For our November’s recommendation list, we picked a topic that has a universal appeal: food and travel. From documentaries on sushi to food in a universe driven by magic realism, these titles sure had us salivating. We hope they tickle your taste buds too.
Before hitting play, app-in some sushi. You’ll crave it, 200 per cent, at the end of David Gelb’s 2011 documentary, a cinematic ode to Tokyo’s unbeatable sushi crafter, Jiro Ono. Shot inside Sukiyabashi Jiro, the 10-seater three-Michelin-starred tucked in a subway station, the film rhapsodises about Jiro’s skills and his focused obsessiveness about moulding perfect lumps of nigiri every single day of his life, even at 85. Scenes from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market and its singing tuna auctioneers add value, but it’s the montages that impress: Jiro’s wrinkled fingers flatten eels, sardines and tunas with the fluid dexterity of a conductor, orchestrating to Philip Glass’s score, which, though repetitive, crescendos, just like Jiro’s rhythm of making sushi. Even at my age, in my work, I haven’t reached perfection, he says in the film, and in saying that, Jiro exemplifies Japanese perfectionism.
— Humaira Ansari
Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia is a gastronomical treat for the eyes. Failed writer-cum-comfort- food-seeker Julie Powell is bent on challenging her mundane life in modern-day New York, and finds solace in her childhood icon, French chef Julia Child, whose 1950s journey with food in Paris is the stuff of legend. Powell pledges to cook all 524 recipes listed in Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking—in 365 days. As she whips up Child’s famous beef bourguignon, lobster thermidor and a Queen of Sheba chocolate cake, a gratifying journey with food begins—for both Powell and Child (epitomised by Amy Adams and Meryl Streep perfectly), as well as for the foodie watching each dish on display…with just a little bit of drool oozing out.
–– Sanjana Ray
Random vignettes of actual food porn, a gourmet gangster, and the saga of a perfect bowl of ramen intertwine themselves into the narrative of this avante garde ‘ramen western.’ Directed by Juzo Itami, Tampopo is as 1980s as it gets…and then some. The overarching theme of this beautiful, batshit food flick follows the story of a trailblazing widow desperate to keep her late husband’s ramen shop up and running in Japan; but the film’s depth delves into smashing the patriarchy, the power food holds over people, and the beau ideal moment of creating something with all your heart and soul.
— Julian Manning
Ever wonder what it’d be like to eat to your heart’s content around the world? Samin Nosrat did exactly that in her Netflix documentary Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. In the eponymous cookbook, the 39-year-old chef and food writer journeyed places far and wide in search of elements that define good cooking. She discovered that good cooking is, in fact, universal. From tasting slivers of pork fat and cheese in Italy that melt like butter and the revelation of profound effects of sea salt in Japan, to the acidic surprises of oranges and Mayan honey in Mexico, and the power of heat to unlock flavours of food at home in California—the four-part docu-series is a visual treat bound to get appetites racing.
— Pooja Naik
Every day except Wednesdays, a queue begins to swell outside a closed shopfront in the Japanese city of Matsudo at dawn. The doors open only at 11 a.m., and the hungry pilgrims are let in to eat bowls of Japan’s best ramen at Chuka Soba Tomita Ramen. The documentary Ramen Heads is a behind-the-curtains exploration of the discipline and obsession of Osamu Tomita, the chef who creates ramen so perfect that it’s edible art.
Tomita’s process of creating tonkotsu-gyokai dipping broth—rich with pig’s head, seafood, bamboo shoots and char siu—and slurpable noodles, is a recipe of pleasure. The film also features other iconic ramen chefs, gently simmering with insight on Japan’s fervour for the dish and the genius it inspires.
— Kareena Gianani
Jon Favreau’s 2014 film, Chef, tugged at heartstrings and made stomachs growl in equal measure. It is the story of a beaten restaurant chef, Carl Casper (Favreau), who leaves glittering Los Angeles to drive a food-truck across America and rekindle his relationship with his estranged son. The movie also features scenes which make viewers beg for a bite for the food Favreau cooks on-screen—whether it’s the succulent, oozing, gooey cheese sandwich or the Cubano sandwich he sells in his food truck. Food often acts as balm for relationships, and the scenes where Casper takes his son to eat the famed beignets at New Orleans’s Café Du Monde or 12-hour roasted brisket in Austin, show just that. It’s time to go make a sandwich.
–– Lubna Amir
Every food essayist owes some debt to M.F.K. Fisher, a writer with a gourmand’s relish for life. This prose collection is ostensibly a memoir, tackling childhood, marriage, sex and loneliness, all in her elliptical narrative style. However, culinary enthusiasts prize it for what it really is—a slow-burning journey of a woman’s passion for food. Right from her delight at swallowing her first oyster in America to stealing caviar-accompanied moments with her lover in France, Fisher practised good eating like a preacher, and in her vivid, sensual descriptions of food, made apostles of many a reader.
— Lakshmi Sankaran
An appetite for real emotions, and one for quail in rose petal sauce or fat Christmas rolls, is what you bring to the table when Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel throws a banquet named Like Water for Chocolate. This is the story of Tita and Pedro, young lovers hungry enough to swindle fate for each other, yet somehow always shortchanged by malevolent stars. Food features in the novel as heavily as love, cream fritters or Champandongo casseroles, complete with old-fashioned recipes laid down whimsically, an extension of the novel’s magic realism.
It is safe to say that Tita and Pedro’s cosmic love travels from the kitchen to the dinner tables to bedroom of Mama Elena’s family ranch, kindling both passion and devastation in its wake. Bound and freed by its surrealism, this is not your typical travel narrative. But if you’ve ever wanted to travel to turn-of-the-century rural Mexico, beautiful and explosive in its revolution, here’s the ticket.
— Sohini Das Gupta
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