Close Menu

12 food films to watch during quarantine

Tampopo (1985)

Billed as the world’s first ‘ramen western’, Japanese comedy Tampopo, directed by Juzo Itami, features an unforgettable scene in which a gangster in a white suit passes an egg yolk into the mouth of his lover as they kiss. Meaning ‘dandelion’, Tampopo tells the story of a cook trying to perfect her ramen recipe, with a few brawling cowboys and desperate housewives thrown in for good measure.

Itami’s wife, Nobuko Miyamoto, plays noodle cook Tampopo, whose modest attempts at keeping her ramen café going after her husband’s death are met with disdain when Stetson sporting trucker Goro rocks up and tries a bowl. Ken Watanabe plays Goro’s spunky sidekick Gun. Together they agree to teach Tampopo how to cook the perfect bowl of noodles.

In one scene a group of businessmen in a French restaurant all nervously order the same thing as their boss (sole) only to be upstaged by their junior colleague and his request for escargots and an ’81 Corton-Charlemagne. At the end of the film the egg yolk-loving gangster is shot by an unknown assailant, to his lover’s horror, but uses his last words to tell her his secret recipe for sausages.

Babette’s Feast (1987)

A favourite of chefs, Danish drama Babette’s Feast is based on a story by Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. The first Danish movie to win an Oscar for best foreign language film, the 19th century tale revolves around pious Protestant sisters Martine and Philippa, who grow to spinsterhood under the wrathful eye of their strict pastor father on the forbidding and desolate coast of Jutland.

One day, Philippa’s former suitor sends a Parisian refugee named Babette to serve as the family cook. Babette’s lavish celebratory banquet to celebrate the pastor’s 100th birthday tempts the family’s dwindling congregation, who previously shunned the pleasures of the flesh. Paid for by Babette’s winning lottery ticket, the French feast involves an array of exotic ingredients sourced from Paris, where Babette used to work as the head chef at the Café Anglais.

The role of Babette was originally offered to Catherine Deneuve but ended up being given to Stéphanie Audran. Among the dishes served during the feast were turtle soup with amontillado Sherry; buckwheat pancakes with caviar and sour cream served with Veuve Clicquot; quail in puff pastry with a foie gras and truffle sauce served with Clos Vougeot; and French cheeses paired with Sauternes. 

Big Night (1996)

Starring a young Stanley Tucci (with an abundant barnet), Big Night is Tucci’s directorial debut in which two brothers from Calabria, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Segundo (Tucci) try to bring authentic Italian cuisine to the Jersey Shore in the 1950s with frustrating results. The food at their restaurant, Paradise, is too foreign for the locals’ untrained palates and the venue soon starts to struggle.

When famous Italian-American jazz singer Louis Prima is scheduled to make a cameo at Paradise, the brothers put all of their efforts into creating a feast that will seal the fate of the restaurant. Spending their life savings on the ingredients and inviting newspaper reporters to the event, the meal centres around timpano, a pastry covered baked pasta dish from Calabria.

The movie is brimming with passionate arguments and equally passionate eating. In the final scene, after the singer fails to show up, Secondo quietly cooks an omelette and divides it among three plates, giving one to his waiter, Cristiano, and eating one himself. Primo enters the kitchen and Secondo hands him the last plate. They eat without speaking, laying their arms across one another’s shoulders.

Marie-Antoinette (2006)

Sofia Coppola’s sumptuous 2006 smash Marie-Antoinette isn’t a food film as such, but contains some of the most tantalising food scenes in cinema history. I’d expect nothing less from a movie about a queen most famous for uttering, “let them eat cake” to her starving subjects. A more accurate translation suggests that she actually said, “let them eat brioche”, which is only marginally less out of touch.

In once scene our queen is seen lounging on a pale blue and white chaise-longue in a pale pink dress with more layers than a mille-feuille. On a table beside her are dozens of sweet treats with intricate icing dotted with raspberries and rose petals. Parisian macaron maker Ladurée collaborated with Coppola on the film, creating a new flavour in honour of the ill-fated monarch. The Marie-Antoinette macaron marries Chinese black tea with rose petals, citrus fruits and honey.

In addition to fancy fondants, the film also includes spectacular savoury banquettes enjoyed by Marie-Antoinette (played perfectly by Kirsten Dunst) and Louis XVI (a well-mannered Jason Schwartzman), featuring pyramids of langoustines, pastry dragons and plentiful platters of scallops.

Ratatouille (2007)

This heart-warming Pixar animation tells the tale of Remy the rat who dreams of becoming a Michelin-starred chef – no mean feat within the rodent-phobic culinary world. He moves to Paris to follow his dream, and with the help of hapless garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini, puts his culinary skills to the test in the kitchen of Gusteau’s restaurant, stirring soups and sauces from inside Linguini’s chef’s toque.

To make as authentic a food film as possible, before work began on Ratatouille, its producer, Brad Lewis, interned at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Napa, where Keller taught him how to cook a confit byaldi (a twist on ratatouille), which makes a cameo in the film. When fearsome restaurant critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) visits Gusteau’s, Remy whips up a confit byaldi that reminds Ego fondly of his mother’s cooking, leading to a glowing review.

One of the biggest challenges of the film was creating computer-generated images of food that looked delicious. The animators sought the advice of leading chefs in France and the US, and attended culinary schools in San Francisco to understand the workings of a commercial kitchen.

Julie & Julia (2009)

This Nora Ephron comedy is one of my favourite comfort films. I’m such a fan of the flick, earlier this year I began a blog called Return to Blender in its honour, where I attempt to master the art of French cooking with a little help from Julia Child. New Yorker Julie Powell came up with the idea in 2002, chronicling her culinary efforts in a blog, which attracted such a following it got turned into a book in 2005, and a film four years later.

Julie & Julia flits between modern day New York and Paris in the ’50s, where Pasadena-born Child has just moved with her doting diplomat husband Paul (played by the captivatingly charismatic Stanley Tucci). Determined to be taken seriously as a chef, Child enrols on a course at Le Cordon Bleu and discovers she’s the only woman in the class. Undeterred, she’s soon beating the male chefs at their own game, chopping onions with the ferocity of a scorned samurai.

Back in New York, Powell dutifully makes her way through Child’s debut tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, steaming live lobsters and falling asleep while waiting for her boeuf Bourguignon to tenderise. While the food scenes are drool-worthy, the most charming aspect of the film is the relationship between Julia and Paul, which is built on mutual respect and a shared appetite for life. 

I Am Love (2009)

A translation from the Italian Io Sono Amore, I Am Love is an Italian drama directed by Luca Guadagnino, better known for A Bigger Splash and Call Me By Your Name, starring the enviably fluent and endlessly brilliant Tilda Swinton. Developed over 11 years, the cast is led by Swinton, who plays Emma Recci, who has married into a wealthy Milanese family of textile merchants.

The film begins with a dinner party during which Emma’s husband, Tancredi, learns that he and his son Edoardo are about to assume control of the family business. Over dinner, which includes a Russian soup called ukha cooked by Swinton, Emma meets a chef named Antonio, a friend of her son’s, who she begins a clandestine affair with after he woos her with a sweet and sour prawn dish at his restaurant.

As Emma and Antonio become closer, they cook for one another, with Russian-born Emma teaching Antonio how to make ukha – a seafood broth with potatoes and vegetables. Many of the dishes that feature in the film were inspired by Milanese chef Carlo Cracco.

Eat Pray Love (2010)

As the title implies, the first third of this feel-good film is dedicated to food, as protagonist Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts with characteristic brio) travels to Rome to regain her appetite for life. The film is based on Gilbert’s 2006 memoir of the same name.

Many of the shots in the first third a pure food porn, from steaming bowls of spaghetti all’ Amatriciana to platters of gloriously golden fried artichokes and thick slabs of creamy tiramisu. While in Rome Gilbert travels down Itay’s boot to Naples to sample the paper-thin pizzas from Neapolitan institution, L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, where you’ll receive disapproving looks if you order anything other than a classic margherita.

Chef (2014)

A foodie film and a road movie rolled into one, Chef is the creation of actor Jon Favreau, who wrote, co-produced and directed the movie as well as playing the lead. After getting into a Twitter spat with a restaurant critic following a bad review, chef Carl Casper (Favreau) quits his day job at prestigious LA restaurant Gauloise, run by controlling traditionalist Riva (Dustin Hoffman).

Keen for a clean break, he launches a food truck with his best friend Martin (John Leguizamo) and son Percy (Emjay Anthony), that sees them travel across the US serving Cuban sandwiches made with meltingly tender, mojo-marinated pork shoulder, mustard and Swiss cheese in Miami, Austin and New Orleans. While in the Deep South the trio serve shrimp po’ boys and barbecued brisket, which goes down a treat with the locals.

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Based on a 2010 novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey tells the story of two competing restaurants in a tiny French village in the commune of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, the movie revolves around the Kadam family, who leave their home in Mumbai and seek asylum in Europe, eventually settling in France.

Discovering an abandoned building in the village for sale, the family set up an Indian restaurant a stone’s throw from fine dining venue Le Saule Pleureur, run by the acerbic Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Cue rolling pins at dawn and much scrapping between the rival restaurants until Mallory gets wind of self-taught Hassan Kadam’s culinary talents and takes him under her wing.

The film bubbles over with moreish food scenes featuring glistening tarte tatins, plump apricot spiced crêpes, golden pools of hollandaise, boeuf Bourguigon with an Indian twist; tender tandoori chicken, and cardamom-infused pigeon with black truffle.

Phantom Thread (2017)

Food plays a starring role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, Daniel Day Lewis’s swan song in which he plays exacting fashion designer and discerning gourmand Reynolds Woodcock, who likes his mushrooms cooked with no more than “a whisper” of butter.

In one of the opening scenes we get a glimpse of how pernickety Woodcock is via his breakfast order at a small bed & breakfast in the north of England, where he askes attractive waitress Alma for Welsh rarebit with a poached egg, bacon, scones, butter, cream, jam, a pot of Lapsang Souchong and some sausages. Having not written down the order, Woodcock asks Alma to repeat it, which she does to the word.

Food is used in the film as a means through which to manipulate and control. Exasperated by the precision of his desires, Alma cooks Woodcock a wild mushroom omelette at their country house in a bizarre act of consensual poisoning, with Reynolds seeking to surrender control so that he can be taken care of by Alma. “I want you lying on your back, helpless, sweet, open only to me,” Alma whispers as he takes his final bite.

Green Book (2018)

While not intended to be a food film, having recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed Green Book for the first time, by the time the end credits rolled I was left with a craving for fried chicken. Food is used in the film to show Italian American bouncer-turned-driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga’s (Vigo Mortensen) appetite for life. He eats giant slices of pizza in bed as if his life depended on it, wolfs down hot dogs in an eating competition to earn enough money to feed his family, and tears at gargantuan sandwiches while he drives like a bear devouring fresh meat.

As he and classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) become closer while they venture deeper into the Deep South during Shirely’s concert tour, in one scene the pair bond over fried chicken. Horrified at the thought of having to eat with his fingers, prim perfectionist Shirley is eventually persuaded by Vallelonga to try some Kentucky Fried Chicken from a bargain bucket. Throughout the film Tony helps to loosen Don up, while Don, in turn, opens Tony’s eyes to the beauty of classical music and the joys of letter writing.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No