Tampopo: What Constitutes Being a Foodie in a Globalized World?

Although Tampopo, directed by the late Jūzō Itami, primarily follows the adventures of the search for the perfect ramen recipe by a widowed young woman who owns a small noodle shop, Tampopo, and a truck driver who stumbled across her, Goro, the film also cuts to many vignettes which at first seem to have little to do with the main story. One of these said events follows six seemingly well-to-do men to a fancy French restaurant. Four of the men wait to see what their superior orders first (sole, consomme, and a beer) before ordering the same thing for themselves. The story intensifies when the waiter comes to the last man at the table (who appears also to be both the youngest and clumsiest), who upstages the other men with his extensive knowledge of French cuisine and vocabulary. For example, the man can even determine that the chef trained in Traille-Vent just by looking at the choices on the menu.

The camera pans over the menu at the French restaurant

This vignette plays on the idea of being a foodie, especially in the globalized world of the 1980s. The last man has a large knowledge of French food even though he appears to be neither French nor a chef. After focusing for a few seconds on the last man, the camera professionally pans downs the menu, mimicking the man’s own “professional” scanning of the menu. The other men all look at their menus with looks of confusion while the camera simply moves over them in a shaky manner, emulating their shaky understanding of the menu and the food in general. The lack of noise during this scene highlights the tensions between the men as well. The menu itself is extremely French: all of the words are in French, not Japanese, and the menu is both extraordinarily formal (with its elegant typography and delicate floral images) and very oversized. However, the last man shows that one does not necessarily need to have the most money or the highest social status in order to be a foodie. The other men, though they order German beers and dine at a French restaurant, seem to be dining more for the status symbol embodied by the extravagance of the menu than because they legitimately enjoy the tastes and concepts related to those foods and drinks.

The last man orders his meal, demonstrating his comprehensive knowledge of French cuisine

The rest of the movie only serves to strengthen and mirror this idea of being a foodie without having elite status. Tampopo may be a mother and a chef who owns her own ramen restaurant in Tokyo, but she still requests help from Goro, a truck driver who seems to have little riches and no prior connections to food, to improve her ramen. Tampopo and Goro even make claims to another ramen restaurant owner that amateurs may know more about ramen since they are the ones who enjoy it on a daily basis. Lastly, Goro and Tampopo visit some homeless men during their search for the perfect ramen. These men have absolutely no status or money whatsoever, yet these “vagabonds” still have sizable understandings of food. In conclusion, in the increasingly globalized world in which we now live, food and food knowledge has become more and more accessible to those who may not have the wealth or social status that were previously required to become a “foodie.”

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One response to “Tampopo: What Constitutes Being a Foodie in a Globalized World?

  1. This is my all-time favorite film. I particularly love the etiquette class, and the confrontation with another stand. Love this movie.

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