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Film Review: Jadoo (Kings of Curry 2013)

Films for foodies

Director /screenplay :          Amit Gupta

Foodie Expert Madhur Jaffrey

Country: UK

Film Rating: 6/10

Foodie Rating: 8/10

Without the risk of trying to curry favour this is a delightfully enjoyable foodie rom-com. Set in the UK city of Leicester cross-cultural expectations collide with family conflicts and culinary rivalries at the height of the festival of Holi, so colourful confrontations ensue in more ways than one.

Mark (Tom Mison) and Shalini (Amara Karan) want to get married but Shalini is worried about getting approval from her father, especially as they come from different cultural backgrounds. Shalini heads back home to Leicester to inform her dad Raja (Harish Patel) of the proposed nuptials. No need to worry. Her father is delighted. The only problem is that she would like to invite her uncle to the wedding. And her father hasn’t spoken to his brother for a long, long time. Raja and Jagi (Kulvinder Ghir) are rival brothers with rival restaurants, their sibling squabbles centring on an argument that resulted in the splitting of their late mother’s perfect recipe book twenty years ago. And there seems to be no possibility of reconciliation.

Just after the colourful festival of Holi, a high-profile curry cooking competition is due to take place. It is hosted and judged by Indian culinary expert and actress Madhur Jaffrey. To be crowned King of Curry in this contest the winning team must provide the best starter and main-course combination. One of the brothers is a regal starter genius whilst the other is a main course diva. Will family feuding despatch to join forces not only for premium King of Curry success? And will Shalini mange to persuade her uncle to resolve their differences and prepare the perfect wedding banquet for her and her spice savouring spouse to be?

Leicester, as well as being famous as the city where the remains of King Richard III were found in a car park, is one of the best places to eat Indian cuisine in the country. Of course, there is plenty of food on offer in this film with much of its preparation on show too. And while the competition is the catalyst for reconciliation, the family love lies with the preparation of the meals, demonstrating the importance of food in family life. Rather like in Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman when the father cooks food for his daughter and she appraises it like a critic.

Jadoo also highlights some of the cultural elements of the local community particularly a sequence featuring Holi, the fabulous Hindu festival of colour. Overall it’s a sweet family drama featuring some mouth-watering curried concoctions.

You can buy the film here.

Film Review: Ramen Girl (2008)

Director: Robert Allan Ackerman

Food Type: Ramen (if you couldn’t guess)

Country: US/Japan

Film Rating: 6/10

Foodie rating: 8/10

The Ramen Girl
I’m training to be a ramen chef.”

The subgenre of ramen based foodie films came to its apotheosis with the noodle nirvana of Tampopo (1985). Here the Japanese pasta sub-subgenre gets an American twist with The Ramen Girl, a learn-to-cook Japanese foodie film set in Japan and, surprisingly for a Hollywood film, it has a significant amount of (helpfully subtitled) dialogue in Japanese. It is also a romantic comedy, albeit one centred on food and culture; so more a ramen-tic comedy.

Abby (Brittany Murphy) has travelled to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend Ethan (Gabriel Mann). But it seems that he couldn’t care less, taking a job in China at the first opportunity, he leaves her alone in his half empty apartment. Weeping with sadness at her situation she enters the eatery across the road, which is right in the middle of closing for the night, bawling her eyes out. Bemused by the distraught foreign girl in their midst, the owner and his wife give her some of the remaining ramen to see if it will assuage her misery and persuade her to leave so that they can go to bed. Abby devours the ramen and quaffs the broth and, in doing so, becomes intoxicated by the ramen experience. She comes up with an obsessive idea – to learn to cook ramen. So she seeks lessons from chef and owner Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). But this is not a simple student and mentor situation as Maezumi is a tough employer who gets her to engage in tasks such as cleaning the bathroom rather than cooking. It is not aided by the fact that even though the establishment’s sign marks it as a soba restaurant (そば蕎麦 – buckwheat noodles) its unhappy proprietor is regularly anything but sober. But Abby pursues her new career by persevering. She does manage to develop a social life and find new friends when she visits a club in Roppongi where she re-meets a bunch of western acquaintances, including Gretchan (Tammy Blanchard) and they get talking to Japanese salaryman Toshi Iwamoto (Soji Arai), who seems to be a bit more coherent than his associates. Abby and Toshi start dating and so her relationship blossoms alongside her ramen tuition. But then her progress comes to a frightening prospect when she learns that, The master’s coming in two months.” This renowned ramen critic’s evaluation could result in laudation or humiliation. Maezumi is surprisingly optimistic about Abby’s chances and establishes a wager with a rival ramen proprietor which could lead to major consequences for both Abby and his well-established business. He even takes Abby to visit his mother who reveals her own profound ramen philosophies. What holds for Abby, and indeed Maezumi, in the future?

The Ramen Girl is a mixed bowl of ramen and broth that is distinct in its exploration of cross-cultural misunderstandings and the humour or challenges that result. The main characters have rounded back stories but ultimately the food is the driver to the events in this film. Learning ramen from a sensei seems to be a similar process to learning kung-fu from a sifu. There are difficult, strenuous, apparently mundane tasks that go on for an age before actual understanding the required skills to implement the technique that the master is teaching. These are important to Abby’s understanding even as they are apparently futile. 

The competitive nature of developing cookery skills for a discerning master is a theme in many cooking films such as Jadoo-Kings of Curry, King of Cooking, Nina’s Heavenly Delights, and Eat Drink Man Woman. Here, the emphasis lies with the broth, its creation and its flavour, not to mention the side effects on the palette and spiritual/emotional response of consuming the concoction, is central to this film’s (very discrete) philosophical assertions. Early on we see how Maezumi’s creations can, in the right circumstances, create impulsive mirth and happiness in his clients as Abby declares, “I wanna make people happy the way you do.” 

The food in the film is 95% ramen based but there is a notable exception where cross-cultural cuisine is the focus of one delightful scene. It’s Christmas and Abby, wearing an elf hat and having had her attempts to decorate the restaurant savagely mocked by Maezumi, has returned to her flat where Gretchan has moved in. The pair celebrate with a drink and a KFC Bargain Bucket, a familiar food take away for an American but KFC is also the Christmas meal that one eats in Japan. The romance of the film is definitely ramen-based, however, when Toshi takes Abby on a date to visit the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum, foodie heaven, which also offers a historic depiction of ramen throughout the years as well as the flavours of broth throughout the regions of Japan – with the inevitable consequences of a bloated but happy stomach.

The Ramen Girl is a mixed concoction of East meets West which, whilst not departing from genre expectations, at least blends them together in a different way that is sweet and fun. Not haute cuisine but satisfactory for when you feel peckish.

You can buy the DVD of The Ramen Girl in the UK or the US.

Film Review: Chocolat (2000)

Films for foodies

Director : Lasse Hallström

Writers: Joanne Harris (novel)

Country: UK/US (Film is set in France)

Food Consultant: Walter Bienz  (chocolate expert)

Film Rating: 8/10

Foodie Rating: 8/10

Cocoa-based joy lies at the heart of Lasse Hallström’s romantic drama set in 1950’s France. First a word of warning. Note the lack of ‘e’ in the title. If you get Prachya Pinkaew’s 2008 film Chocolate you may well be in for a shock if you were expecting some sort of Milkybar huggy romance film. Instead you would see a remarkable, exciting and somewhat violent Thai martial-arts film (which is highly recommended if you like remarkable, exciting and somewhat violent Thai martial-arts films) rather than the rather more sedate environment of period piece Chocolat, a film about religion, society, families, romance and, of course, chocolate.

It’s 1959. Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) arrive at a small village, seeking accommodation and business premises. They find a useful property which suits their purposes in a tranquil location in France. Vianne’s skill – indeed her destiny – lies with her ability to be an inventive and perceptive chocolatier who can accurately detect the particular desires of any potential customer. Furthermore, she is a compassionate and caring person who utilises her distinct culinary abilities to absolve people of social or psychological issues even if they were unaware of those problems themselves.

But the apparent idyll of the delightful location has some problems. Vianne arrives during Lent and the village’s dictatorial mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) has a strong interpretation of biblical edicts and insists on his parishioners steadfastly following the rules of fasting and avoiding the temptations of glorious gluttony. He even alters the parish priest’s sermons to dictate his own religious views. Vianne carries on regardless, determined by her destiny to aid the villagers with their personal problems through the medium of chocolate; these include family conflicts, a housewife being beaten by her drunken husband and her curmudgeonly and melancholy landlady, a grandmother denied access to her artistic grandson because she fell out with her daughter, a lady who subscribes to the mayor’s dominant beliefs. When a group of river Roma arrive at the outskirts of the village this creates further tensions particularly when Vianne forms a friendship with the anti-establishment but delightful guitar playing Roux (Johnny Depp). Naturally the authoritarian Comte de Reynaud sees this as a further plot to undermine his idealistic perceptions of virtue for the village and seeks to remove both the Roma and the chocolatier. But perhaps his own sins are to become apparent especially, it seems, when chocolate is involved.

There is so much to enjoy in the food depiction in the film from its creation to its final instigation. Vianne instigates her skills in multiple ways to accentuate her art and administer the correct form of chocolate for her many customers. So there’s chilli in the hot-chocolate concoction that has exceptional taste and a variety of aphrodisiac sweets, mood enhancers and delicately modelled confections that serve as an advert for her artistry as much as they emphasise the visual delights of her amazing products. Chocolate may be considered to be an indulgent food but here it is used to heal lost souls. There are a few moments of culinary horror amidst the joy of chocolate as we experience a scene of outrageous gorging – during Lent! – which forms part of the dénouement in the film’s relationship between mayor and chocolatier. And there is more trouble when in a moment of conflicting interests between mother and daughter concerning their respective futures when a valuable container of cacao is smashed, the dust powder scattered amidst the shattered pottery.

Johnny Depp return to confection as the chocolatier Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but Juliette Binoche’s Vianne provides gastronomic supremacy way ahead of Tim Burton’s fantasy chocolate intermixture.

A delightful story about families, food, human frailties and redemption, Chocolat is a joy for both foodies and hopeless romantics.

You can buy the film here or the book here in the UK or the film here and the book here in the US.

Damn Fine Cherry Pie – Recipes Inspired by Twin Peaks

Author Lindsey Bowden

Publisher Mitchell Beazley

ISBN-10: 1784721905

ISBN-13: 978-1784721909

Kamera Book about David Lynch

As with all recipe books be sure to follow the directions otherwise you may find that your bowls are not what they seem.

“Food is interesting. For instance, why do we need to eat?” questions the aphorism guru The Log Lady before providing an in-depth consideration of edible ethics.

So here, for you to digest, are a plethora of dishes inspired by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (Population 51,201, although that varies).

Food is an integral part of many films but is particularly important in television series where diners, restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and coffee shops are often central to character and plot development as much as food and its preparation. The quirky, surreal and occasionally bizarre TV 1990s drama Twin Peaks was no exception and a multitude of dishes, delicacies and general foodie oddness stretched across the series. Coffee was integral, especially for FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper who could often discuss the coffee served: “You know, this is – excuse me – a damn fine cup of coffee,” and his preference for a brew that is “black as midnight on a moonless night,” to the extent that canned Georgia Coffee in Japan even had its own great Twin Peaks adverts that tied in with the series in its own very distinct way. And then, of course, there are the cherry pies. Indeed the basis of the title of this cookery book, coupled with its delightful cover illustration, depicts Twin Peaks as slices of pie.

Before starting, there are a couple of points to mention. This publication has not been prepared, approved or licensed by any entity or individual that created or produced the TV programme. It also is focussed on the Twin Peaks world of the original series and Fire Walk With Me film rather than the series filmed and set 25 year later that reassembled the location, characters and crew to offer new directions and dimensions. This is, however, not a problem in any way and gives the original series, and its cuisine, a welcome exploration.

Damn Fine Cherry Pie – Recipes Inspired by Twin Peaks does not hold back on the number and diversity of recipes on offer so there is something for everyone. Indeed, as the title would suggest, “They’ve got a cherry pie there that’ll kill ya.” There are two such recipes to choose from – the Shelly Johnson version or a useful vegan pie from Norma Jennings. But there is more to enjoy aside from the cooking as there are a number of other excursions into the world of Twin Peaks you can engage with, from quizzes, origami and even a Ludo game. If planning a Peaks party there are fashion and costume options to ensure that you look the part at any gathering and also, should you have more seductive foodie Peaky plans, you can (practice required) learn to tie a knot a cherry stalk like Audrey Horne.

“This must be where pies go when they die,” is one of the show’s many memorable quotes and fortunately there’s an interesting tasty Blueberry Whoopie Pie on offer with helpful owl themed design for that dessert. There are many sweet foods on offer, so varieties of donut imbue the pages – including Coffee Donuts. Then there’s the mix of sweet and savoury that can’t be beaten when making Maple Ham Pancakes: “Nothing beats the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham.” For Scandinavian food fans (or guests at the Great Northern hotel) there are recipes for Icelandic Hangikjot and Norwegian Meatballs and Gravy. But do remember there are rules to abide amidst all this culinary joy; “never drink coffee that has been anywhere near a fish.” Wise words, perhaps, although you’ll be pleased to know there is an extremely tasty looking trout based Percolator Fish Supper here, which sounds ideal with its bourbon, garlic butter and lemon. We would contend that you should never eat fish that has been anywhere near coffee, but that could well be personal preference. 

The recipes are all related to characters, events and environments in the series. Overall it’s a fun foodie folio that offers a lot to create and eat but also provides perspectives for Twin Peaks gatherings as well as the desire to re-watch (or watch if you’ve never experienced it before) a television classic of murder, mystery and distinct surrealism. Recommended both for daily meals and, particularly, for those Twin Peaks parties you know you always wanted to have or just a good old-fashioned series binge watch. With a damn fine cup of coffee of course. And perhaps a slice of cherry pie. Or two.

Film Review: What’s Cooking? (2000)

Writer/Director:        Gurinder Chadha

Country: US/UK

Cuisine: Multiple

Film Rating: 7/10

Foodie Rating: 8/10

Gurinder Chadha is fond of depicting meals in her films, to the extent that many of them feature food in the titles. From her early feature Bhaji on the Beach (1993) and as a writer with The Mistress of Spices (2005), food is an inherent part of the lives of the protagonists and their communities: from Bend It Like Beckham (2002), whose tagline even emphasises the food – “Who wants to cook Aloo Gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham?” – to the celebratory wedding and betrothal musical Bride and Prejudice (2004). In What’s Cooking? the food on offer is being prepared within a Los Angeles neighbourhood where families, their friends and acquaintances gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Being a Gurinder Chadha film, the many cross-cultural aspects of her characters are brought to the fore as well as their individual ideological and personal desires which create conflict, romance, misunderstandings and humour. And What’s Cooking? embraces all these elements with its depiction of celebrations with a large variety of cultural cuisines expected by all and sundry (as well as a KFC bargain bucket to mitigate a cooking disaster) so the titular question is distinctively accurate.

With any feast, ingredients need to be purchased, prepared and cooked in the kitchen ready for consumption at the family feast. And in this way the film covers the whole process from conception and preparation to serving and eating, from starters to desserts with accompanying beverages for its ravenous protagonists. But this isn’t just about the food. Each family’s meal may be central to their day but families are complicated and have all sorts of issues to deal with. And they aren’t just cultural, they are also inter-generational. What’s Cooking also refers to the family problems and secrets that are all building up and may well be revealed before the day is through – whether it’s an estranged husband who has been invited to the family’s celebration not knowing that his former wife’s new boyfriend will also be joining them; a couple who have problems with their children – their youngest son is hiding a gun and their eldest has lied that he cannot attend this year due to college work but has secretly joined his girlfriend’s family across the road; elderly parents coming to terms with their daughter’s lesbian lover; a wife dealing with an interfering mother in law in the context of a family row over the son’s desire to choose his future.

What’s Cooking? is a true smorgasbord of both food and culture in that each family has a different heritage and, as such, the food being prepared reflects their traditional cuisine within the context of the quintessential American holiday of Thanksgiving. The ‘prepare and eat’ element, whilst mouth-watering, really forms the background of the narrative; it is the characters, with their desires, their problems and their conflicts that add the spice to proceedings. Relationships, particularly those between family members, are complex and What’s Cooking? opens the lid of the cooking pot to reveal the contents where tensions are simmering and could reach boiling point at any time.

At turns funny, sweet, confrontational, sad and occasionally poignant, What’s Cooking? is a film with food and family firmly at its heart.

You can buy the film here in the UK and here in the US.

VTW Go Finland and Meet Leningrad Cowboys

They’ve been to America (Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)) and they’ve met Moses (Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994)) so VTW Go Finland is perhaps an appropriate foodie film excursion. Those curious about the Leningrad Cowboys band and their work with legendary low-key Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki should check out the review here before purchasing their cinematic output, including videos, for your education and pleasure.

While the band, instantly identifiable by their outrageously long and pointy quiff hairstyles and black winkle-picker shoes, have played gigs all over the world, one of their enterprises in Helsinki involves food and it is totally in tune (or out of tune depending on the gig in play!) with their unique musical style. Among their musical and lyrical thematic tendencies there are influences of vodka and tractors, both of which are also intrinsic their food.

Many years ago there used to be a Leningrad Cowboys Restaurant which had bonkers décor and a confusion of fusion menu that clashed cuisines from all over the world – where American assimilated with Asian, Mexican merged with Moroccan and Indian integrated with Italian – a broad range of flavours that shouldn’t have worked in so many ways but really, really did. It was there that we also discovered the joys of vanilla vodka straight out of the freezer. Quaffing Finnish spirits while sitting next to quiffing statues, who needs a pudding when you can combine your dessert and digestif in a scrumptious shot? We just had to make sure we could find our way back to the hotel at the end of the evening…

Sadly, it no longer seems to be there – we looked out for it on a recent trip to Helsinki –  which is a shame.

However, the Zetor Restaurant in Helsinki has been around for many years and continues to thrive. It takes its name from the leading Czech tractor brand  – “The first zetor tractor, the Z25, was ‘baptised’ on 15 March 1946,” according to the official website – and takes the tractor-restaurant concept to a wonderful and surreal zenith. Yes, you eat your meal…. on a tractor or sitting around a tractor.

Zetor Restaurant is owned by Aki Kaurismäki and designed by one of the Leningrad Cowboys. Rural kitsch bliss. Zetor declares itself to be a “110% Finnish restaurant,” and who are we to argue? Also, as is befitting a classy restaurant, the fare on offer comprises signature dishes from their very own recipes and these are described in a highly distinctive manner: perhaps Oula’s sautéed reindeer, The Cackle of Kaivopiha, The weather may change but the vendace stays the same or Karelian glory, which they claim is ‘close to deserving a place on UNESCO’s heritage list.’

It’s worth noting that Crazy reindeer from Levi, Lapland, Mummy’s boy’s meatballs and Grilled liver all contain alcohol. The essential on offer is the drool-worthy Tractor Man’s steak: ‘Tender sirloin of beef, bacon baked on the bonnet of a Zetor tractor with honest garlic butter as fuel. As well as country potatoes with smoked garlic mayonnaise, mousse of smoked reindeer and vegetables as eye candy. That smoked reindeer is welcome as more than eye candy.’

Don’t forget the drinks, which include a wide variety of strong Finnish berry wines: Lingonberry 21 %, Cranberry 21 %, Blueberry 21 %, Blackcurrant 21 %, Sea Buckthorn 21 %, Cloudberry 15 %.

Something to take a shot at. Or two.

Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud) (1986)

Films for foodies

Director: Gabriel Axel

Gastronomic Consultant:  Jan Pedersen

Country: Denmark

Cuisine: Danish, French

Film Rating: 7/10

Foodie Rating: 4/10 (first half) 9/10 (conclusion)

Initially there is a touch of confusion: You are half an hour into Babette’s Feast and the eponymous Babette (Stéphane Audran), a housemaid for two elderly sisters Filippa (Bodil Kjer) & Martine (Birgitte Federspiel), daughters of the philanthropic pastor, has briefly popped into a dining room full of parishioners of the small coastal village in Jutland, Denmark, but has nothing appetising to serve. A refugee from France, Babette joined the household after being sent there by family friend Achille Papin (Jean-Philippe Lafont), who had taken a fancy to one of the sisters many years ago while teaching her to sing. The letter accompanying Babette indicates that ‘she can cook’ and so the kindly sisters take her in; she resides in the house working as the housemaid in exchange for lodging and food. She has to learn to prepare local dishes as well as speak Danish in order to fulfil her new role. Ale bread soup is the first delicacy she is taught to cook – a spoon from a bowl consumed dark-brown mash of stale bread and…. ale. And so she continues to produce such bland culinary fare, for prayer and song accompany the meals that are served to the sisters and parishioners in this tiny community, although she is adept at purchasing the best quality produce and will not accept overpriced goods..

Babette does, however, hold some lottery cards back in France and her friend there ensures her continued participation. Over a dozen years after leaving her home country she wins 10,000 Francs. With the money arriving in time to commemorate what would have been the one hundredth birthday of the now deceased pastor, Babette decides to celebrate with a proper dinner. It turns out to be a feast but the villagers don’t want to acknowledge any sinful depravity associated with the celebration. All through her time washing salted fish and making ale bread soup in Jutland, Babette has had a hankering for home cuisine so splashes her new cash on procuring the ingredients to create and serve a lavish multiple course gastronomic extravaganza.

This is a film about an virtuous community, where the sisters have led a life of worship and charity, where frivolity is shunned and enjoyment of food considered to be self-indulgent. The religious group, whilst still gathering together, bicker amongst each other – their lives of austerity leading to petty squabbles. Babette conforms with the expectations of the society that has given her refuge but clearly yearns for her former life. The feast affords her the opportunity to retain a flavour – if you will – of the culinary joys that she used to know. The dinner includes Potage à la Tortue, blinis (although the ingredients, like much in the feast are imported so no local fish roe here, just the beluga), a salad course, Cailles en Sarcophage and a variety of fruits, cheeses. And of course there is a very good reason as to why this is such a special occasion.

Babette’s Feast is a gentle film, underplayed throughout, and its primary message is that just a soupçon of decadence and indulgence, hell, even a little gluttony, does you good.

Tapper

VeryTastyJoystick
  • Publisher: Bally Midway
  • Platform: Arcade
  • Year: 1983

Retro arcade video game drinking joy can be found in two formats – Tapper, or the dry state/appropriate for underage gamers version, Root Beer Tapper. The principles are the same although there will be differences between your clientele and your inter-level reactions. For this review we will be discussing the alcoholic beverage version, so younger VTW readers should avert their joysticks (or purchase the Midway Arcade Treasures compilation for consoles that has the Root Beer Tapper version, neglecting the alcohol but still retaining all the elements of gender bias that is intrinsic to all versions).

The original version of the game was an arcade console for bars as it was game linked to Budweiser. Indeed some versions of the game had Budweiser beer handles as joysticks to just add to the whole alcoholic licensing of the experience.

As the player, you are a moustached tubby beer-swilling barman (think Mario with a different costume and who has a different barber attending to the moustache), it is your job to pour and hurl brews at impatient customers without invoking their ire or spilling the beer. You also have to pick up the empty glasses or the brewery becomes annoyed at having to replace the glassware and docks its from your wages. There are occasional distractions in the form of showgirls along with the opportunity to extract tips from happy punters, although this makes collecting used glasses or pouring new servings trickier. If you do succeed within various shifts – or levels – you get to down a bevvy for yourself.

The next stage is trickier, has more customers demanding booze and, of course, you have downed one so your co-ordination could be in jeopardy.

Tapper offers simple vintage arcade fun. With beer.

Film Review: Eat Drink Man Woman

Films for foodies

Writer/Director:Ang Lee
Country: Taiwan
Cuisine: Chinese
Film Rating 9/10
Foodie Rating 10/10

The only problem with this foodophile classic is its title: it should be Eat Drink Man Women as the relationships centre on protagonist Chu (Sihung Lung), his three daughters as well as his friend, her mother and her daughter. Chu is a former chef and the story revolves around the women who define his life following his retirement and widowhood examining their relations with him and each other, all within the context of a great deal of amazing food. His daughters have complicated lives but they retain a sense of duty to their father, so every week the family gather for an auspicious Sunday feast where Chu creates the most delicious meals as they have to discuss their lives, their prospects and their woes. Jia-Chien (Chien-Lien Wu), despite her business acumen and success as an airline manager, always wanted to develop her own cooking abilities. Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei Yang) has had relationship issues of her own and has converted to Christianity while the youngest sister Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang) is still a student, seeking qualifications and dealing with both friends and boyfriends as they come and go. And then there’s Chu’s friendship with Liang Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang). Shocked that her daughter goes to school with less than top-quality food in her lunchbox, he instigates a secret arrangement with the young girl whereby he replaces her lunchbox with one filled with his own exquisite concoctions, eating the original food so as not to waste the somewhat inferior cooking. This creates a lot of cultural cross-generation food empathy as these exceptional lunches pique the interest and enthusiasm of her classmates who later provide Chu with orders for particular dishes from his extensive repertoire.

When watching Eat Drink Man Woman it is advisable to do so on a full stomach. The opening sequence alone will have you salivating at the delicious dishes on offer as Chu prepares Sunday lunch for his daughters. This is not a standard meal that’s simply been thrown together, the care and attention he puts into each and every dish reflects his way of showing his daughters how much he cares for them; the finished feast far too much for the family to consume. His daughters have grown up to be critical of his culinary skills, noting that he may not have followed the recipe precisely and are open in their feedback, certain of their judgement in his abilities. But his culinary expertise is his way of maintaining the family within a home where food is the centre of everything. The Sunday lunch also gives the whole family the opportunity to make announcements about their lives and their plans for the future, including the occasional bombshell. The dinner table provides the focal point for family interactions. Director Lee then cuts to specific scenes that delve into the individual stories of this complicated family.

Chu’s is a practical kitchen – a chef’s kitchen: white tiled, with a seriously impressive array of knives, cooking implements and vessels, all of which have been well used over the years. Much of his food is so fresh some of it is still alive – fish writhing in pots – just moments before preparation begins. Chu is not squeamish – he knows exactly where his food comes from and how to prepare it. Sizzle, steam, fizz, fry, boil – all the techniques of classic Chinese cookery are on show. The dishes are many and varied – the portions far too large for the family of four to devour – but every Sunday lunch is a sumptuous feast with plenty of leftovers for the week ahead.

Eat Drink Man Woman places food as a central part of this story of a complicated family living complicated lives. As anyone who has been overfed by a kindly relative knows, the over-riding message from Eat Drink Man Woman is that, no matter how complex and difficult life can be, food is not simply nourishment, it represents love.

You can buy the DVD (or the NTSC version) or the Ang Lee box set trilogy which also contains more of his foodie films, The Wedding Banquet and Pushing Hands.

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

Most cookery books have a picture of beautifully presented delicious food on the cover to tantalise the tastebuds. Niki Segnit’s book is just as enticing but from an entirely different perspective.

It’s a large colour wheel or, more precisely, half a colour wheel that adorns the front cover. Fear not, if you open to the very first page, the full colour wheel is revealed in all its glory and immediately the purpose of The Flavour Thesaurus becomes clear.

The book’s aim is to demonstrate how different flavours can complement each other. So the colour wheel represents a number of flavours which are divided into particular categories. Meaty, cheesy, marine are straightforward definitions, more descriptive definitions include earthy, mustardy, spicy, woodland. Fruity is further split so that you can fresh, floral or creamy fruity. Then each category has sub-categories which represent the ingredients’ flavours. So meaty comprises: chicken, pork, black pudding, liver, beef, lamb whereas creamy fruity has: banana, melon, apricot, peach, coconut, mango.

And that’s just the first page. After a brief introduction to the purpose of the project, Segnit then launches straight into the thesaurus element. Each flavour category has a chapter and each ingredient within that category its own section. Where the ingredient complements another flavour in the thesaurus Segnit then writes up a paragraph explaining how the particular flavours complement each other with maybe an interesting anecdote thrown in and a high-level but perfectly functional recipe to get your creative cookery juices flowing. These also reference chefs, cooks and food critics recipes and opinions (sometimes conflicting) on the success – or not – of the combinations. And these recipes aren’t restricted to western palettes the recipes are derived from all over the world.

Some of the combinations are, of course, tried and tested classics, others more surprising. Who knew, for example, that the Russian Tsar’s children tucked into caviar and mashed banana for breakfast? Or that chocolate might complement cauliflower? Or that blueberries work well with mushrooms?

As well as being a cookery book that is fun simply to read, it also encourages you to experiment. Open the store cupboard, have a poke inside and see what ingredients are there to put together. Who knows what flavour combination you might discover?

You can buy The Flavour Thesaurus by clicking here in the UK or here in the US.