiming Lin makes strangers' favorite childhood foods and family recipes for them from scratch.

Food ethnography has a wide array of scientific and historical focuses.


The discipline centers on everything from what prehistoric cultures ate to how cuisine affected the development of ethnic cultures, as well as how food has impacted industrial development and political legislation.

That seems like a wildly broad field of study until you consider that we interact with food at least three times a day, every day we're alive—it only stands to reason it has such a wide impact.

Lin focuses on the personal cultural and historical aspects of all of this, and does it in a deceptively simple way that ends up having a deep emotional impact on the people he cooks for.

RELATED: Woman's Brother Is Offended After She Cooked Homemade Food For Everyone In Her Family Except His Stepdaughter


Lin's videos are dead simple—he approaches a stranger on the streets, asks what their favorite childhood food was, and then makes and delivers it to them. 

But the impact his work makes goes far deeper than just the food itself, taking his newfound friends back in time to those deeply held memories of home.

And especially given Lin does his work in New York, where so many people are living several states, if not continents, away from their homes and families, the food he makes seems to almost transport them.

Lin cooks everything from simple classics like Fettucine Alfredo to elaborate ethnic cuisine and even fusion dishes that blend two entirely disparate cultures together—whatever his subjects ask him to prepare.

In one video, Lin approaches a street performer who dresses up as a stone statue in New York's Bryant Park. 


His favorite childhood dish, fettuccine alfredo, is available in even the cheapest chain restaurants all over America. 

RELATED: 2 Romantic Recipes Guaranteed To Make Him Fall For You

But one bite of Lin's rendition, and he's instantly back home in his grandmother's kitchen reliving the "great memories" of her cooking.


"I'm originally from the Midwest," he says after a bite, "so I love my cheese, and this hits all the boxes."

Other dishes Lin cooks are far more elaborate, like the stew that a multi-cultural woman's Nigerian father adapted with available ingredients from Japan, where she grew up. 

Anyone can look up a Nigerian tomato stew recipe and get to cooking. But one woman Lin met had a more specific request.



RELATED: Groom Forced To Choose Between Inviting His Brother Or Having Lace At His Wedding Due To Brother's Unusual Eating Habits


She wanted Lin to recreate the traditional Nigerian stew her father adapted for not only Japanese ingredients but also her vegetarian preferences.

"My mom is Japanese and my dad is Nigerian," the woman explained when Lin approached her.

"Growing up in Japan my dad would make Nigerian tomato stew with only ingredients he found in local Japanese stores."

She added that it was the only Nigerian dish she grew up on, so it is embedded in her childhood memories.

Lin was on the case, and the elated gasp the woman uttered when he presented her with the food tugged directly at our heartstrings.

"Oh my God, it smells like my dad's stew!" she exclaims before digging in.


For some of Lin's subjects, the old family recipes he cooks for them bring back more than warm memories but remind them of deeper lessons about life that they learned from their beloved relatives.

You might not expect a simple tortilla soup to get someone talking about the meaning of life.

But that's precisely what happened when Lin threw a pot of the soup together for a woman who named it as her favorite childhood food memory.


RELATED: The Brutal Truth About What Women Really Think Of Guys Who Can't Cook



She loved the soup itself—but the memories it unlocked went far deeper, reminding her of her brother who passed away after a long battle with leukemia.

"He would tell me, 'enjoy your life, don't worry about the small things, just be happy.'"


Turns out that sometimes all it takes to get to the heart of things is a good bowl of soup.

RELATED: Mom Stages Fake Fine Dining Restaurant Experience To Make The Most Out Of Eating At Home With Her Kids

John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.