If 'Ratatouille' Had Been 'Mulligatawny'

Before we begin the feature presentation here, we'd like to introduce the author of this post. Deb Perelman, whose work you may already know from Smitten Kitchen, will be joining us weekly to write about current trends in the food world. Say hi in the comments. And now, on with the show. —The Serious Eats Team


Ratatouille, Babette's Feast, Chocolat and now No Reservations. Sense a theme? French cooking, French feasts, French chocolate, French restaurants—if an alien landed in the Twin Cinemas in your town, it would think we ate nothing but crepes, bonbons, and rustic Provençal fare.

A raging Francophile myself, I'd be the last to complain, and yet in my own kitchen pot-au-feus and consommés are constantly pushed aside in favor of Indian dals, Vietnamese pork and noodle salads, Russian dumplings, and Moroccan couscous.

And it's got me wondering: Why don't the most romantic gastroflicks have chopstick-crossed lovers or eyes meeting across overstuffed banh mi thit?

This is not to underestimate the widespread culinary impact of French cooking. The influence of French cuisine and its classic technique spread far beyond its borders and countrymen; it's tangled in the way we chop our vegetables and the way we deglaze our pans. By most accounts, the French invented our modern dining out experience.

But it is not to overestimate it, either, and few have been more adept at pointing out American cultural biases against non-French food than Ruth Reichl. During her six-year tenure as New York Times restaurant critic, Reichl infuriated hoards of people, in- and outside of the Gray Lady, as she bestowed multiple stars and high praise once reserved for Le Cirque and Lutèce to sushi bars and visually nondescript outer-borough Asian joints.

"The city was filled with people who did not think that Shanghai dumpling parlors, Korean barbecue places, and sushi bars merited serious consideration," she wrote of culinary biases in her book Garlic and Sapphires.

Ten years later, the highest grossing food-focused films are still, in heart and gullet, French. And my question is, does a culinary bias evidence itself in a preference for films which focus in on French cuisine? Would people have fallen as hard for Remy if his signature dish had been mulligatawny?

Top-Grossing Food Films

  1. Ratatouille: $179.9M and counting
  2. No Reservations: If an $11.7 million opening weekend is any indicator, it should be edging into second place before its run is through
  3. Chocolat: $71.3 million
  4. Like Water for Chocolate: $21.7 million
  5. Big Night: $11.9 million
  6. Eat Drink Man Woman: $7.2 million

Source: IMDB.com