If it’s true that we eat first with our eyes, then watching films can be an exquisite torture: shots filled with feasts and family dinners, rituals and traditions; dishes we never get to taste. Of course, food is never just food, even on the silver screen: it can delight, disgust, thrill, or tug at the heartstrings. Food has been used to carry the plot, to develop characters, to make us empathise or recoil: the French toast-making in Kramer vs Kramer, Cool Hand Luke’s egg eating challenge, the post-coital carbonara in Heartburn, or the razor thin slices of garlic shaved slowly, precisely in Goodfellas. Whole films have been set around kitchens, from the animated Ratatouille, to the upbeat Chef, via the distressingBurnt. Here we take a closer look at some of film’s most notable dishes – and offer up a recipe of two along the way.
The Big Lebowski: Pancakes
You can’t move for pancakes in American films: you know the type, perfectly round, fluffy, stacked, dripping with maple syrup. Diners are a favourite location for tense scenes, and pancakes seems to be the favoured edible prop: in The Big Lebowski, lingonberry pancakes are the order of the day. In Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent are tucking into breakfast, a big pile of pancakes in front of Vincent in the final climactic scene, just before the robbers arrive and ruin their ruminations over bacon.
Try out American pancakes (with buttermilk and blueberries).
Paddington: Marmalade (of course)
Paddington on the other hand has the temerity to complain about the porridge Knuckles McGinty is serving while he is serving porridge of another kind in Paddington 2. The winsome bear charms Knuckles into letting him become his kitchen assistant and begins a Marmalade production line (and, incidentally, one of the most satisfying kitchen sequences in cinema). His marmalade sandwiches make him a whole host of new friends. Although it’s passed over quickly, Paddington’s secret ingredient seems to be a pinch of cinnamon in his marmalade.
Waitress: Pumpkin pie
Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress working in Joe’s Pie Diner in the American South, who falls pregnant while stuck in an abusive marriage. Given the setting of the film, it’s perhaps not surprising that pies feature heavily: there are eighteen different pies in the film, each given a creative name by Jenna. ‘Naughty pumpkin pie’ is taken by Jenna to her appointment with her gynecologist, who she is having an affair with – only to find he is out of town… with his wife.
Get our pumpkin pie recipe here.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Treacle tart
Treacle tart occupies a completely terrifying role in children’s classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, used by the child snatcher as a means of luring children into his creepy wagon. Understandable though given its unabashedly sweet nursery food nature; how could any child resist? Or sweet-toothed adults for that matter…
Here is out classic Treacle tart
Withnail & I: Roast Chicken
Although most remembered for its liquid consumption, once settled in the farmhouse, the eponymous characters of Withnail and I find themselves staring down a live chicken. “What are we supposed to do with that?” asks Withnail, “Eat it” says Marwood. “Eat it?!” Withnail replies, “ the f*cker’s alive”. Having despatched it, they stuff it in a kettle planning to boil it, but ultimately roast it straddling a brick. Perhaps not the first cooking method I’d suggest, but it’s hard to argue with a roast chicken.
Try out recipe for the perfect roast chicken.
Bridget Jones: Leftover turkey curry
Bridget Jones doesn’t have a good track record with cooking: blue soup, thanks to the coloured string she uses to tie the veg, her caperberry gravy is more congealed green gunge, and confit oranges which are, in fact, marmalade. As Mark Darcy says to her: ‘I have to say this really is the most incredible shit’. It seems rich then that she is so scathing about her mother’s leftover turkey curry lunch, which frankly sounds completely delightful in comparison.
Find our Leftover turkey curry recipe here.
Sleepless in Seattle: Tiramisu
In 1993, when Sleepless in Seattle released, tiramisu was not as universally known as it is now. Jay jokes about tiramisu, refuses to tell Sam what it is, responding to his plea ‘“Some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is!” with “You’ll love it.” The story goes that immediately after the film hit the cinemas, the distributors received 25-30 phone calls a day asking the meaning of the joke. Now it seems unimaginable that we wouldn’t know about the boozy, creamy, coffee-based Italian trifle.
Our favourite tiramisu recipe is here.
Porridge gets a mixed billing in films: in Oliver! the gruel served to the boys at the workhouse is the most miserable food possible, forcing the boys to ‘all close their eyes and imagine / food, glorious food!’. Oliver asking for more of the thin, sad gruel only underlines his desperate hunger, and the refusal the horrible treatment he receives. Whereas in The Secret Garden, porridge is not only extremely English, unlike the breakfasts Mary Lennox is used to uprooted from her life in India, but her refusal to eat the breakfast is also her attempt to show how unhappy and out of place she feels. Later, when she accepts the porridge hungrily and happily, we know she has truly settled.
For porridge that is more Secret Garden than Oliver, try out pinhead porridge with spiced plums