In This Film Set in Southern France, Indian Food Is the Key to Cultural Understanding

The forthcoming film ‘The 100 Foot Journey’ shows that food is the easiest way to understand and accept a foreign culture.

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Some of the sharpest memories I have of India involve food. A dish of spiced, fried cauliflower scooped out of a hotel buffet tray; street-side paratha stuffed with green onion. A perfect cup of masala chai, the tea-steeped buffalo milk so hot the small glass it was served in burned my fingertips. Idli—fluffy steamed rounds of fermented dough—dipped in spiced ground lentils mixed with oil, a typical breakfast in the southern state of Kerala.

When I visited ancient stone temples in the Himalayas or walked up and down the ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi, my experience of the country was colored by my own color. I always stood out as a tourist, as the other. But when eating samosas or kari, even if the spice was toned down for my surely weak palate, that dining experience was the closest I could get, as a traveler, to the experience of someone who lives in India. That’s what makes food such an incredible, intimate way of learning about another culture. That goes even for people who are less than enthusiastic about embracing another culture—people who would rather repel the other than consume it.

That, in essence, is the story of The 100 Foot Journey, a forthcoming movie from our parent company, Participant Media, starring Helen Mirren, Charlotte Le Bon, and Manish Dayal. A family from India moves to a village in the south of France and has the audacity to open a restaurant across the street from Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred restaurant. The rather severe Madame Mallory (Mirren) doesn’t take to kindly to their arrival, to say the least. The fragrant, spicy cooking and loud Bollywood music that emanates from Maison Mumbai couldn’t be more different from the formal dinner service and classic French cuisine served across the street, just 100 feet away. The townspeople of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, Madame Mallory chief among them, aren’t exactly welcoming of the rowdy intruders.

But as the trailer hints, the food served at Maison Mumbai isn’t just run-of-the-mill curry. Young Hassam Kadam (Dayal) is an exceptionally gifted chef. When he finally gets his family’s French nemesis to try his cooking, the seemingly impossible-to-bridge 100 feet separating the two restaurants suddenly feels impossibly, wonderfully close.

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