Tampopo – An interpretation of Sex and Food




Gaozi once argued with Mencius and said that “The desire for food and sex is a part of — xing, human nature.”. The most rudimentary thing human have to do is to eat, therefore food is the indispensable for human being to survive. In Gaozi’s opinion, once human overcame the problem caused by starvation, they think about how to live a quality life. Both Gaozi and Confucius maintained that the fundamental is to have sex, that men and women could finally have the joy of living lives. Tampopo tells a main story and several small stories. These are all about food: The importance of food; the pureness of food; the calling of food; sex and food, as well as  the erotic use of food. The movie, along with Eat Drink Man Woman, illustrated the essence of human nature that Gaozi proposed, food and sex. Although in the movie food was used erotically involved with sex, it was not pornographicn at all. Corresponding to Gaozi’s proposition, such erotic depictions of food, on the contrary, underscore the idea that sex is the human nature, as normal as food is, to human being. The desire for food and sex is pure, because it’s natural and vice versa.

The main story of Tampopo is about the trucker Goro that he helped the ramen shop owner, Tampopo, who ran the ramen shop after her husband’s death, to set up the best ramen shop. Goro and his assistant, Gun, happened to eat a bowl of ramen at Tampopo’s restaurant, Rairai, on a rainy night. Not satisfied with quality of the ramen that Tampopo made, Goro taught Tampopo how to make a bowl of ramen and left with his assistant. However, Tampopo asked Goro to stay and help her find the best way to cook ramen. In Goro’s ramen philosophy, to make the best ramen need not only the recipe and thousands of time of practice, but also energy and muscle to support the onerous work. Therefore, he took Tampopo to run and do physical training. Once she had the power, the prerequisite, to make ramen, Goro finally took her to find the best way to serve a bowl of ramen. They went to Chinatown to try to get the recipe for soup base, and they also went to a park during one night to find the ramen master. After practicing and practicing making soup and boiling noodles under the master’s instruction, with the help of Goro and others, Tampopo renovated the exterior of the old ramen shop and renamed it from Rairai to Tampopo. The restaurant was a big success in the end.

Woven into the main story are a number of small stories telling different people’s lives with food, presenting several different ways to live lives in the world to the audience with a black humorous atmosphere. One of the stories is the gangster man in the white suit appeared from the beginning of the movie, and occasionally appeared later. His storyline was the most intriguing one to me cause he always appeared in erotic scenes involved food with women. He licked the cream that he poured on the girl’s belly; he transferred the uncooked yolk through his month to the girl’s, and played forth and back; he lacerated his lip while he was eating the raw oyster, and the girl who took the oyster for him licked the blood on the man’s lips. Finally he was shot, and while he was dying, he murmured about how to hunt the wild boar as his last words. The gangster’s appearance in the movie, in my opinion, best reveals the relationship between food and sex. He gave food a very primitive definition through his obsession with raw materials. Back to long time ago, humans didn’t know how to cook the raw staff, they ate it because they had to meet their physical needs. At the same time, having sex is also one of these natural needs. The gangster’s behaviors, which combined food and sex, exemplified and underscored the importance of satisfying the basic needs in a very straightforward way.



Food and Confusion of Identities in In the Mood For Love

“The age of bloom, the spirit of the moon, the cleverness like ice and snow. A beautiful life, a passionate couple, a successful family.” This song named One’s Young Life like Flower (Huayang de Nianhua) was the theme music of the film In the Mood for love (Huayang Nianhua) which was directed by Wong- Karwai in year of 2000. This film is about the love story between Mr. Zhou (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chen (Maggie Cheung) who are both married. In the beginning of the film, Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen discover the affair between their spouses. They wonder how their spouses’ affair might have begun. Therefore, they re-enact what they imagine what might happened. Later, Mr. Zhou invites Mrs. Chen to help him write martial arts serial for the papers and their relationship gradually develops. As time passes, they find out that they have feelings towards each other, but they could not be together since they refuse to become “cheaters” as their spouses. Then Mr. Zhou moves to Singapore and they are separated. Even Mrs. Chen tries to contact with Mr. Zhou, they have missed the chances of being a couple.

This paper focuses on food and confusion of identities in the film, In the mood for love. Food in this film helps to display Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen’s confusion towards their own identities. There will be three main evidences to support this argument. The confusions between their social roles and “true selves”, the person whom their spouses interested in and their own identities, the “ideal self” they desire to become and them in real life. All three evidences will be explained through examples of food in the film such as the food they supposed to eat and actually eat, the food showing their wills to “become another person” and the food suggesting their relationships. Food as a necessary element in the film, not only help to present how the relationships between Zhou and Mrs. Chen develops, but also reveals both of their perplexing attitudes towards their various identities under different circumstances.

To begin with, Zhou and Mrs. Chen tried hard to play the social role in front of all the neighbors and colleagues, but still could not conceal their own emotional needs as “themselves”. Throughout the whole film, the personal names of Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen were rarely called. Instead, they were more recognized by others as Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen, which refer to their marriage status. In other words, they appeared in the society as someone’s spouse, but not their own identities —- they must introduce themselves as a part of their “family” rather than individual identities. The fact that their social roles were over their personal identities was not only showed through the repetitive appearances of marriage rings on their hands, but also displayed by the food they are “supposed to eat” and the food they actually ate. For instance, there was a scene of Mrs. Chen showing rice cooker bought by her husband from Japan to the neighbors. All the people admired that she was so fortunate to have such a great husband who cared about her a lot. Even Mr. Zhou also asked her if her husband could buy another rice cooker for her wife. This scene of rice cooker is supposed to present how Mrs. Chen was a Mr. Chen’s beloved “happy wife” and how Zhou cared about his own wife. Ironically, neither of them had dinner with their “caring” spouses by using that rice cooker later in the film. In fact, Zhou and Mrs. Chen usually met at an outdoor Dim Sum stand downstairs of their apartments because their spouses were not at home with them. Their fancy clothes stood out in the Dim Sum stand since everyone else just wore casual clothes such as shorts and sleeves shirts. Obviously, the fine appearances of both Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen were not consistent with their real situations. Even though they have met in café once and it seemed that their fancy clothing finally matched with the environment of the café, the smoke of the cigarettes and steam of the coffee reminds the audiences of the steam of the food in Dim Sum stand. The foggy image of the smoke or steam on the one hand revealed the depressing feelings of the two characters; On the other hand it suggested their uncertain attitudes towards their roles inside and outside of their family as well.

Moreover, Zhou and Mrs. Chen are being confused about being themselves and being the person whom their spouses interested in. The most obvious example in the film was a scene in a restaurant. Zhou and Mrs. Chen ordered the favorite dishes of each other’s spouse and tried to pretend that they could eat the same thing as their rivals did. Significantly, Mrs. Chen usually did not eat spicy food but she forced herself to eat steak with curry since that was Zhou’s wife’s appetite. It was interesting to note that the two characters used the way of eating others’ favorite food to protest to their spouses, or to prove they can do exactly what their rivals did. The appetite of every person might be different which was nothing inappropriate. However, Zhou and Mrs. Chen forced themselves to play another person’s role by “having” that person’s appetite. Although they might eat the same food as their rivals did that day, they were not able to cheat their tongues and stomach. Each person has his/ her different preferences for food and therefore every person was a distinctive individuality. Zhou and Mrs. Chen definitely knew this but still want to “become” another person to retrieve their spouses’ love. After this dinner, they re-enact what they imagined how their spouses’ affair had begun. Mrs. Chen played the role of Zhou’s wife and Zhou played as Chen. At this moment, they almost lost their awareness of being “themselves” but eager to become the person of their spouses “new love” to find a sense of comfort. Their attitudes towards “being another person” did not remain constant though. Later in a hotel room while they were eating lunch, Zhou played as Chen again and Mrs. Chen rehearsed the scene of questioning “her husband” of his affair. This time, at least Mrs. Chen became herself and felt the sorrows she supposed to feel, even food could not conceal her emotions. Mrs. Chen has been gradually pulled back to her own role and accepted the reality she must face. The third time Zhou and Mrs. Chen rehearse their own moment of parting. They finally did not pretend to be “others” and have courage to “feel their own emotions”. Although they were not together at the end of the film due to some reasons, they have found back part of their own identities as their relationship has developed.

In addition, Mrs. Chen and Zhou’s confusion between another self they desired to be and the self in reality are expressed through food in the film. They imagined or eager to become a person who owns their lover’s love and start a family with their soul mate. In their case, they wanted to show their natural, clean, spontaneous affection towards each other in public, just like any other couple. When Zhou was sick and his friend unintentionally told Mrs. Chen that Zhou wanted to eat sesame paste, Mrs. Chen made a large pot of sesame paste right away and shared it with all the neighbors including Zhou. Moreover, they often eat together while writing martial arts serials in hotel room as normal couple. Also, they once were trapped in Zhou’s bedroom while other neighbors were playing Mahjong in the living room. They did nothing but shared the noodles and sticky rice with chicken (糯米鸡). No matter they were happy or depressing, they shared their emotions through sharing these daily foods. As the food, their company to each other has became a necessary part of their lives. Yet, they struggled of being a person who had freedom to own love and a person who still wanted undertake the responsibility towards his/her “dead marriage”. They refused to become “cheaters” as their spouses and still wanted to commit to their marriages. Thus, they both agreed on that the sesame paste was a “coincidence” and their common happiness/ depressions could be only contained in space where others did not know. Another crucial scene represented their relationship in the film was that both of them sat against the different side of the wall while Mrs. Chen was boiling the water and Zhou was holding a rice cooker. The confusion of their ideal identities and their identities in real life was metaphorically like that wall between them. If they choose to break the wall regardless of any concerns, they would be able to cook the meal together, representing the start of a new family (一顿饭一个家).

However, they chose to eat by themselves— a life without each other’s company and their relationship finally became a secret in the hole of an old temple wall.

In conclusion, the element of food in In the Mood For Love displays the questioning towards different identities of the two main characters: Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen. Through food, the audiences are able to see Zhou and Mrs. Chen’s confusion of social roles in public and their true individual identities, of the roles in marriage and the true selves, and of the ideal identity they dream to reach and their identities in real life. The characters have struggled or made decisions among these identities under various circumstances, but the confusions of these identities still remained in character’s mind and even could not be clarified by time.


The Edible Woman: Consumption and Liberation of the Female Body


The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood is an enduring literary work that set in the civil rights era. This novel follows a recent college graduate, Marian MacAlpin, through her career and emotional maturation in a somewhat unnatural, if not threatening, world. The unusualness of this world is characterized by a spectrum of moral viewpoints that manifest themselves and surround Marian. In effect, these viewpoints, both male dominated and sex driven, are so potent that they seem to devour Marian both physically and emotionally. Through both food and eating, Marian rebels against this cannibalistic, patriarchal society. In the end, she reclaims her identity by restoring her relationship with food.

The novel starts with Marian’s first person narrative of her relationships with her defiant roommate, Ainsley, who is intent on becoming a mother, her practical lawyer boyfriend, Peter, and her pregnant and fragile friend, Clara. As the novel progresses, Marian begins to disassociate herself from her body as she realizes the predatory and dangerous nature of the society in which she lives. This disassociation can be seen most clearly as Marian’s identity crisis spirals out of control after she accepts Peter’s hand in marriage. She develops an aversion to eating, particularly after witnessing Peter cut into a steak. Rather than viewing the meat as an inanimate object, she associates it with a living, breathing cow. As the story progresses and Peter’s domineering ways become evident, Marian develops a relationship with a narcissistic English graduate student, named Duncan. Duncan is highly unpredictable. This unpredictability is highlighted when they share an unexpected, but intimate, kiss at the Laundromat.

Marian’s final loss of self arises when she succumbs to Peter’s wish to dress up for his party. At the party, Marian cannot contain the overwhelming sense of falseness and destruction. She escapes to find Duncan and spends the night with him in a hotel room. With the final consumption of her self by Duncan, she decides to bake a cake for Peter in the likeness of a woman. She accuses him of metaphorically devouring her and a very disturbed Peter breaks off the engagement. Marian then, symbolically reclaiming her identity, ravenously eats the cake, and also allows Duncan to finish eating the cake.

Overall, this novel explores the cannibalism theme, which we analyzed in the Republic of Wine and “Diary of a Madman,” as well as the themes involving food and gender roles, which we analyzed in Week 6 of class. In Marian’s journey in particular we observe her rediscovery, if not discovery, of herself as she battles to overcome a debased, male-dominated society.

The Bicycle Thief-Restaurant Scene

Antonio Ricci is an unemployed worker in post-WWII Italy. He is thrilled to finally find a job hanging posters. To maintain this job he has to own a bicycle. Thus his wife sells their bed sheets to support him. However, happy moments are always fleeting. On his first day of working his bicycle gets stolen! The following day, Antonio takes his son Bruno on a journey to look for bicycle. The restaurant scene starts when the protagonist Antonio Ricci failed to extract information about his stolen bike and accidentally took his frustration out on his son Bruno. Feeling regretted afterwards, Antonio decided to treat his son a rare meal at a pizzaria. In the restaurant, the auteur Vittorio De Sica dusts away the previous tragic atmosphere and creates a gleeful oasis for Antonio Ricci and Bruno. On this happy note, De Sica pays tribute to the working class and their intelligence of making joy out of crashed life.

Using sequence analysis and climatology terminologies, I analyzed the restaurant scene shot-by-shot and presented its importance in the whole film in elating the atmosphere and portraying class contrast.


Flavor of Happiness


The film Flavor of Happiness tells the story around main characters Takako Yamashita and Wang Qingkuo (Mr. Wang). Takako works in the food division of a department store. She is asked by her superior to convince Mr. Wang, a Chinese man who is the owner of the restaurant called Little Shanghai, to open a branch in their store. In order to complete her task, Takako begins paying frequent visits to Little Shanghai. Although her request is rejected by Mr. Wang, Takako falls in love with the food and goes there every day for meals. One day, Mr. Wang collapses in his kitchen and thereafter is left with partial paralysis. In order to save Little Shanghai from closure, Takako quits her job and learns cooking with Mr. Wang as his apprentice. As time goes by when Takako’s skill improves, she represents Little Shanghai in the chefs’ gathering which Mr. Wang has withdrawn from earlier. However, food poisoning occurs and Takako’s oyster dish is regarded as the source. Feeling sorry for Mr. Wang and blaming herself for tarnishing the reputation of Little Shanghai, Takako stays at home and wants to give up cooking. With the purpose of letting Takako regain confidence, Mr. Wang lets Takako to manage the dinner party for a company president. The dinner party turns out to be a big success which draws a happy ending to the story.

Since the story starts from Little Shanghai, the restaurant setting, and the main characters Mr. Wang is a cook and Takako used to have her job in the food department, food definitely carries a key role in the film. While various dishes are shown in Flavor of Happiness, I wonder if there is anything beyond the food itself which makes it not merely something delicious for consumption and thus become significant in the film. After watching the film for several times, I find that the characters live with their remembrance, like Mr. Wang says there are things one just cannot forget. Can memory and food have a correlation in this film? If so, in what ways are they related?

In order to explore the questions that I have raised, I will in the paper specifically focus on the two main characters in the movie, Mr. Wang and Takako, and the dish crab shaomai and food that Mr. Wang cooks at Little Shanghai in general. The themes like estranged and lost are introduced in the film show the connections between food and memory.

The Joy Luck Club – You are How You Eat

The Joy Luck Club[1], a 1993 film directed by Wayne Wang, is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same title four years after its publication.[2] Both of the film and the novel share a themed opening setting of the Joy Luck Club established by four female Chinese immigrants – Suyuan, Lindo, Ying-Ying, and An-Mei – in San Francisco, where they play mahjong and treat each other with home cooked dishes in order to raise hope and joy and to survive difficult times. The film and novel then capture important life moments of the four women and their daughters – June, Waverly, Lena, and Rose, respectively, who were born and raised in the US. Their stories are independent yet interconnected, revealing the preserved memories and changing identities during one’s life course and between generations. While the novel has four sections, each consisting of four stories and switching focuses in the order of “mothers’ childhood – children’s childhood – children’s adult life –mothers’ adult life,” and in general wrapped by June’s farewell feast and attempt to go back to China and find her sisters whom her mother abandoned when fleeing, the film, still respecting the original stories and settings, abridges the plot and gives it a clearer structure of telling a mother’s life story followed by her daughter’s story.

For a film/novel like The Joy Luck Club which aims to portray life stories across generations, food is hardly the major subject matter, yet it repeatedly appears throughout the stories, and constantly carries symbolic meanings. The symbolism of food roots in its associations with Chinese customs or the characters’ personal experience. With the film explicitly spelling out such meanings, the audience are able to comprehend the broader social customs and personal values reflected from food. Thus, I argue that food in this film functions as “a metaphor of self,” as articulated by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney in Chapter One of her book Rice as Self[3]. Especially for the characters in the film – first- and second- generation immigrants, females of humble status comparing to their husbands – self is such a relative concept that could only be defined and transformed according to their relationships with the others, and food clarifies either the definition and transformation or the relationships.

The concept of “self” in the film includes both preserved memories and changing identities, and it is the accumulation of memories that causes a shift in identity. It also embraces a recognition of individual “self” and collective “self” (as of the social groups the characters belong to). Not all of them are equally emphasized through food – arguably, the memories related to individual “self” are most heavily presented with food, some of which lead to identity change. In this essay I will discuss in detail how the use of food in the film elaborates the concept of “self,” specifically, memories that cause identity change. By regrouping the themes related to food (food and non-food, cannibalism, food and memory, food and identity, food and gender, food and place, etc.) into the categories for “self”, I will demonstrate that food itself is only a small component of the determinant; it is how you eat (or sometimes, how you are eaten) that determines who you are.

[1] The Joy Luck Club, dir. Wayne Wang, prod. Patrick Markey, Wayne Wang, Amy Tan, and Ronald Bass (USA: Hollywood Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 1993), DVD.

[2] Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club (New York: Putnam’s, 1989)

[3] Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, “Food as a Metaphor of Self: An Exercise of Historical Anthropology,” in Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), pg. 3-11.

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (and Tina Chang)




“Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” is a popular travel and cuisine television show that has been on the air since November 1st, 2006. Ever since its premier, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern has mesmerized many audiences – making it Travel Channel’s most popular show. With spin-offs like Bizarre Foods America, this show does not stop exploring the strange foods of the world. But, what bewilders me is that many of the dishes I have seen on the show are foods I would not consider bizarre. Many of the dishes I have seen I have considered as unfamiliar or strange, but bizarre is rarely a word I use (unless, it is some unidentifiable animal organ). So, it leads to my ultimate question that has kept me scratching my head every time I guiltily watch this show, how does a food categorize as bizarre?

What is more bizarre than the food dishes themselves on the show, is the fact that this show was made to show Americans “disgusting, exotic, and bizarre” dishes from all over the world. Why then, does Andrew Zimmern make a Bizarre Foods American edition? Is he accepting that bizarre foods are from everywhere? If so, it seems as though he is accepting that every bizarre food is based on every person’s different experiences and perceptions. This show encompasses themes like, weird and strange, while questioning the relationship between foreign and bizarre. If it is considered bizarre, does it mean it is foreign because it is unfamiliar?

Andrew Zimmern explores mostly Asian cities, since Americans generally perceive Asian foods as the most bizarre. Americans have become familiarized with chop suey and General Tso’s or sesame chicken as Chinese food while, none of these dishes actually exist in China. Within Asia, Andrew Zimmern visited a couple of Chinese cities. For a more detailed study, I specifically focused this paper studies the Beijing and Guangzhou episodes. I chose both episodes to highlight the Northern and Southern Chinese diet. Upon watching these two episodes, I made a few guesses on which dishes Zimmern was going to expose. I thought, chicken feet definitely for Guangzhou and sea cucumber for Beijing. I was correct with both dishes as Zimmern munches on the two and then explains how surprisingly delicious they are. Like other bizarre foods he munches on, not only chicken feet and sea cucumber, Zimmern quickly learns that the foods are not at all exotic or disgusting. In fact, they are delicious and he even explains the dish’s story and background and how it came to be based on geographical reasons.