The vibrant red of paprika and bright green of freshly chopped cilantro makes up traditional Tandoori chicken wings. Shots of this spicy dish are contrasted to simple, beautiful French cuisine: beef bourguignon, gratin daupinois. The Hundred Foot Journey features two distinct cultures. Not only does it contrast them with each other, but also it brings them together and creates something even more beautiful—both in the kitchen and in relationships.
The story begins in India, where Hassan Haji and his family are forced to leave due to political unrest and the very violent loss of his mother. The Hajis travel to Europe, where they open a restaurant, because that is what their family has always done. Hassan is a magnificent cook, even though the only training he has ever received was through his late mother. He keeps the memory of his mother alive through recreating the foods she introduced him to over and over again.
Due to more hardship, the family—made up of Papa Kadam, Hassan, Mansur, Mahira, and two younger siblings—find themselves stuffed inside a van scouring Europe for a place to open a successful restaurant. The Indian family ends up in a small town in France, probably the exact opposite of everything they’ve ever known. Despite complaints and warnings from his son Mansur, Papa Kadam believes this is where Mama’s spirit has brought them. They will stay.
Even without the language barrier and color of their skin, Hassan and his family couldn’t be more different from the French people who make up the town. The Haji family wears bright colors, is noisy, and makes food with flavors even louder than they are. The French wear muted colors, are beautifully reserved, and have been eating the same food for centuries. The Hajis decide to open a traditional Indian restaurant across from the award-winning traditional French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).
Director Lasse Hallström, famous for capturing the beauty of Europe in Chocolat (2000) and breaking hearts in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), worked alongside executive producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, who recognized how the story showed the bridging of cultural differences through passion and decided to bridge their own cultural differences through their passion for the story.
In an interview, Spielberg notes, “we had a chance to put our creative energies together in a very compatible way to find a way to tell this story about compatibility amongst people that you would never imagine could even be compatible . . . whether it’s love or food.”
Hassan’s family opens their restaurant, Maison Mumbai, and experience continual discrimination. Some of them begin to fight back. But this “eye for an eye” behavior does not go unpunished. Hassan recognizes the wrongdoing and apologizes to those his father has wronged. He even tries to bring a peace offering. Hassan’s kindness—and turning the other cheek—begins to bring about change.