There is a literal trip in “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” with the clashing French and Indian restaurants separated by exactly 100 feet. In the modern world, most people are making that same journey, though often much farther, for school or jobs or marriage.
For author Richard Morais, the son of an American mother and Portuguese father who grew up in Switzerland, food is something that’s become a way to feel at home anywhere.
“People always say, ‘You’ve traveled around the world, where is home?’ Well, honestly, I’ve gotten to the point that home is anywhere I am getting a meal and sharing it with family and friends,” he says over dinner at White Street, the recently opened Tribeca restaurant of chef Floyd Cardoz, who created the dishes featured in the novel’s film adaptation.
“That’s as close to home as I’m ever gonna get, because most of us are nomads, we’re a mishmash of cultures, and we’re getting more and more mobile.”
In the movie, available on DVD and On Demand today, young Indian chef Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) cooks his way into the esteem of Michelin-starred restaurant owner Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), whose emotional journey is the title’s metaphorical meaning. Cooking is Hassan’s passion, but also a way to preserve and share his heritage after his family was driven out of India and made their new home in the south of France.
Cooking food with that kind of significance can be an emotional experience – “when you are homesick, the thing you crave most and first is food,” Morais points out. And sometimes, necessity can be the mother of great inventions. One of his favorites: balti spice.
When the first wave of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian immigrants arrived in the English midland, “they of course were homesick for their flavors, and of course they couldn’t get all the spices they had in India in Manchester,” Morais says. “So they recreated a spice called balti with what was available in England.”
The regional blend inspired its own cuisine, with restaurants known as balti houses serving traditional dishes like vindaloos and stews but made with this new kind of spice. (If you’re curious, try some from Penzeys.) Morais recommends using it on roast pork.
One dish that makes him nostalgic is codfish, which recalls memories of his father’s rare but cherished home-cooked meals.
“He’s sort of macho, Portuguese background, not very verbally demonstrative, but he adored his children, and how he would [show] it was through the food,” Morais recalls.
“One of the things that he would do is each of us, on our birthdays, could pick our meal, and so he would go out and make whatever we asked. So I was torturing the poor man, I would say, ‘I want pheasant,’ so we would have to go out and get a pheasant and cook a pheasant.”
Food at the holiday table
While a holiday gathering can be a great reason for people who may otherwise not see eye-to-eye to set aside their differences, Morais doesn’t recommend pushing your luck with the food. “Often it’s so stressful and people are so tired,” he says. “I think the lower-key meals are the ones where the real magic happens.”
Another piece of advice: Leave fusion cuisine to the professionals. Morais still remembers a dish by chef Floyd Cardoz, a barbecue pulled pork-style lamb seasoned with Indian spices. “It was exquisite; it was the perfect fusion. Now, sometimes fusion doesn’t work – it tastes like two warring plates – but when it works, it’s sublime.”
Find chef Floyd Cardoz’s recipe for Beef Bourguignon a la Hassan and other dishes from “The Hundred-Foot Journey” on Pinterest.