Have you heard of mukbang? This is the internet’s solution to saving calories, where instead of ingesting a wide variety of delicious food, you watch someone else do it instead. When you find yourself craving instant noodles late into the night, watch someone eat bowls of it instead – your arteries will thank you. Mukbangs are a bit too intense for me; it feels a bit too gluttonous and decadent. Being a foodie is a slower, more sensual experience, where you immerse yourself and devote all your senses to the tasting of food.
This is why movies work better for me, though they only serve to make me hungrier rather than spurn the calories. Here are ten movies to watch if you’re a foodie.
10. Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
I might get some flak for including this movie in my list, since it got flamed by the critics and scored a dismal 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, but hey, this list isn’t just about great movies, it’s also about mediocre movies discussing food in an interesting way. Eat, Pray, Love is one such film. Why the movie didn’t succeed was because we have a hard time relating to a character like Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts. Travelling the world and living life doesn’t seem like something any of us can do on a drop of a whim, and it does come across as an entitled sense of carpe diem preaching. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Roberts’ character, someone who seems to have it all?
Pushing past the issues of relatability, my favourite part is of course the feasting in Italy. The meals don’t even need to be so fancy, just a simple dish of pasta or pizza, yet there is so much gratification in the feasting. I have a complicated relationship with food, given how I used to be overweight at one time in my life. My weight and appearance caused me much anxiety, and looking at the slim women all around me, I decided to drastically change my diet in order to change my body. After I lost the weight, I became deathly afraid of putting it all back, so every piece of food consumed had to be evaluated before it can make it past my lips.
There is a scene in the movie where Elizabeth’s friend cannot bring herself to eat the pizza in front of her because she has gained weight, and Elizabeth coaxes her into seeing that oftentimes we are so worried about how our body comes across that we deny it of certain pleasures. She of course doesn’t say screw diets and exercise and just eat whatever you want, but sometimes, you have to let yourself enjoy things when you can.
9. Julie & Julia (2009)
Ever thought about making your way through a recipe book and blogging about your experience? I certainly didn’t; the kitchen is better off without me in it. This is, however, the heart of the movie Julie & Julia, where Julie decides to make her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. She charts her failures and challenges, her love affair with butter (the visuals of this scene alone made my heart skip a beat, not from love but from the possible coronary just from watching it) and how her life changes because of this journey that she began.
It is movie about food blogging, or blogging in general, and reminds us of a time where we all started a blog as an outlet or for a way to live out our literary dreams. I say this very much aware that the movie blog I started is rotting away somewhere in cyberspace. This film is not a mindblowing one by any means, but with the acting talents of Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, any movie can be a veritable piece of cinema. The food and cooking also helps in elevating it.
8. Burnt (2015)
Bradley Cooper’s character in Burnt is basically the movie version of Gordon Ramsay, exacting and demanding in the kitchen, expecting perfection on a plate. Unlike Ramsay, Cooper’s character suffered from a host of problems that essentially damaged his reputation in the culinary world. The movie is basically him working to earn his redemption, and the chase for the coveted Michelin star. This is perhaps the most high-end gastronomical experience on this movie list, where food is prepared with precision and not lovingly like the other films would suggest.
Still, it is quite a trip for the senses, to be in this stainless white kitchen and see all the food pop colourfully in comparison. While the script does the movie no favours, the cast salvages it somewhat. Bradley Cooper is good, Sienna Miller is terrific, and even the actors who are minor characters, like Dame Emma Thompson and Alicia Vikander, elevate the movie with their mere presence.
7. The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)
The Hundred Foot Journey, while expertly crafted and boasting the endorsements of Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg (who serve as producers), is a predictable movie. Helen Mirren plays restaurant owner Madame Mallory, whose restaurant has one Michelin star to its name. This is not enough for her, she wants more.
There to throw a spanner in the works is the family who moves into town, and opens an Indian restaurant just opposite her own. Let’s see, what could possibly happen? Fierce rivalry of course (fierce is a bit of an overstatement), flirtation between head chef Hassan (Manish Deval) and sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) who works at Mallory’s, but none of this ever pans out in generating meaningful tension.
I appreciate the attempt though, and the display of Indian cuisine in Hollywood cinema. Indian cuisine has such a culturally rich history attached to it, so it’s nice to see a glimpse of it on screen, even if the longest food sequence in the movie is Mallory and Hassan making an omelette (the omelette does look good though).
6. This Is Not What I Expected (2017)
The failing of This Is Not What I Expected is that it is a love story where the leads don’t really share much chemistry. While Takeshi Kaneshiro certainly has the credence of a romantic lead, the female protagonist played by Dongyu Zhou looks and behaves a bit too childishly for the pair to ever truly suit. The only chemistry they share is through food, which Shengnan (Dongyu Zhou) prepares and Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) eats. Gu Shengnan is an eccentric, experimental chef, creating narratives through the food she cooks, and it seems that hotel acquistioner Lu Jin is the first person to ever be able to translate what she tries to communicate through food.
The pair detest each other in real life, but when Lu Jin discovers that she is the chef behind the mouthwatering food he has been tasting, he finds himself preparing baskets of food and bringing them to her house so she can cook for him. While this sounds inappropriate, with the employer not respecting the boundaries of his staff, it also speaks to Lu Jin’s character, and how he sees himself in relation to the world. He is so used to having his needs acceded to that he never stops to consider what Shengnan wants. His life is devoid of pleasure, with eating being the one space he gets to enjoy. Wishing to be the son his father desires, he pushes himself to be the heartless business man built in his father’s image.
While Lu Jin is used to eating being a solitary experience, Shengnan refuses to allow herself to be a mere cook, forcing herself into his eating space, teaching him that food is best enjoyed in the presence of company.
5. Ratatouille (2007)
A rat in the kitchen sounds like an absolute nightmare, unless it’s a Pixar animated film, then we’re all applauding in amazement. Director Brad Bird is known more for his work on The Incredibles, but Ratatouille is such a labour of love as well. There is such love for food and why we prepare it for people. A meal cooked with love translates through the food. I am sure you have a fondness for a dish made by a parent that just brings you back to the moment you enjoyed it as a child.
The movie also brings across the message that your circumstances do not have to make you who you are. Remy, a rat, can cook, while Linguini, who should have culinary talent in his bones, cannot. The preparation of the ratatouille dish is so satisfying, it will have you craving vegetables.
4. Big Night (1996)
If you have watched Big Night, I must say congratulations, because you have great taste in movies as well as Italian cuisine. The movie stars Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, brothers who run an Italian restaurant called Paradise. However, all is not fine and dandy in Paradise, for the restaurant is not making money, and might have to go out of business. It deals with the dilemma all those in the food business have come across, where the customer just doesn’t seem to understand the food in front of them, and asks for additions or changes that just don’t make any sense.
The movie is focused on the food in a big way. When the brothers are preparing food, they are utterly consumed in the process. Shalhoub and Tucci really sell their authentic connection with the food (or maybe they can cook like this in real life, who knows). One scene in particular stands out, when the two prepare timpano, an Italian baked dish. When they slice the timpano open, and serve it to their guests, it looks so good that the actors don’t even have to pretend.
3. Chef (2014)
Chef is an underrated movie. People know Jon Favreau because of Iron Man, but I appreciate his efforts for Chef more (Marvel fans, do not come for me). The movie runs on a simple enough premise, involving a chef who wants to make food that he believes in and not just blindly churn out orders from a menu. He realises that the restaurant is not the space for him, deciding to go into the food truck business instead.
The conflict of the movie is resolved very early on, with the second half of the movie really just him and his son enjoying making food together. It is a love story to food and its purpose in our lives. Even a grilled cheese sandwich looks so wonderfully tantalizing. I tried to replicate this but my efforts didn’t even come close, maybe because I lazily used a toaster instead of a grilled surface.
2. Babette’s Feast (1987)
Babette’s Feast is adapted from a short story by Karen Blixen, most famously know for her memoir that was adapted into the movie Out Of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and it is easy to see why. While most of the entries on this list are about the intoxicating delight of food and our sensual enjoyment of it, Babette’s Feast rolls in a different direction.
Yes, there is a marvellous feast laid out as the set piece of the entire movie, which took two weeks to film. The people Babette (Stéphane Audran) cooks for have lived a life of restraint; food is necessary to sustain the body, but it is not for enjoyment. Yet we cannot help but note how they react upon tasting the food. Director Gabriel Axel seems to be suggesting that while the Danish people in the film seek spirituality through abstinence and restraint, there can be a kind of spiritual delight to feeding your body as well. I never thought I would find myself craving turtle soup; such is the impact of gastro-cinema.
1. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
I have said it before, and I will say it again: Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman has the best opening food preparation scene I have ever seen in any movie. Most of the movies on the list linger on the food, but they simply cannot beat this movie’s magnificent display. Cooking food has never looked this dynamic before, as we are treated to the sights and sounds of the knifework as well as the delicious auditory experience of food frying.
This is Chinese cuisine at its finest, with impressive knife skills that will make you weep and exclaim over how unworthy you are. With this scene, Ang Lee sets the tone of the movie and draws attention to the Asian dinner table, the focal space for all familial interactions. Chu and his three daughter live together, but their paths rarely cross until their Sunday feast, which Chu (Sihung Lung) whips up in heroic fashion. The common space of feasting is used by the daughters to tell their father about the stuff going on in their lives, and it is also a way for Chu to express his affection and love for his daughters.
However, there isn’t much appreciation for Chu’s efforts from his daughters, who often make little comments about his food and consider him a peripheral presence in their lives. Chu starts to wonder what it all means, since a well-made, elaborate meal doesn’t seem to have the impact it once had anymore, with the rise in fast food culture.
It makes you think about our relationship with food, and how we have given up on the act of dining, replacing it with convenience. Eating a meal is gradually becoming a solitary experience, or something we combine with other activities. Walk past any eating space and you will see people eating while watching videos on their phones. Intimate dinner parties are only occurrences I see in French films, because in real life it is much easier to just order in. Have we forgotten our love affair with food? Maybe. Perhaps it is time to bring it back.