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Bite Me Cairo: Reel Relationships

What if you are a foodie and your partner is not?


Foodist at work Nada Badawi
Foodist at work
Nada Badawi

There are conflicts inherent in any relationship, more when you are a foodie and your partner is not. She’s the love of your life; you talk about her incessantly; she’s the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing as you drift off to sleep. It would be nice if your spouse cared about food too.

One way around this is to find a common interest. Like golf, or diving or—more in line with the foodie lifestyle—sitting around with a bowl of popcorn watching a movie. If you have this problem, maybe I can help. So, to the apple of my eye from the potato on your couch; my favourite food films.

Number one is The Big Night (1996). Two Italian brothers, a restaurant, 1950s New Jersey. I love Tony Shalhoub as the brilliant, temperamental chef. The place is going under and the brothers risk all on a blow out dinner for a local celebrity. Lots of romance and cooking. The pivotal scene is the big bash with friends, wine, music and over-the-top Italian food that most foodies have never seen before. Light some candles, get a blanket, order a pizza.

My second favourite food film is Ratatouille (2007). Okay, it’s animated (Pixar), and it’s about a rat in a kitchen, but if this doesn’t warm your partner’s heart there is nothing I can do for you. What’s not to like? It’s about wigged out chefs and power-hungry food critics and how French cuisine is stuck up its own derrière. The best line, “All this cooking and reading and TV-watching while we cook and read. It’s like you’re involving me in a crime.”

I also adore Like Water for Chocolate (1992). Based on the novel by Laura Esquivel, and set in northern Mexico in the early 1900s, this film tells the story of Tita De La Garza. Tied to her tyrannical mother and unable marry, Tita’s emotions flow directly into dishes and her guests cry or laugh or get all hot and bothered depending upon how Tita feels when she cooks. A bit of magical realism.

Fourth place goes to Eat Drink Man Woman (1994). Directed by Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi), this Taiwanese film is focuses on Chef Chu, semi-retired master chef at the Taipei Grand Hotel, who struggles in vain to keep his three daughters close to him and each other by requiring their presence at his lavish Sunday lunches. (Egyptians will surely relate to this.) Foodies will relate in the first ten minutes when watching Chef Chu prepare a lavish meal that his ungrateful daughters barely touch. Priceless.

And of course there is Chocolat (2000). Starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, and shot in Burgundy, this too is based on a novel, written by Joanne Harris. Sweet and sentimental, it explores the sensual temptations of chocolate versus the staunch morals of conservative French villagers. It won’t spoil the plot for you to tell you that chocolate wins.

Tied for sixth place on my list are two films that usually aren’t mentioned in best food films lists, Sideways (2004), the American version, and The Trip (2010), the British version. Both are about middle-aged men on road trips drinking wine, (in the first), and eating and writing about food, (in the second), and mostly hanging around and talking about their loves and disappointments. They are comedies with great dialogue. If your significant other is an action movie type of guy or gal, then save these for when they are away on a road trip.

Number eight goes to Julie and Julia (2009). It’s a true story about the first American celebrity chef, Julia Child, and food blogger Julie Powell, who tries to cook every recipe in Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in a year. Meryl Streep nails the role of Julia Child. Absolutely charming.

There are some promising new films out that I have not yet seen because I live in Cairo. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011), a documentary about 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono trying to hand over his business to his son; Entre les Bras (2012), a documentary about French chef Michel Bras trying to hand over his restaurant to his son; and Comme un Chef (2012), a comedy about a veteran chef trying to keep from having his job handed over to a younger version of himself. Great stuff, but none will go down well with the non-foodie in your life.

If this list brings you closer to your non-foodie in some small way, then my work here is done. Take care. Enjoy. I’m off to watch Masterchef.

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