Updated: May 13, 2023
A curated collection of enjoyable films that will make you want to: cook; try new cuisines and recipes; learn more about the world; and celebrate life with others over food and drink!
The best culinary movies have most, if not all, of the following attributes:
- They make you hungry
- They make you envious
- They make you want to cook
- They make you want to try new cuisines and recipes
- They make you want to learn more about the world
- They make you want to celebrate life with others over food and drink
With those traits in mind, we curated a collection of enjoyable gastronomic films that deliver on all of these points, with additional information provided to help you learn more, or even recreate some of cinema’s most memorable dishes. Bon appétit!
Table of Contents
- Babette’s Feast
- Big Night
- East Side Sushi
- Eat Drink Man Woman
- The Hundred Foot Journey
- Julie & Julia
- Le Grand Chef
- Like Water for Chocolate
- The Lunchbox
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding
- Off the Menu
- The Ramen Girl
- Sweet Bean
- Today’s Special
- Tortilla Soup
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- 10 Movies that will Inspire Homeowners
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Perhaps the foodie film that always comes to the minds of most movie lovers is the classic hit, Babette’s Feast. The original short story was actually penned as a collection called Anecdotes of Destiny by a former Baroness, Karen Christenze Dinesen, better known by her nom de plume, Isak Dinesen. The plot centers around two elderly, religious sisters, Martine and Filippa, living in a tiny, remote fictional town in 19th Century Denmark.
The sisters hire Babette, a French refugee, to help with household chores and cooking, as they continue the work of their deceased father who was the town’s religious leader. Babette wins the lottery through a renewable ticket back in France and instead of leaving the sisters’ employ, she honors the sisters and their beloved father by hosting a 7 course meal for 12 with her winnings.
The selfless act is met with skepticism by the sisters, who have no idea what to expect, as they are accustomed to the their daily “mush” and salted fish, prepared as they have always done and had instructed Babette to continue to cook each day.
However, the feast that Babette prepares is “out-of-this-world” tremendous, right down to the final courses of exotic cheese and fruits served with Sauternes and freshly ground coffee with vieux marc Grand Champagne cognac, as this film is not just about the full seven course meal, but the pairings of the perfect wines and cordials, as well. In short, Babette is no ordinary “cook”.
Set in New York City during the 1950’s, Big Night focuses on two immigrant Italian brothers who pin their hopes and everything they own on a banquet honoring singer and bandleader, Louis Prima, in a bid to save their struggling nascent restaurant. Although they have options, such as returning to Italy and running their uncles restaurant, instead, they prefer to try to make it in America.
There is also an offer from Pascale, the owner of an eponymous, competing restaurant that serves insipid, mediocre fare. To the brothers’ consternation, Pascale’s business flourishes, which fuels the owner’s repeated attempts to recruit the brothers to work for him.
A dirty trick and some unfortunate events follow, but the food choices are amazing: Tri-Colored Risotto, Cacio e Pepe, and of course, the main course Timpano, a “mountain of perfectly cooked pasta, tender meatballs, egg and salami, swathed in a rich ragu and folded all together in a lissome dough”, as described in the recipe Timpano alla “Big Night”.
Here’s an excellent and enthusiastic video that walks viewers through the making of a traditional version of Timpano from the movie Big Night:
Frustrated with the constraints forced upon him by his restaurant’s owner, Chef Carl Casper, slips into semi-retirement after a video goes viral showing him having a meltdown with a top food critic and blogger. Humiliated and unemployable, Chef Casper ventures to Miami at his ex-wife’s, Inez, invitation.
There he rediscovers his love for Cuban cuisine, and is encouraged by Inez to renovate a run-down food truck into a new enterprise. The restoration reinvigorates his relationship with his teenage son, Percy, and his previously lost passion for cooking. Carl’s former line cook, Martin, shows up in Miami to help out and the three of them drive the Cuban-themed-cuisine food truck across the country to Los Angeles, with Percy’s social marketing expertise tweeting and instagramming their adventures along the way.
If Cuban cuisine is not spicy enough for you, be sure to check out the Indian version of Chef, which is the official Indian remake (with the same name and plot), but with more heat in the recipes.
East Side Sushi
East Side Sushi is the story of an outsider who yearns to learn traditional cuisine from a master, and walks the road to redemption and success. This is a common aspirational chef theme, but this story takes place in Oakland, California, not Tokyo, Japan. The protagonist is a poor, single, Mexican-American mother just trying to provide for her young daughter and widowed father.
Interestingly, it is her knife skills that are transferable, from chopping fruit and vegetables for a fruit stand and taqueria, that lands her the gig as a sous chef at a sushi bar. She longs to earn the role of sushi chef, but her non-Japanese ethnicity and gender are a hindrance, as the restaurant’s owner wants an “authentic” sushi experience for his customers.
Eat Drink Man Woman
From the opening scene of fresh fish being hand selected, descaled, cleaned, and fried, with fresh spicy peppers, onions, bok choy, and scallions being expertly chopped, you know you are going to love this movie. There is so much joy in the opening montage of Eat Drink Man Woman, showing preparation, plating and presentation of Chef Chu’s sumptuous Sunday dinner feast that you will want to watch it over and over again.
Recipes for the food prepared in the film so captivated audiences that the producers released a cookbook with some of the movie’s recipes, which unfortunately today is no longer in print.
The Hundred Foot Journey
Based on the novel by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred Foot Journey is set in a French Village where two restaurants, directly opposite one another, are at war. A Michelin star French restaurant owned by a French woman is located on one side of the street, while a new Indian restaurant, owned by a proud Indian emigrant, resides on the other side. Each restaurant is battling for customers, often with hilarious consequences, interweaving family, love and of course, food!
Along with breathtaking cinematography, it was partially filmed in the Midi-Pyrénées, the film has some unusual French-Indian fusion cuisine. DreamWorks, the film distributor, released a collection of recipes from the movie with favorites such as: Banana Cardamom Crème Brûlée; Pasta Salad with Chickpeas; Curry Hot Dogs; and of course, Hassan’s famous Omelete aux Fines Herbes.
Julie & Julia
By happenstance, we met Julia Child in Cambridge, Massachusetts many years ago. The funny story is that we were trying to reach a friend in Paris by phone, but the boarding house lady only spoke French. Julia walked into the computer store on Massachusetts Avenue, where we worked, to make a purchase, and we seized the chance to ask her to translate for us. She was very gracious … and unforgettably tall!
The larger-than-life Julia Child is one of the subjects of Julie and Julia, as it intertwines the lives of the famed “French Chef”, as she learns her craft, with that of a young woman in modern day New York City. The modern day Julie toils in a suffocating job, as a call center representative for victims of the September 11 attacks.
Fortunately the young Julie finds solace from the dreariness and depression of her work in cooking. She quickly and ambitiously decides to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s famous 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one year while blogging her quest to her followers.
- Best Cooking & Food Shows Available to Stream On PBS
- Baking with Julia on PBS.org
- The Best of Julia Child video playlist on PBS.org’s YouTube Channel
Le Grand Chef
On the surface Le Grand Chef is the story of two arch rival chefs competing for the title of heir to the last Royal Chef of the Joseon Dynasty. The underlying theme, however, represents the cultural struggles of a society balancing traditional and unique national identity, with the paradoxical onslaught of global influences, both present day and historical. This struggle of “tradition vs. globalization” is well-represented in the culinary world, when thinking of iconic, traditional, authentic recipes for a given cuisine, region or culture versus the pervasive influence of international fusion.
Like Water for Chocolate
This movie Like Water for Chocolate has special meaning to us, as it is the last film we watched with a favorite aunt, who had a fondness for traditional Mexican cuisine and was very proud of her Mexican heritage. The movie takes place in the early 1900’s with the youngest daughter, Tita, of a widowed, cantankerous, traditional mother, lamenting that her birth order demands that she take care of her formidable mother for the remainder of her life.
As she is taught to cook by the house cook, Tita learns the magic of love and cooking when Pedro, her soon to be brother-in-law, falls in love with her. She reciprocates his amorous affections and the two create a scandal that is one for the ages. Based on the novel by Laura Esquivel, the film is cinematographically stunning from both landscape and culinary perspectives.
Recipes for the food in the movie can be found on the Like Water for Chocolate recipe site by Camilla Reaves.
The Lunchbox is a delightful and heartwarming Hindi-language film that centers on two people who become friends due to a mix up in the normally flawless Indian Dabbawala system. Used primarily in Mumbai, this system is a complex, yet highly organized and reliable lunchbox delivery-and-return system that is facilitated by a large workforce, referred to as Dabbawalas.
A 2012 Harvard Business Review article investigated the high-efficiency and reliability of the Mumbai Dabbawala system, which estimated that the workforce at the time to be 5,000 strong, delivering upwards of 130,000 daily lunches, six days a week. Paradoxically, the self-managed, semi-literate workers have navigated deliveries through the crowded city by train, bicycle, and handcart, for over 100 years, without the aid of any technology or even cell phones.
The plot of the film is creatively told in an epistolary method by reading handwritten notes between the two main characters, surreptitiously delivered through the lunchbox delivery service.
Ila is a lonely, neglected housewife who carefully and lovingly prepares her husband’s lunch each morning, only to have it accidentally delivered to Mr. Fernandes, a soon-to-be retired widower. Once the mistake is realized, they continue corresponding via the notes using the dabba system, all the while striking up a mutually supportive friendship that becomes complicated by their respective personal situations.
Ila is a meticulous cook and we are treated to her preparation of paneer koftas, which is her husband’s favorite dish, as well as that of other Maharashtrian comfort dishes, such as daal and stuffed bitter gourd.
The movies central themes are loneliness, happiness, and of course, food!
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
The highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, was originally conceptualized by Nia Vardalos, as her own one-woman stage show. A 30-year old, frumpy woman, Toula, still living at home with her traditional restaurant-owning family, discovers her true potential and of course, love with a non-Greek suitor, Ian Miller. Her exceptionally flamboyant Hellenic relatives are enough to scare off anyone, let alone an “outsider vegetarian” at that.
When re-watching this film, we realize that there aren’t enough Greek-American films extolling the culture, cuisine and rambunctious energy that we enjoy throughout this story. Although the movie is set in Chicago, it was actually filmed in Toronto, Canada, and during filming the crew was treated to food from various local Greek-owned restaurants who were proud to demonstrate their culinary talents. The film introduced millions of viewers to Moussaka, Spanakopita and roasted lamb prepared on a spit.
- 16 Recipes for an Extra-Large Greek Wedding from Food52
Off the Menu
In Off the Menu, an heir to an American-based, lackluster Mexican fast-food empire is tasked with the lofty goal of finding “artisanal sophistication” that is a “culinary sensation” to shore up their lagging sales. His journey leads him to a small New Mexican town that is the home of a local, authentic, and headstrong chef, whose restaurant attracts food devotees from great distances, who are all seeking real authentic southwestern cuisine.
The Ramen Girl
The Ramen Girl is a story of perseverance, love, loss and ramen noodles. Brittany Murphy shows what a stellar performer she was, a talent that was extinguished far too early, with a performance that was a long way from her character in Clueless. A white, American girl learns how to prepare Japanese Ramen in the traditional manner from an older, gruff, Japanese Ramen chef.
Although the overall story is a bit campy, the concept of “spirit” or putting your love into every dish you create is an age old belief held by many cooks of every culture. During our research we discovered a delightful subreddit on the topic of Ramen with a link to a free Ramen cookbook.
We also came across another interesting resource inspired by the movie on the blog Ingredients for Life.
We had never heard of dorayaki prior to viewing Sweet Bean, a lovely Japanese film about freedom, joy and enriching one’s life. Sentaro is a middle-aged shopkeeper who runs a dorayaki confection stand on the outskirts of Tokyo. The Japanese confection consists of two small pancakes with a sweet red bean paste in the middle and looks like a round, larger version of the Fig Newton cookie. It is a beloved treat by both young and old.
When he decides to post an opening for a shop helper, an elderly woman, Tokue, inquires about the position, as she has always wanted to work in a dorayaki shop. At first, he refuses, haven taken notice of her deformed hands and citing her inability to lift the heavy pots and endure the amount of labor required. However, Tokue is able to win Sentaro over once he tastes her incredible sweet bean paste, which is far superior to the lackluster version Sentaro had been using.
The revised version of dorayaki quickly becomes a hit, with customers lining up before the shop is even open for business. Of course, what good would a superb tale be without the right amount of tension and buildup to the climax? As this one is heartfelt and connects to the movie’s theme of enjoying the wonders of life, despite the hand you are dealt.
Interesting note: this is one of two films, of which we are aware, that features a real-life granddaughter and grandmother duo playing major roles. Kirin Kiki, who portrays Tokue, is the grandmother of Kyara Uchida, who portrays Wakana, the schoolgirl who visits the shop.
In Today’s Special, the depressed and frustrated protagonist, Samir, decides to move to France to work for a well-known chef as his unpaid intern. Upon hearing this news, Samir’s father has a heart attack and is placed on fulltime bedrest with his son now responsible for the failing, family Indian restaurant that Samir despises. Approaching his new role with disdain, Samir has a run-in with the restaurant’s chef, who promptly walks out leaving the restaurant with no culinary talent to prepare the menus fare.
Akbar steps in, and he and Samir then transform the restaurant and each other, all through the joy of cooking. Incidentally, Madhur Jaffrey, who portrays Samir’s mother, is actually a well-known food and travel writer who is credited with bringing Indian cuisine to the western hemisphere through her famous cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973).
Often described as “The Mexican-American version of Eat Drink Man Woman”, Tortilla Soup delivers on this compliment with a heartfelt story and creative Mexican cuisine. Similarly, the film begins with a montage of the protagonist picking, prepping, plating and presenting the weekly Sunday Dinner for his three daughters. Viewers are treated to epicurean delights such as: Sopa de Calabacita (squash blossom soup); Nopales Salad; Street Corn Esquites; Seafood Molcajete; and of course, Tortilla Soup.
Interestingly, the two chefs who prepared the food for the movie, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, are known as “Too Hot Tamales” and are famous for their restaurants, Ciudad (closed in 2010), Border Grill (one of our hangouts in Los Angeles, and the other in Las Vegas), and their latest venture, Socalo, in Santa Monica, California. The dishes from the movie have been featured on the menus of their restaurants in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
You can experience the food of the chefs who were behind the cuisine of Tortilla Soup at these restaurant locations:
- Border Grill, Los Angeles (this location currently has limited hours, but also offers catering)
- Border Grill, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
- Socalo, Santa Monica, California
- BBQ Mexicana, Las Vegas
- Pacha Mamas, Las Vegas
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