Watch any of the following films with a carton of Chinese take-out instead of popcorn.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) – This film, set in Taiwan, is an obvious favorite. It opens with the father, Chef Chu, plucking a live chicken from his backyard coop and minutes later turning it into a steaming, mouth-watering casserole dish. The behind-the-scenes look as his restaurant prepares for a massive banquet is also impressive, as the camera scans down aisle after aisle of uniformed cooks and flaming woks. Beware: Ang Lee shoots the Chu family meals with a food pornographer’s eyes. Don’t watch on an empty stomach.
A Christmas Story (1983) – Imagine watching this movie in elementary school as an immigrant kid from China. On Christmas day, the family finds that their oven has caught on fire and the neighbor’s dog has run off with the turkey. They head to the local Chinese restaurant, where the waiters sing Christmas carols in heavily-accented English. A beautiful roast duck arrives, but it has the head intact, and Ralphie’s brother bursts into tears. Huh? you wonder. Ducks are always served with heads. After many years of living in the US, it’s easier to find the humor in the situation.
My Life as McDull (2001) – This Hong Kong-made animation is too intelligent to be just for kids. McDull, the little Cantonese pig with a Scottish surname, trains for Hong Kong’s annual Bun Climbing competition, in which contestants climb up a mountain of steamed Chinese buns. (Yes, this is a real event, seemingly too bizarre to be made-up.) There is another McDull film (whose name I can’t remember) that opens with terrorists taking an office building hostage. But at the same time they phone in their lunch orders for Cantonese roast pork and beef brisket noodles. No matter how busy you are, there’s always time for ngau lam fun.
Rice Rhapsody (2004) - Martin Yan stars as Singaporean restaurant owner who creates a “Hainan Duck Rice” dish to upstage the acclaimed Hainan Chicken of his neighbor and object of affection Jen Fan. The two decide to compete in a national televised competition to see who can claim the best Hainan poultry in town. Was this film an ode to Singapore’s national dish or to Martin Yan’s knife skills? Both are quite impressive.
The Joy Luck Club (1993) – Food is a backdrop for many arguments, make-up scenes, and mahjong games, just like real life. Anyone about to meet your Chinese girlfriend’s family for the first time should take cues from this movie of what not to do. Don’t gulp down your alcohol when making a toast. Don’t boast about your chopstick skills when you don’t have any. And do not, under any circumstances, try to improve her mother’s food by dousing it with soy sauce.
What are your favorite food films?