No matter what kind of Japanese movie it is–whether it’s horror and there’s a foreboding water stain on the ceiling while a mother and child eat their meal (Dark Water, 2002, or I may be remembering it wrong), or it’s a bloody action film and there’s a killing rampage the following day after the young trained assassins have dinner together (Azumi, 2003)–as long as there’s a dining, cooking, or any food-related scene I suddenly get a craving for Japanese food.
So I especially get hungry when the food is an integral part of the plot.
Tampopo (1985) is probably the most popular Japanese film that revolves around Japanese food, particularly ramen. P and I used to watch it often–it was our go-to Japanese food porn flick–then we would regret it because we would be craving for a bowl of ramen right in the middle of it and there were no good ramen places nearby. How does it go? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
Ramen-induced insanity aside, last year, I got to watch Chef of South Polar (2009) in Eiga Sai and I think I found my new Tampopo. It’s a movie that revolves around a Japanese research team dispatched near the South Pole for a year and amidst all that ice and isolation, are glorious meals prepared by the team’s devoted resident cook that brings them all together to the table every time. It’s funny, heartwarming, and generous with the mouthwatering spreads and scenes of sushi, onigiri, ramen, heck even Lobster Thermidor. You end up looking forward to the meal as much as the characters, who are all doing their best (ganbatte!) and finding ways to cope in the middle of nowhere.
If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the full trailer here, via Nippon Cinema.There are no English subtitles but the food is probably enough to make you want to see it. After the movie, you will also want to trek to the nearest Japanese restaurant, so plan ahead.
Finally (though likely not the last), there’s Still Walking. Though the acclaimed film doesn’t center around food from start to finish, one of its ‘most memorable ingredients’ (I shamelessly lifted that from the Criterion Collection) is the food prepared and cooked by the Yokoyama family, particularly by its matriarch, for a family gathering, the reason for which is gradually revealed.
With the opening line, “Radishes are geniuses” and a close-up of radishes as it’s being washed, I was glued to my seat. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (the same guy behind After Life, another must-see!), Still Walking unfolds like an ordinary day in the life of a middle-class family sitting down for a meal; but it is in those everyday routines that the family’s story, grief, and dysfunction quietly expose themselves (no screaming and sabunutan matches here, thank goodness).
It’s a moving story and while it left me with a bit of lump in my throat, the dishes being prepared for lunch (from Kore-eda’s own childhood, as his mom used to make them) stuck with me as well.
Luckily, the Criterion Collection BluRay edition came with a booklet on the movie and recipes! of the dishes from the movie. The Corn Tempura seems like the simplest recipe among the bunch, so it’s what I’ll try to make first this coming weekend. I’ll add the photo here once it’s done. Wish me luck!
1/2 cup flour, plus more for dredging
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup water
kernels from 2 ears of corn
1. Heat frying oil to 350degree F. In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup of flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.
2. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolk and water.
3. Add the flour mixture to the yolk mixture and combine to form a batter.
4. Dredge the corn kernels in flour and then stir them into the batter.
5. Remove the corn from the batter with a slotted spoon and form into small patties, incorporating some sesame oil with your hands. Fry until golden brown.
UPDATE: After nearly a week, I finally got to cook some corn tempura! (Yes, I’m excited over corn tempura) I think I got too excited to try it that I forgot about the other pieces cooking and they got a bit burnt. The recipe called for golden brown, I think I just ended up making this batch below, brown. In any case, I’m happy I got to try cooking and eating some corn tempura–they turned out crispy and the corn kernels while they had a soft, sweet flesh, still had some bite to it. Or was it pop? At one point the oil was probably so hot, one of the kernels popped. Exciting stuff, I tell you.