Heart Stew

The movie "Ramen Shop" celebrates food and family – emphasis on the food.

Considering it’s universal appeal, it’s a wonder there aren’t more movies about food. The ongoing trend toward conscious consumption has made gourmet cuisine ubiquitous in major cities, social media spreads artisanal dishes and streaming services are awash in cooking shows – yet aside from perennial classics like the 1985 Japanese “ramen western” Tampopo, Ang Lee’s 1994 Eat Drink Man Woman or Pixar’s more recent Ratatouille, not many films come to mind.

Fortunately for foodies everywhere, prolific Singaporean director Eric Khoo has added one more to that list with Ramen Shop, a love letter to his hometown’s cuisine disguised as a family drama. Sadly, while Khoo certainly nailed the food part, the drama could have used a bit more work.

After the death of his emotionally distant father, Masato, a young ramen chef from Takasaki, Japan, finds the diaries of his Singaporean mother, who passed away when he was a child. Discovering recipes she saved for him and her innermost thoughts, he’s filled with long-forgotten memories of his childhood in Singapore and embarks on a trip to find his roots.

© Filmladen Filmverleih

With the help of a Japanese expat food blogger, he tracks down his maternal family and pieces together the courtship of his parents, who bonded over their mutual appreciation of food – particularly the Singaporean dish bak kut teh, a pork rib stew served with oolong tea. But he is unable to connect with his grandmother, the family matriarch, who opposed his parent’s union: A survivor of the brutal Japanese occupation during WWII, she forbade the marriage and disowned his defiant mother; now, she refuses to even speak to Masato. Determined to heal the old wound, Masato creates a fusion of ramen and bak kut teh in the hope that food will succeed where words have failed. 

The Great Communicator

At times oversentimental, Ramen Shop nonetheless tells its tale of familial reconciliation with a straightforward sincerity that is hard to fault. But the food steals the show: Presenting Singaporean cuisine, a heady mix of Indian, Chinese and southeast Asian traditions, in a delicious light, the real stars are on the plate. In fact, the dishes often have more personality and depth than the protagonists: each character is taciturn bordering on curt – unless they’re discussing food. Then, they transform into gushing waterfalls, going on at length about making your own chili sauce (use fresh kalamansi juice instead of vinegar) or the finer points of making noodles in a high humidity environment.

Gradually, you realize how this family became estranged – everyone is terrible at expressing themselves outside the kitchen. But that is precisely the point: One character remarks that Masato himself is like ramen, the Chinese noodle soup adapted to Japanese tastes – a hybrid combining the very best traits of two cultures. When he fuses Japanese and Singaporean cuisine, he demonstrates that food can bring people together.

Indeed, Ramen Shop’s metaphor for multiculturalism is a powerful one, but unless you’re an unabashed foodie yourself, its one-dimensional characters may go right over your head instead of straight to your gut. 

Now Playing, Votivkino. 9., Währinger Straße 12. votivkino.at

Binu Starnegg
Manila born, Brooklyn bred and a longtime resident of Vienna, Binu Starnegg is currently managing editor for Metropole, where he completes myriad tasks with style and aplomb. Photo: Visual Hub

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


RECENT Articles

In Corona Time, So Few Sniffles!

A silver lining for COVID-19 has been how well we are preventing the common cold.

Vienna’s Ultimate Swimming Pool Guide

It will be a summer like no other. This year due to Corona, many Viennese will opt to spend a good part of their holiday in the city. Lucky for us, there are few better places for relaxing in the shade and swimming in pools or rivers than Vienna.

The Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | School Vacations Started

With summer approaching, new challenges await Austria in dealing with the coronavirus. Here’s all you need to know about current measures and developments, including trusted sources and tips – regularly updated.

Liberal Freedom and Its Flip Side

The renewed struggle against discrimination is really two struggles: one about rights, the other about opinion.

Taste of India | Keep Calm and Curry On

Nestled in the 3rd district, The Taste of India’s second location serves authentic North Indian cuisine in a cozy atmosphere, balancing food and feeling.

Traditional Brand Icons and the New Sensitivities of Race

The worldwide Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has now spilled over onto the supermarket shelves. A look at Austria’s own racially problematic icons.


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.