Masato is a young man working in his father’s successful ramen shop in Japan. Though it’s just been the two of them since Masato’s mother died, their relationship is strained. Masato thinks the only way to get his father’s attention is to be a steaming bowl of noodles. After work, Masato’s father disappears to drink alone; at home, they’re like two ships passing in the night. But then one day his father dies, as all fathers must, and Masato is alone in the world.
Curious about his mother, Masato (Takumi Saitoh) reads the old diaries she’d left behind and for the first time discovers the inter-racial courtship between his father, who was Japanese, and his mother, who was Chinese, and understands the source of the rift between his mother and his grandmother that prevented them from reuniting even as his mother lay dying.
Masato decides to travel to Singapore where he’s introduced not just to long-lost family members but secret family recipes as well, and through food, culture.
Ramen Shop is slow to start. I didn’t feel emotionally invested until about half-way through, but once the delicious, 10 hour pork rib soup starts to simmer, so did my heart. The cast is endearing, and I love how director Eric Khoo blends together race as if it’s fusion cooking. The Japanese and Chinese people have had an uneasy past and you can see that Masato has a hard time reconciling the two parts of himself. However, grief is a powerful motivator, and when he understands how his father honoured his mother’s memory by incorporating her culture into his cooking, Masato is inspired to do the same.
Since Masato and his uncle and cousins speak different languages, they communicate primarily in their shared third language, English. His grandmother, however, does not speak English. Masato speaks to her on a more elemental level: food. He cooks for her and hopes his dish will prove not just love, but the link that’s been missing between them all these years. This detail felt so familiar to me. It may not always be ramen, but almost all families across many cultures have some dish they call their own, a dish that tastes like home.
For me, it’s my grandma’s molasses cookies. She’s been gone 15 years but one of my most treasured items is a recipe for them in her own hand. I make them for my niece and nephews who never met her but still enjoy the same treat I did growing up, and I know her love is in each bite. My other grandma, who I call Nanny, stood by my side in her kitchen and taught me how to make her apple pie when I was a girl. Today pie crust comes out of my hands instinctually. I don’t need to make Nanny’s apple pie because we’re lucky to still have her with us (though we did lose the apple trees in her backyard). She assures us that her chest freezer is well enough stocked that we’ll have apple pies well after she’s gone. I’m pretty sure she means that to be comforting. What’s the recipe in your family?