‘Ramen Shop’ is a delicious tale of reconciliation

This is not your ordinary foodie flick, for it touches on a subject that is not likely to be found in a culinary film: WWII memory lodged in the mind of those who had lived through Japanese occupation, a generation of victims and witnesses of a horrific chapter in Asian history. That is the backstory. Acclaimed Singaporean director Eric Khoo offers us a slow cooked, savoury broth, using ingredients that are comforting and heartwarming to present a scenario of reconciliation.

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A scene from Eric Khoo’s “Ramen Shop”, screened at SFFILM earlier this month, now in selective theatres. Courtesy of SFFILM.

Screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this month, Ramen Shop is now released in selective theatres. Unlike the ramen western Tampopo (1985), Khoo’s concoction is of a gentler nature, melodramatic moments that are quiet and tasteful, including a moving denouement. Ramen Shop also shows how ordinary folks live and cook, much less spectacular than what we have seen in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), but delicious in a down-to-earth way.

Young ramen chef Masato (Takumi Saitô) from Takasaki, Japan, goes on a root-searching quest to Singapore where his late mother Mei Lian (Jeanette Aw) came from. She died when Masato was still a child; the boy grew up missing his mother sorely, especially her Bak Kut Teh, Signapore’s signature Pork Bone Soup.

Masato’s father Kazuo (Tsuyoshi Ihara) is a notable chef and owner of a ramen shop. To those not familiar, this is a good alternative if you’re reluctant to befriend raw fish (sushi and sashimi). Ramen are thin noodles in a long-cooked broth, usually goes with slices of braised pork, half a soft-boiled soya egg, scallions, sea weeds and other veggies. A trendy eat nowadays so the movie is timely.

Since his wife’s death, Kazuo has been too grief-stricken to notice Masato shares the pain no less; instead, Kazuo practically ignores his son.

“Sometimes I wish I were a bowl of ramen. At least that way, he’d show more interest in me,” Masato laments.

After Kazuo’s sudden death, Masato decides to go on a personal quest to search for his mother’s Singaporean roots, to find his long-lost Uncle and through him, his Grandmother who had estranged him since his birth. Taking with him faded childhood photographs, his mother’s journal written in Chinese and sweet memories of his mother’s comforting Bak Kut Teh, Masato heads to Singapore. On screen, the childhood scenes are presented with a washed-out colour, blending into the present effectively as we follow Masato walk down memory lane to re-live his early experience with his parents.

Food blogger Miki (Seiko Matsuda) whom Masato has been following online now acts as his personal guide while in Singapore. A chance encounter leads him to reconnect with his uncle, his mother’s younger brother. Played by Mark Lee, Uncle Wee is an animated and humorous character. He welcomes Masato into his home where he lives with his wife and two daughters, Masato’s new-found cousins.

More importantly, Uncle teaches Masato how to make Bak Kut Teh, literally meaning Pork Bone Tea. It’s called ‘tea’ because after finishing the ingredient-rich and savoury noodle soup, people usually drink tea as a wrap to the satisfying meal.

Upon Masato’s urging, Uncle brings him to meet Grandmother (Beatrice Chien). Realizing Masato is her late daughter’s son, Grandma rejects him outright; acknowledging a half-Japanese grandson would be too painful for her as her husband died in Japanese hands during the war.

The animosity his Grandmother holds against him shatters Masato but does not deter him. In a museum visit, he learns about Singapore’s wartime history. Eventually, he figures out a way to show his sincerity: what better way to reach out to Grandma than a delicious bowl of Japanese and Singaporean fusion, thus creating ‘Ramen Teh’ to bring to Grandma. Blending the favourites of both countries of his parental heritage, ‘Ramen Teh’ becomes the broth of reconciliation and the name of his new ramen shop when Masato returns home to Japan.

If a bowl of fusion noodle soup can melt away bitterness and long-held grievances among peoples, the world would be a better place. We have Khoo’s imaginary tale to thank if we move even one step closer to that ideal.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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Summertime… and the feeding is easy

No matter where you stand in the food chain, in the summer woods, everywhere you turn is a ready picnic, nature’s smorgasbord. Just look at all these flies:

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Yummy appetizers for the Yellow Warbler:

The Hungry Warbler

Or this succulent fruit. I’m sure the bee knows he’s an item on the smorgasbord too.

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But for the moment, indulge:

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Not so lucky for this dragonfly, securely locked in the beaks of a Song Sparrow:

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Robins are clean eaters, they swallow berries whole:

Robin

But not the Goldfinch:

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Eat to your heart’s content, no need for etiquette here:

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This baby Oriole in its high chair waiting for lunch. Be patient, junior, mommy’s coming:

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Take it easy, my Deer friend. I wouldn’t want to do the Heimlich Maneuver on you:

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What’s your summer smorgasbord like?

August at the Pond

Our summer is short. After a few weeks of record high temperatures, as August arrives, I can feel the cooler air creeping in.

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At the Pond, August brings a harvest of berries and edible delights for the birds:

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Here are some of the guests relishing Nature’s feast.

Forget about worms, these succulent fruits are tastier. The young Robin learns fast:

The Robin

The American Goldfinch, bending over forward:

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The Cedar Waxwing knows her etiquettes, always graceful and poised:

 

Wax Wing

 

Among them all, I must say my favourite is the Yellow Warbler. They are not fond of berries, but there are lots to eat around here. I’m most grateful for their taste. Here’s why: Mosquitoes eat me; warblers eat mosquitoes. Simple as that.

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What more, it’s no simple feat to sing with a mosquito in your mouth:

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In a few weeks, the Warblers will be gone, and I’ll be capturing scenes of Autumn. Yes, that soon. But for now, I’ll feast on summer sights. So, eat to your heart’s content, my Warbler friend.

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Camden, ME: A Gem of a Town

The scenic drive from Rockport (last post) led me to the town of Camden where I was welcomed with free parking everywhere. A walk down the streets could make you feel you’re stepping right into a movie set.

Camden's Main Street

Camden's Street

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Camden Harbor

But the stunning view came later when I drove up to the summit of Mt. Battie in the Camden Hills State Park. There at the highest point of the town, a panorama of Penobscot Bay and its surrounding countryside was fully displayed:

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View from the top 4That was the same breathtaking view a young aspiring poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950) beheld, inspiring her to write the famous poem “Renascence”. Her epiphany at the top of Mt. Battie set off a poetic expedition which eventually led the Poet to the literary summit of a Pulitzer in 1923. There on the mountain top was this plaque honoring ‘America’s finest lyric poet.’

Edna St. Vincent Millay Plaque“And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
I screamed, and—lo!—Infinity
Came down and settled over me…”

– lines from “Renascence”

Every time I feasted my eyes and mind, my stomach would in turn crave for my attention. So after a lingering at this inspiring site, I went down the slope back to town and found my way to the popular Cappy’s Chowder House. There I had the best chowder of my life: A Lobster/Oyster/Mussel/Seafood Chowder, yes, all of them in a Cappy’s cup for $9.99

Best ChowderAll substanceA good finish to a rewarding day.

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Follow my New England series:

Historic Concord, Massachusetts

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
– Henry D. Thoreau

Just a few miles north of Walden Pond is Thoreau’s birthplace, Concord, MA, a beautiful town bursting with history. The Minute Man National Historical Park, North Bridge, Paul Revere Capture Site… major historical events took place right here. I’d learned to appreciate their significance especially in a modern day context.

But what caught my attention as I drove into town was this church building, meeting place of the First Parish in Concord:

First Parish

History of First Parish

While the present structure was built in 1900, the Church – the gathering of a  community of faith – stood as a monument of the social history of America dating back a few hundred years to the 1670’s. To me as an outsider, this is meaningful. It’s the first of many such Christmas card icon that I would see during my road trip, in every town I passed by.

The Concord Museum displays history in a nut-shell. In there I found the actual furniture from inside Thoreau’s cabin in Walden Pond:

Thoreau's furniture and those in Emerson’s home:

Emerson's StudyLesson learned? No, one doesn’t have to go to the woods to live a Spartan life to be inspired. But, the experience sure could help develop work skills in case the writing vocation didn’t pan out.

I skipped Emerson’s House across from Concord Museum, instead, followed the sign of ‘Authors Ridge’ in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to the graves of Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Emerson. Much amused to see pens and pencils left at the authors’ graves:

Pen tribute

Thoreau's GraveAs I was pondering the philosophical meaning of this sighting, a greater urge suddenly took hold of me, one Thoreau could empathize, the necessity of life sustenance: food. I said goodbye to the great authors and drove back down to the main streets of Concord in search of the essential.

It’s the name that first attracted me: La Provence. The little French restaurant/café and patisserie on, where else? Thoreau Street. I ordered at the deli counter their popular Jambon de Paris sandwhich and a cream of mushroom soup. To my delight, as I stepped into the dining room with my lunch I felt like I’d entered a van Gogh painting. (Click here to see what I mean.)

While the sandwich was just average, the mushroom soup was superb. I wouldn’t mind a second helping but reminded myself another essential I must make room for, a dessert from the patisserie.

I was over at the glass case in the pastry section in no time. As a chocolate lover, my choice was easy… just look for the brown color items. I pointed to my selection and upon asking its name, was given two different replies by two different staff. So here I’m combining them: “Milk and Honey Chocolate Dome”, and it’s heavenly.

A crisp milk chocolate dome shrouding smooth melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mouse on a thin layer of cake at the bottom, this little dome sealed the best a dessert can offer any chocolate lover. The white chocolate bee on top was the added fun.

Le Provence choc domeFall foliage will have to wait.

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