Venba is a heartfelt cooking game about rediscovering lost recipes

Venba speaks to a personal concern I’ve had over the last few years. My mother is a first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong, and I’m worried that I may not learn all of the recipes that she knows, the tricks and techniques that she uses to make her fantastic dishes shine. So when I was playing the first chapter of the game at the Nintendo Indies showcase at GDC 2023 and learned that Venba had the misfortune of having her mother’s recipe book be partially ruined, my heart sank. And I was immediately invested in her journey.

Tasting a culture

The titular character Venba is an Indian mom who immigrated to Canada with her husband Paavalan in the 1980s. Getting work is difficult for the couple and they contemplate whether to stay in the country or move back to India. Struggling with nausea over the past few days, Venba still takes the time to make idli for her husband, who says he can live off a coffee machine, but she knows better. So she walks into the kitchen, bringing her mother’s recipe book in hand, and attempts to make these fluffy steamed cakes made from rice and lentil batter.

Figuring out how to make idli from scratch isn’t easy. Venba focuses on Southern Indian cuisine, specifically Tahil cuisine, which has a lot of ingredients and requires a lot of proper timing to get right. Fortunately, the game boils all of this down to several key steps, so I didn’t have to make the idli batter or the chutney, or wait around for the idli to finish steaming. I imagine that most people don’t know a lot about food in this region or how’s it made, so Venba smartly edits the recipes into approachable bites.

A rookie mistake

While I’ve never heard of idli before, Venba makes cooking them fun and approachable.

Source: Visai Games

To solve the cooking puzzle, all I needed to do was look through the recipe book and try to follow along as best as I could. I placed a cloth over a steam tray, poured the batter in, and then placed the tray into the steamer. After doing this three times for three separate  trays, and checking to make sure there was water at the bottom of the steamer, I put the lid on and hoped for the best.

But I did something wrong. The bottom tray of idli cooked all the way through, but the top and middle layers were still raw. Checking the recipe book again, I looked at the diagram and realized that I needed to turn the trays so that the steam holes weren’t blocked. Once I corrected the mistake, the idli turned out alright.

That said, Venba comments that she was never able to make the idli as fluffy as her mother did, and in the recipe book, her mother’s secret technique has unfortunately been smudged out. I hope this means that in later chapters of the game, she’ll be able to figure out what that technique is with some trial and error. 

A recipe for success

Venba Preview GDC 2023 Finished Idli
Venba’s art style is vibrant and colorful. And the idli makes me hungry.

Source: Visai Games

From other trailers and info that have been revealed about the game so far, Venba will feature a lot of recipes, including one that has you toss ingredients in a pan and another that has you mix rice and dal together in a blender. There will also be branching conversations where you can explore different stories, and a soundtrack that is inspired by Indian musicals.

Created by Visai Studios, a small developer based in Toronto, Venba is slated for release in Summer 2023 for PC, Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One. It is also set to launch on Xbox Game Pass on day one. Lead designer Abhi was on hand to demo the game to us at the event and shared that he’s thinking about adding a more detailed recipe book as DLC and more localization support through post-launch updates.

This preview is based on a demo on Nintendo Switch.

Contributing Editor

Once upon a time, Nick’s parents confiscated his Super Nintendo because he was “playing it too much.” He has secretly sworn revenge ever since. Nick worked with co-EIC Blake in what feels like a lifetime ago and is now a freelance writer for various video game sites. Powered by iced green tea, he typically plays RPGs of all kinds like Shin Megami Tensei, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout. In his spare time, he plays Pathfinder 2E and follows the latest season of Critical Role.

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