Monday, 25 August 2014

100-foot journey to the cinema and back

As is probably evident to all or you readers, I love food. Outside kitchen, too. Such as in literature and films. 

That love can be traced way back into my childhood: one of the key reasons for trampling through Enid Blyton's Famous Five - books were those incredibly saliva-inducing descriptions of their picnics. How did they manage to make something as simple as fried eggs, boiled hams, lemonades and tinned sardines that glorious? The only cartoon I ever read was Asterix and Obelix. Yep, you guessed it: because of that last strip on the last page of every single one of them. Oh, that long table dripping with treats. Oh, that roasted wild board. Oh, that troubadour gagged and strapped into a tree.

In my adult years one of favourites has been Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. Should you ever require instructions for say, what to do with cock balls (!) that's your book.

Same goes with the big screen. Films revolving around cooking are so my, well, cup of tea. Right up my, erm, Quality Street. One of my all time favourites is Ang Lee's culinary masterpiece Eat Drink Man Woman. And how could I not love Chocolat, Mostly Martha and Julie & Julia. 

Through a recent blog collaboration I got a copy of Richard C. Morais' The Hundred-Foot Journey, which, according to the quotation on the back of the book by no less than Anthony Bourdain, is "the best food novel ever written". And delicious it is. The narrator, Hassan Haji, takes his reader from the fish head curry-scented India to London's immigrant neighbourhood's streets pungeant with the smell of cooking oil lingering from the fish and chips shops. From there we move on to French country sides rich rabbit stews and from there to the elite of Parisian restauranteurs.

The backdrop for the story are the changes India faces after the independence, French culinary traditions, the peculiarities and challenges both in the French restaurant scene and society at large along with the star chef cult so dominant there (too). All of these are depicted with astonishing accuracy and authenticity - the book is fiction after all (thought I'd tell you this before you start making reservations and planning a trip to Paris...!)

The film adaptation, by Lasse Hallström (who also directed Chocolat) takes some artistic liberties. The result is, well, more film-like. Disney fairytale-like. Easier to digest in a form that responds better to the cravings of (American) film audience, greedy for happy ending. A choice where the authenticity that made the book so great does inevitably suffer. A foodie is still in for treats for the eyes, soul and heart, though.

Dame Helen Mirren delivers yet another quality performance as the haughty Madame Mallory; the woman who starts out as Haji family's arch enemy but, upon discovering Hassan's special talent, takes him under her cashmere-clad wings and guides him through his first steps on the rocky road to stardom. Hassan's bull-headed dad is naturally played by Om Puri who has turned his cranky portrayals of the head of an Indian household into an art.

Here's little tip though: make sure you eat well before catching this film!

Do you have suggestions on literary feasts fit for a foodie? Or tips on films that satisfy one's culinary cravings as well? They are all welcome - please leave yours in the comments!

Of, and in case you're in Helsinki this Friday, don't miss the start of the movie picnics at Kansalaispuisto.The series, part of the ongoing Helsinki Festival, kick off this Friday with equally hilarious film for wine buffs: Sideways. Bring your picnic basket, grab a bottle of wine (remember, anything but Merlot!) and enjoy. Free entry!




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