Book Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais.

the-hundred-foot-journey-by-richard-c-moraisNo. of pages: 284 pages

Date published: 2014 by Alma Books (first published 2008)

Setting: Mumbai (India), London, Lumiere and Paris (France)

Original Title: The Hundred-Foot Journey

Because I’ve seen the movie, I knew what the story was about. At least, the story that was told in and by the movie. So when I saw the book being sold at the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale at the end of last year, I simply knew I had to buy it. I wanted to read the book and compare it with the movie. Since many readers like myself, if you are a true reader, you can tell when the movie is being honest with you or not. True enough, the movie had changed many parts of the book, including the surname of Hassan’s family. In the book, they were known as the Haji family but in the movie, they were given the name Kadam. Thankfully, they still left India to move to France.

The movie of the same name was directed by Lasse Hallstrom and produced by none other than Oprah Winfrey, the great and famous talk show host and celebrity, with Dame Helen Mirren as Madame Gertrude Mallory, Om Puri as Abbas Haji (Kadam), Manish Dayal as Hassan, and Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite. Hassan came from a family of chefs with his parents and grandparents being involved in the food business when he was young. But one day, they upped and left India and travelled to France where they opened their own eatery called Maison Mumbai, which happened to be a hundred feet away and directly across the road from Le Saule Pleureur, Madame Mallory’s Michelin-starred eatery.

And then trouble began.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The Hundred-Foot Journey is the story of Hassan Haji, a boy from Mumbai who embarks, along with his boisterous family, on a picaresque journey first to London and then across Europe, before they ultimately open a restaurant opposite a famous chef, Madame Mallory, in the remote French village of Lumière. A culinary war ensues, pitting Hassan’s Mumbai-toughened father against the imperious Michelin-starred cordon bleu, until Madame Mallory realizes that Hassan is a cook with natural talents far superior to her own.

Full of eccentric characters, hilarious cultural mishaps, vivid settings and delicious meals described in rich, sensuous detail, Hassan’s charming account lays bare the inner workings of the elite world of French haute cuisine and provides a life-affirming and poignant coming-of-age tale.

The first few chapters left me in a hot and stifling city of Mumbai where the trains are so crowded that commuters had to store their tiffin lunch boxes in a separate compartment. However, a series of unfortunate incidents and hilarious cultural mishaps later led Hassan and his family from the dust-covered streets and clustered homes of Mumbai to London before they arrived at a charming little village called Lumiere in France. Hassan’s father decides to open his own restaurant called Maison Mumbai, with complete disregard for and much to the chagrin and disgust of Madame Gertrude Mallory, whose Michelin-starred restaurant, the elegant and refined Le Saule Pleureur was just on the other side of the road.

However, just as Ligaya Mishan had said in the review of The Hundred-Foot Journey in the New York Times, don’t let the title fool you as there was obviously a lot more ground that was covered in Richard C. Morais’ novel. It was close to at least 25 million feet by the reviewer’s count considering that the family had started out from India to England before reaching France with the last leg of the journey made via a convoy of Mercedes Benzes through much of Western Europe.

The story focused on two restaurants: A two-Michelin star traditional French eatery called Le Saule Pleureur and Maison Mumbai, a bawdy Indian establishment newly opened across the street from each other. Madame Mallory’s disgust for the family was great and she tried her best to drive them away and out of her sight. Yet, despite all her attempts and for all her stubbornness, she had to admit there was potential in Hassan and asked him to join her at her restaurant as an apprentice and allow her to give him French chef training and turn him into one of the greatest chefs in France. The author’s endless epicurean and vivid descriptions in the book had left my mouth watering and I had only enough restraint to stop myself from taking a bite out of my book. He layered his narrative with just enough colours, flavours, sounds, smells and textures that tantalised all five senses of mine to no end. Not to mention, the author’s use of words to describe the sunsets: mango sorbet and saffron. Wow.

The Hundred-Foot Journey was both about the food and the tale of a clash of cultures from the first page right up to the last. What I really loved about the book was that it isn’t often I find a book that could be described as a sumptuous and tasty morsel but that was precisely what the book – a tasty and delicious morsel. I devoured it all in a matter of days. It was simply a marvellous and amazing book. The differences between the book and the movie are pretty obvious but it’s still making me want to watch the movie again. I really must make the time to do so. And you know what? I really recommend this book to anyone who has a big heart (and stomach) for the culinary arts!

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