The 15 best food scenes in film, from Howl’s Moving Castle to Julie and Julia

Kate Ng plates up 15 of the most delicious food scenes ever seen on screen

Thursday 30 March 2023 08:11 BST
A scene from Howl’s Moving Castle
A scene from Howl’s Moving Castle (Studio Ghibli)

Films have the power to move us to tears, make us laugh until our bellies ache, and inspire us to try something new. They also have the power to make us really, really hungry. If you’ve ever watched a food scene that made your stomach audibly growl, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Portrayals of food and cooking on screen can range from the humble to the highly complex. Even if it’s a cuisine you’ve never come across before, delicious food transcends language and culture. All you know is: you really want to eat that.

Food scenes become even more impressive when you realise how much work has gone into making them. The weeks of research from food economists and stylists and the mountains of ingredients required to create multiple versions for multiple takes – and the spit buckets for the actors taking part in them – are all part and parcel of bringing an on-screen meal to life.

Here are our 15 favourite – and most delicious-looking – food scenes in film.

1. Eat Drink Man Woman

The opening scene of Ang Lee’s 1994 comedy-drama Eat Drink Man Woman is iconic among food lovers. It introduces the viewer to retired Master Chef Chu (played by Sihung Lung), who lives at home with his three adult daughters, all of whom are single.

He starts his morning by catching a fish with his bare hands, before killing, gutting and filleting it. Chu then coats the fillets in flour and deep fries them, all within the first 30 seconds of the film. It’s mesmerising to watch him cook from scratch – and we really do mean, from scratch.

2. Julie & Julia

Amy Adams as Julie Powell in Julie & Julia (2009)
Amy Adams as Julie Powell in Julie & Julia (2009) (Columbia/Scott Rudin Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia is a warm hug of a film, and the boeuf bourguignon made by titular character Julie Powell (Amy Adams) encompasses its comfort. The scene in which Julie recreates Julia Child’s beef stew – from her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking – comes as the mousy blogger is breaking out of her shell, having gained confidence after cooking her way through Child’s recipes. For a moment, when she lifts the lid of her orange Le Creuset pot to reveal the picture-perfect boeuf bourguignon, all is right in the world.

3. Howl’s Moving Castle

All the hand-drawn food in nearly every Studio Ghibli film looks impossibly delicious, so this was a difficult choice. However, the animators at the Japanese film studio outdid themselves with the thick cut bacon and fried eggs in the 1985 movie Howl’s Moving Castle. From the glistening slices of bacon with light streaks of fat running through them – does anyone really have them that thick? – to the way the bright orange egg yolks wobble as they cook on top of the cantankerous fire spirit Calcifer, it’s a true work of culinary art. Real or not.

4. Marie Antoinette

Although Marie Antoinette never actually uttered the words “Let them eat cake”, the makers of the 2006 film starring Kirsten Dunst took them very seriously. All of the decadent pastries and cakes featured in the movie were supplied by the celebrated French bakery Laduree, and they look extremely tempting.

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette int he 2006 film
Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette int he 2006 film (Columbia/American Zoetrope/Sony/Kobal/Shutterstock)

One particular scene from the highly stylised movie, directed by Sofia Coppola, shows the French queen lazing on a chaise longue, surrounded by bright pink cakes and confectionery, as a handmaid tends to her feet.

5. The Help

Is The Help about white saviourism? Yes. Does the movie contain some really good-looking food that we would love to get our hands on? Also yes. The film’s resident chef is Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who is employed by Celia Rae Foote (Jessica Chastain) after she is wrongfully fired by villain Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard).

Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson in The Help (2011)
Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson in The Help (2011) (Dreamworks Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Minny is particularly proud of her southern fried chicken, which she says is never underdone and never burnt, because “Minny don’t burn no chicken”. The crunch when Celia bites into a piece of it is enough to make our mouths water. Honourable mention goes to Minny’s chocolate pie… when it’s not laced with excrement, that is.

6. Chef

The heart-warming 2014 film Chef, starring Jon Favreau, is chock-full of incredible food. To prepare for his role, Favreau trained with Korean American chef Roy Choi, whose gourmet Korean-Mexican taco truck Kogi launched him into the culinary spotlight. In the movie, Favreau plays Carl Casper, a burnt out, unemployed chef who opens a food truck to rejuvenate his love for food. It’s the humble grilled cheese that Carl makes for his son that wins us over. According to the actor’s 2019 Netflix travel show, The Chef Show, it comprises of slices of sourdough bread, white and yellow cheddar, Gruyere cheese, and parmesan cheese.

7. Burnt

A stuck-up chef with an overinflated sense of grandeur and a penchant for drugs and alcohol is a tale as old as time – think the late and great Anthony Bourdain’s early days. Burnt follows one such chef, Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones, as he tries to climb the ladder back to success after suffering a spectacular fall from grace.

Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones in Burnt (2015)
Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones in Burnt (2015) (Weinstein Co/Kobal/Shutterstock)

The film was largely panned by critics – it only has two stars on Rotten Tomatoes – but the fine food created in it looks legitimately delicious. Cooper prepped for the role by training with Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing, so you know fine dining was top of mind for Burnt.

8. The Goofy Movie

The halcyon days of Instagram-worthy cheese pulls may be (thankfully) behind us, but none ever came close to The Goofy Movie’s cheesy pizza pulls. Well, “It’s an animated film”, we hear you scoff. But you’re thinking about it now, aren’t you? And now you want a cheesy pizza, don’t you? It’s the cheese pull we can only dream of.

9. Paddington 2

Paddington 2 is probably one of the greatest films ever made, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. After he wows his fellow inmates with his famous marmalade, the wrongfully imprisoned Paddington invites them all to contribute their favourite pudding recipes. One pitches a chocolate roulade, another boasts that he “makes a mean crumble”, and a third volunteers his strawberry panna cotta. Together, Paddington and the other prisoners organise a fancy prison tea room, bringing joy and positivity to the once depressing place.

10. Soul Food

The 1997 cult classic Soul Food has been hailed as a relatable and accurate depiction of Black family life, centred around the dinner table. Fans often hail the film’s Thanksgiving dinner scene as a proper slice of Black cuisine around the holidays. The feast, cooked up by the family’s matriarch Josephine “Big Mama” Joseph (Irma P Hall), features staples such as macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and candied yams, all surrounding a massive roast turkey.

11. The Favourite

The tragic Queen Anne is portrayed in Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkly funny The Favourite as a sugar-guzzling, gout-afflicted royal. While it does feature tons of biscuits, cakes and confectionery, as well as a scene involving Anne (Olivia Colman) eating cakes until she is sick, it’s the platter of deer that caught our greedy eye.

Emma Stone as Abigail in The Favourite (2018)
Emma Stone as Abigail in The Favourite (2018) (A Nishijima/20thCenturyFox/Kobal/Shutterstock)

The grandiose feast covers an entire table at one point, with what appears to be a roasted deer (actually a lamb, according to the film’s food economist Katharine Tidy) surrounded by beetroot, roasted onions, and more meat.

12. Inglourious Basterds

The nail-biting scene in Inglourious Basterds where Nazi Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) accosts Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a Jew disguised as a French tehater owner, also features a rather delicious-looking apple strudel. The delicate pastry plays a central part in the scene, which is nerve-wrecking enough to put anyone off their appetite. Landa, who was responsible for killing Shosanna’s family when she was a child, uses the strudel to try and determine whether she is Jewish. Despite its insidious usage, the strudel itself, topped with cream, is a thing of beauty.

13. The Hundred-Foot Journey

Manish Dayal (left) as Hassan Haji and Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory in The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
Manish Dayal (left) as Hassan Haji and Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory in The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) (Amblin/Dreamworks/Harpo/Imagination/Kobal/Shutterstock)

The Hundred-Foot Journey follows an Indian family who move to France and open a restaurant directly across the street from a Michelin-starred one owned by the haughty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). The film is an allegory for the overinflated status French food holds over all other cuisines in the Western world, and a pivotal moment comes when Madame Mallory is taught to cook a masala omelette. The flavourful omelette contains eggs, garam masala, garlic, turmeric, and green onions – a far cry from the classic French omelette, which traditionally comprises of eggs and lots of butter. We have nothing against a French omelette, but the masala omelette in this scene looks heavenly.

14. Tampopo

The scene between a ramen master (Ryutaro Otomo) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) in this 1985 Japanese comedy is sublime. The master, who remains unnamed, teaches Gun to appreciate his bowl of the famous noodles. He advises him to take note of the way fat globules glisten on the surface of the broth and how the thinly sliced pork appears humble despite its integral role in the dish. His instructions may sound silly (“Apologise to the pork by saying, ‘See you soon’,” he asks), but they hold a crucial lesson in respecting the food that we eat.

15. Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is a film that gets a lot of flack. Some people believe it’s because it epitomises the Western ideal of “finding yourself” in a foreign land. We think it’s because it gave birth to the middle-class-woman’s unbridled love for plaques featuring inspirational mantras (also see “Dream Believe Achieve” and “Girl Boss”). But cast aside your sarcasm for a moment and consider Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) eating spaghetti in Italy. On the first leg of her journey, she dedicates herself to eating her way through the country – initially via a spaghetti all’Amatriciana. It’s a simple dish – with tomatoes, onions, olive oil, chilli pepper and pancetta – but Elizabeth’s reaction makes it look as if she’s experiencing flavour for the very first time. It transports us straight to her table, just as the very best food films do.

Food is so diverse, and yet it remains a uniquely universal human experience that every single person on earth can relate to. Watching it come to life on the screen evokes a hunger, not just for the food we’re looking at, but for understanding one another as well.

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