We’ve made a very special list to feed your binge watching addiction: Twenty movies every foodie must watch. See how many of them have you tasted. The list is a mishmash of documentaries, Hollywood movies, as well as Hong Kong and Bollywood movies. Food transcends genres and geographical boundaries, making you able to relate to these movies no matter where you are. Get ready to dive into the world of food, and don’t forget to have some popcorns ready. You’re gonna get hungry.
1. The Birth of Sake (2015)
The first on the list of movies every foodie must watch is a documentary that tells the making process of artisanal sake from The Yoshida Brewery in Ishikawa, Japan. While there are technical details about the process, the most important message from this film is knowing the effort that goes into a bottle of sake. You’ll understand why this artisanal sake could be a dying industry. The cinematography is beautiful, but the pace is indeed a bit slow. Perhaps that’s another thing the film wants us to learn: Everything will be perfect in its own time, no rush.
2. Chef’s Table (2015-present)
This Netflix original series is hands down the best food documentary available right now. The show highlights both the food and the chef’s personal perspective, giving the audience an emotional tie to the story. Not stopping at great content, the cinematography created by David Gelb—the same man behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi—is simply beautiful. Feast your eyes on unique food angles and views of different cities all around the world. If you are interested in food and design, Chef’s Table is a must-watch for visual inspiration.
One of my favorite episodes puts the spotlight on Chef Massimo Bottura, owner of one of the most respected restaurants in the world, former World No. 1 restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. It reminisces the time when he initiated a social movement to honor Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, which took a massive hit after an earthquake in 2012. Massimo Bottura created a simple risotto dish that featured this cheese and encouraged everyone all across Italy to cook that recipe.
On a personal note, I also had the amazing opportunity of getting involved in the making process of Chef’s Table Season 2. World No. 7 and Asia No. 1 Gaggan in Bangkok made an impact to me not only because of the food, but also because of the Indonesian-born head chef, Rydo Anton.
Meanwhile, Ana Roš’ Hiša Franko in Slovenia inspired me with its use of self-grown ingredients and quirky flavors that I have never encountered anywhere else.
Here’s more good news: Season 4 is coming up and rumor has it that an Indonesian restaurant is going to be there.
3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Although visually speaking, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not as esthetically pleasing as Chef’s Table, it still is a pioneer in the world of food documentary. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a major step up in the game compared to other more traditional, almost vlog-stye documentaries. The film follows the daily life of Jiro Ono, a sushi master with three Michelin star under his restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. It is mind-blowing how much dedication goes into a piece of sushi.
4. Sour Grapes (2016)
With great power comes great responsibility. But what if you chose to use that power for something bad? Sour Grapes retells the true story of a California-based wine connoisseur-turn-counterfeiter called Rudy Kurniawan, born in Jakarta. Being super smart and respectable in the business, he uses his knowledge to combine cheap wines and claims them as rare ones. He manages to trick the experts’ palate. The fraud is uncovered only after someone takes a good look at small errors on the labels and production year. While other food documentaries mostly have a positive and inspiring quality to it, Sour Grapes plays on the other side. It portrays a darker side of humans, and what happens when you choose to use your power unwisely.
5. Super Size Me (2004)
While Super Size Me is more of a health documentary instead of food, it still is on the list of movies every foodie must watch, especially when one is struggling to keep a healthier lifestyle. In the film, Spurlock exclusively eats at McDonalds three times a day, for 30 days. I guess it’s not much a spoiler to say that he gains a lot of weight, has liver dysfunction, and goes into depression. While Spurlock indeed takes everything to the extreme, Super Size Me is still a great reminder that people should be more conscious of what goes inside their bodies.
6. Tampopo (1985)
Tampopo was my first exposure to movies about food that also touched topics about life. It seamlessly binds elements of food, friendship, sex, and running a business into a well-executed movie. The story is told in the perspective of a number of characters, who turn out to be interconnected to each other because of food. A must-watch for every ramen lover!
7. Chef (2014)
Food does not get the serious Hollywood treatment often, but when it does, something like Chef comes out. In this movie, you get Jon Favreau, comedy, and drama in one package. It’s a story about failure, second chances, believing in yourself, and of course, food. Seriously, make sure you watch this one with a full belly accompanied with bags of snacks.
8. No Reservations (2007)
While food is not the main concern in this movie, and the protagonist’s profession as a chef serves more as a background story, No Reservations still shows some mouthwatering food shots and a glimpse of what a professional kitchen looks like. It’s a heartwarming story perfect for a no-fuss Saturday night. Even the most hardcore foodie needs a break every once in a while, don’t you think?
9. Ratatouille (2007)
Pixar’s feel-good movie of 2007. While a story of a rat with a great palate and mad cooking skills living in Paris is happening only in animated movies, every other element feels real—hardships, struggle, and love for food. Ratatouille beautifully wraps those messages in beautiful animations, appealing to a broad audience of all ages. There are actually people who are motivated to become chefs after watching this movie. After all, just like Chef Gusteau said, “Anyone can cook!”
10. Julie & Julia (2009)
Can 365 days change your life? For Julie Powell, it can. Julie Powell, a young writer with an unpleasant job, sets a specific target, consistently dedicates one year to achieve tha, and strives to do better every day. In the end, everything works out really well. Julie’s story is told in parallel with Julia Child’s story. Julia Child is a legend in America’s culinary scene. Even if you are not familiar with her, do watch this one. It’s fun and uplifting with a bit of romance. Based on two true stories.
11. Tabula Rasa (2014)
You can count on one hand Indonesian movies in recent years that play with food, and Tabula Rasa is one of them. In Tabula Rasa, Padang food gets the spotlight. Expect close-ups of Gulai Kepala Ikan and Rendang. Make it a double treat and enjoy Tabula Rasa while eating Nasi Padang, maybe? Read more about Tabula Rasa here.
12. The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
The Hundred-Foot Journey is the brainchild of Lasse Hallström, the man who brought you Chocolat. Similar to its older work, The Hundred-Foot Journey is also a picturesque movie set in France. You will be taken into a journey of romance and rivalry as the main course, with a fusion of French and Indian cuisine complete with legit food porn shots as the seasoning.
13. Big Night (1996)
Big Night is one of my favorite food movies of all time. It might be an oldie, but definitely a goodie. It tells the story of two Italian brothers who move to America to start a restaurant but struggle to stay financially afloat. The conflict is a classic: Stick to your ideals, but it does not serve the market. Or lower your ideals, but you can’t serve something that you truly love. The second one then begs the question, how low are you willing to go? It’s a crossroad that every chef, most likely faces at some point in life.
But like any other struggle, a turning point eventually comes. Big Night is about that turning point. Reminding you that the wheel of life keeps on turning. No matter where that moment takes you, up or down, all you can do is make a decision and keep doing what you love to do. Add all of that with brotherhood conflicts, and you get a sense of realness in Big Night.
14. The Lunchbox (2013)
Get yourself acquainted to India’s dabbawala culture in The Lunchbox. This Bollywood movie builds its story around the 100-year old lunchbox delivery-and-return system in Mumbai. One wrong delivery and drama ensues. It is astonishing how a stack of metal tiffin boxes filled with food can make someone believe in love again. No singing and dancing around a pole, thank you very much.
15. The God of Cookery (1996)
This Stephen Chow classic is whimsical and full of gimmicks, but watch the entire movie and I’m pretty sure entertained is what you will feel. It is indeed hard to take a solid life advice from this over-the-top movie, but when you’re stuck and in need of some weird idea, a movie in which “Pissing Beef Balls” is a name of a dish seems like a good place to find inspiration. Or at least, a good laugh.
16. A Matter of Taste: Serving up Paul Liebrandt (2011)
We’ve all heard about Michelin star, but what it is exactly? How to get one? This documentary follows the life of Chef Paul Liebrandt for a decade to see him rise and fall. It shows the mental and physical struggle a chef has to experience to go from zero to two Michelin stars. Besides being a crash course in understanding the rating system, A Matter of Taste will give you a new appreciation for a chef and his team.
17. The Search for General Tso (2014)
Meet General Tso’s Chicken. It’s one of the most popular dishes in Chinese restaurants all across the USA, yet it can’t be found anywhere in mainland China. Who is General Tso anyway? Who invented this dish? The Search for General Tso explores the birth and growth of Chinese-American cuisine that has become the nation’s new comfort food. Great storytelling and full of trivia.
18. Cooked (2016)
Cooked is a four-part documentary created by Netflix that explores food from four elements: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. In a fast world where it’s hard to trace where your food comes from, Cooked encourages us to take charge back of our well being by making our own meals. Watch this one if you need some push to get dirty in the kitchen.
19. Theater of Life (2016)
Food waste in a world still struggling with hunger is pretty much the dumbest thing ever, but the problem is there. Theater of Life tells the story of when visionary Chef Massimo Bottura decides to open a soup kitchen to cook for the poor using food waste from the 2015 Milan Expo. Watch as Massimo Bottura and a number of renowned chefs prepare leftover ingredients and turn them into gourmet meals.
20. Burnt (2015)
Ladies, let’s get this out of the way. The last entry in movies every foodie must watch has Bradley Cooper in it. Perfect-hair Mr. Cooper plays the role of a former drug addict chef on the quest of redeeming himself and gaining a third Michelin star. The movie is quite dramatic with loud shouts and flying plates complete with a bad romance, but it does show a compelling depiction of a chef’s drive in the pursuit of his goal.
If time doesn’t favor you to enjoy all of them, I’d suggest to at least catch these four first: No. 2, 3, 16, 28. After that, slowly make your way to complete the rest of the movies according to your preferred speed. Would love to hear which is your favorite and why, chat with us on Instagram @wanderbites or to me personally @captainruby
For the love of food (movies),