Movies

The Greatest Food Porn Scenes In Cinema History — From Timpani To Big Kahuna Burgers — And What We Can Learn From Them

Food scenes in movies are kind of like sports documentaries. Sure, there are other types of media that focus more on the “event,” but for whatever reason food always tastes better when there’s a story behind it. Drinks are the same way. The best are conversation pieces as much as they are feasts for the senses. They say we “eat with our eyes” first, but do we not also eat with our desire for an ordered universe? Discuss.

I think I’ve cooked almost as many meals based on movie scenes as I have recipes from actual food shows. Here, I’ve ranked some of our favorite cinematic food porn scenes, both in terms of the effectiveness of the food porn itself — which is to say, how turned on about the food the scene gets you — and in terms of instructional value. Or, how much one could actually put the food depicted into practice. Trust me, it’s all very scientific.

13. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (Formerly, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – The Bod-egg-a Sandwich

The Scene: Birds of Prey was an odd movie that I suspect not that many people saw (it actually came out during that tiny sliver of 2020 when movie theaters were still open), but it’s relevant here because basically the entire inciting event of the plot was built around Harley Quinn’s love affair with an egg sandwich.

Food Porn Rating: B

This feels like a gimme, because who doesn’t love an egg sandwich? That being said, those eggs look slightly undercooked and I feel like the yolks are going to run down my arm. Points for buttering the bread, but I have to dock this one slightly, both because it feels like a direct appeal to New Yorkers and their weird bodega fetish, and because it seems like it’s trying a little too hard.

Instructional Value: D

No disrespect, but you probably didn’t need a movie to tell you how to make an egg sandwich. Plus, I don’t have a plancha at home (yet…).

12. Spanglish: The Egg Panino

The Scene: As long as we’re talking cinematic egg sandwich-interrupted scenes, we couldn’t leave out Spanglish. I have to give this one the edge over Birds of Prey on account of plating, the eggs look better cooked, and the fact that he whipped it up in his home kitchen.

Food Porn: B+

I still worry about the drippy yolk but this one looks tasty enough that I probably wouldn’t mind. Also, points for no “American cheese.” American cheese’s melting ability is never worth the lack of flavor, in my opinion. Cheddar melts just fine.

Instructional Value: C+

This one is more inspirational than instructional, I would say. Hopefully, you have a toaster oven.

11. In The Realm Of The Senses

The Scene: Uh, basically like half the movie? The controversial French-Japanese film by Nagisa Oshim from 1976 is about a prostitute-turned-maid who has an affair with her new boss. In the end, she cuts off his dong and walks around with it inside her. This was based on a real thing that happened in Japan and there are multiple films about it. The seventies were lit, man! Anyway, at one point, Abe puts an egg in Ishida’s hoo-ha and then eats it. She also voraciously eats an apple after strangling him. Lots of food scenes to choose from! It’s about “the senses” after all.

Food Porn: B

The film, which famously featured unsimulated sex scenes (complete with a money shot at one point) is probably more porn-porn than food-porn, but hey, those other ones got me thinking about eggs.

Instructional Value: Pass

I know I’m the one who brought it up but I’m deflecting this question.

10. First Cow: Oilycakes

The Scene: Platonic pioneer dude-bros Cookie and King-Lu becoming entrepreneurs selling “oilycakes” to their fellow trappers in the Oregon territory. Their secret? They’ve been surreptitiously weezing the juice from a rich guy’s cow. The “first cow” in the territory, hence their success at cornering the market. Nice work if you can avoid getting shot for it.

Food Porn Rating: A+

Those oily cakes looked so damn good. Anything frying in oil tends to look really good on film. And in life, frankly.

Instructional Value: B-

Admittedly I haven’t attempted to recreate this one just yet, but I doubt milk is going to be the magic bullet in my home donuts/funnel cakes. Hard to beat a doughnut though. Fried dough doesn’t get enough credit, if you ask me. In fact, anyone who likes cupcakes more than doughnuts is a simp.

9. Pulp Fiction: Big Kahuna Burger

The Scene: It’s the ultimate power move to extort half of some guys’ fast food before you kill them.

Food Porn Rating: B+

The amazing thing about this scene is that it makes me hungry as hell even while barely showing the food. Samuel L. Jackson’s reactions are all we need. “Mmm-MMM, that IS a tasty BURGER!” (this is in the top five of scenes I can recite by heart). “That’s that Hah-waiian burger joint, right?

It’s essentially the Spielberg Face of food porn. It’s also the only event in human history that has ever made me crave a Sprite.

Instructional Value: D

With all due respect to Babish, I’ve never felt the compulsion to make my own Big Kahuna Burger. To go buy one, absolutely, but not to whip one up at home. My most controversial food opinion is that almost all burgers are good. As long as it’s fully constructed — if you bring me an open-faced unbuilt burger with no sauce on it I’m never ordering that again. The best thing about a great burger is that it be a fully-constructed one hander with all the flavors.

8. Ratatouille: The ratatouille

The Scene: Remy serves the snooty film critic some ratatouille that reminds him of being a petit French boy.

Food Porn: C+

I love Ratatouille as a movie, but even though the entire thing is about food, it’s never really had that mouth-watering effect for me. Great film, I think it’s just a little hard to get excited about CGI squash. I actually slightly prefer the food porn in Bao, but that was just a short, so I can’t include it. Also, the character design of the people in it gives me nightmares.

Instructional Value: A-

I’ve never attempted it, mostly on account of my mixed feelings about squash, but it certainly seems like something worth attempting at some point. Maybe one day when I have too much squash.

7. Phantom Thread: The Mushroom Omelette

The Scene: In retaliation against her belittling, capricious, persnickety lover, the exacting dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, his lover Alma poisons him with a mushroom omelette.

Food Porn: A

The look of those mushrooms sizzling in pan with lots of butter (Reynolds Woodcock famously only likes a little butter) sticks in my head better than anything else in the whole movie. The great thing about this scene is that it actually makes me jealous of the man being poisoned. Incidentally, Woodcock had it coming. He spent the movie’s first scene throwing a fit over “snodgy” pastries. I still have no idea what a snodgy pastry is.

Instructional Value: B+

While it doesn’t exactly teach me any new tricks, it does make me want to sautee some chanterelles. Don’t skimp on the butter. Also, a handful of chives always elevates an egg dish.

6. Like Water For Chocolate: Quail with Rose Sauce

The Scene: Tita’s sensual food makes everyone want to f*ck

Food Porn: A-

I mean I just said it made everyone want to f*ck.

Instructional Value: B

Quail sounds kind of good but I think I’ll pass on the rose sauce. I need more movies about Mexican stews.

5. Parasite: Ram-don

The Scene: The high-strung Mrs. Park tells her new housekeeper, the striving, grifting Mrs. Kim to prepare her special boy some ram-don. Mrs. Kim doesn’t know what the hell “ram-don” is and has to improvise. She ends up cooking some nice steak with instant noodles. A little more on ram-don:

The term “ram-don” was invented for the film by subtitle translator Darcy Paquet, as the actual Korean name for the dish, jjapaguri—a combination of two types of instant noodles—was too difficult to translate for an English-speaking audience. Paquet figured audience members would, however, likely be familiar with “ramen” and “udon,” and so he mashed up the two.

Food Porn: A-

Steaming noodles with seared steak? Yes.

Instructional Value: A-

Pimping out your instant noodles with fancy ingredients is a time-honored and useful trick. Top Ramen even announced that they’d be sponsoring a contest to do just that for their 50th anniversary this past week. You don’t have to have grown up poor or been to prison to appreciate the smell of instant noodles cooking. It has universal appeal.

4. The Godfather: The Sauce

The Scene: Clemenza tries to distract Michael Corleone from being a shitty boyfriend by teaching him how to make some tomato sauce. “You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it. Make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil. You shove in all your sausage and your meatballs. And a little bit of wine. And a little bit of sugar, and that’s my trick.”

Food Porn: B

It would’ve been nice to see him actually fry the garlic. The sound of sausages and meatballs plopping into the sauce is pretty nice.

Instructional Value: A-

Clemenza basically gives the entire recipe, you have to give him that. And he describes basically the way every Italian-American child learned to make the meat-forward tomato sauce, aka “Sunday Gravy,” we all grew up on. I still enjoy a nice Sunday gravy from time to time, but I do quibble somewhat with his technique. First off, how long are we frying that garlic? Hopefully not more than a minute. You don’t want that garlic to get brown. Second, no onions? Maddon’. Why no onions? We use two or three onions per 28 ounce can of tomatoes in the Mancini family. You use more onions, you won’t need that sugar to sweeten it (admittedly the Clemenza version makes nice quick pizza sauce). Granted it takes a little more work, but you’re simmering the damn sauce all day anyway so what’s 10 more minutes?

3. Goodfellas: Prison Steaks And Red Sauce

The Scene: Henry Hill narrates what a big event dinner was for the wise guys in the joint. To me, “Medium Rare, an aristocrat,” shares top-billing with “That IS a tasty BURGER” or “That’s that Hah-waiian burger joint right?” as cinema’s most memorable food line.

“Dinner was always a big thing in the joint. We had a pasta course and then meat or fish. Paulie did the prep work. He was doing a year for contempt and he had a system for doing garlic. He used a razor and he sliced it so thin it used to liquify in the pan with a little oil. Vinnie was in charge of the tomato sauce. I felt he put in too many onions, but it was a good sauce anyway. Johnny Dio did the meat. He didn’t have a broiler, so Johnny did everything in pans. He smelled up the joint something awful and the hacks used to die.”

Warner Bros

Food Porn: A

In my mind, Scorsese is the king of food porn in movies that aren’t strictly about food. This is just one of many scenes we could’ve included here (The Irishman has a few low-key great ones). Scorsese shot this so well that Henry Hill came out of witness protection to sell his own pasta sauce.

Instructional Value: B+

It’s basically the same Sunday gravy as The Godfather, and I’m with Vinnie — onions are your friend. Just make sure to cook them all the way. I’ve never had a Sunday gravy and thought “too many onions.” As for the garlic, it’s brilliant as food porn but probably less so as an instructional tool. It sounds like a lot of work for a sauce that would probably taste the same as if you just smashed the garlic. The razor blade method would probably give you something to do if you were doing a year for contempt though.

2. Chef: Pasta Aglio e Olio

The Scene: Though he would spend the rest of the movie making Cuban sandwiches, the most food porny scene in Chef is, to me, one of the openers, in which Jon Favreau woos Scarlett Johansson (lol) by cooking her some pasta with olive oil and TONS of garlic.

Food Porn: A+

For my money, it’s hard to beat the sight of garlic cooking in olive oil. And extra points for the sheer volume of garlic. Dats a lotta garlic!

Instructional Value: A+

Monkey see, monkey do — I’ve definitely made this exact pasta solely because of this movie. As a kid who grew up on Sunday Gravy, the idea that you could basically do a tomato sauce without the tomatoes was kind of a head-slapping revelation for me.

My suggestion: cook tons of garlic in some olive oil (don’t burn the damn garlic!) add a pinch of black pepper and crushed red pepper (don’t go crazy, a little goes a long way) to the pan (you always want that crushed red pepper to bloom in the pan a little), then toss in your par-cooked pasta to finish in the pan. Then add as much parmigiano as you want (like onions in a gravy, I’ve never had pasta and thought “this has too much parmesan”), and finish it off with some fresh parsley (my other controversial food opinion is that I like curly better than flat for superior mouthfeel). It feels a lot lighter than a Sunday gravy. Perfect if you’re a big fat guy trying to woo someone far too attractive for you.

1. Big Night: The Timpano

The Scene: Some chefs spend an entire movie making a timpano, and then in the climactic scene, serve a timpano. I imagine that the first question a reader would ask when presented with a list of movie foods is, “Is Big Night number one?” That’s why Big Night is number one.

Food Porn: A+

Again, basically the entire movie is about making a timpano, a giant layer cake of eggs, salami, meatballs, cheese, ziti, and ragu sauce baked inside a giant pizza dough.

Instructional Value: A-

Once again I’d say this one is more inspirational than it is strictly instructional. Have I tried this recipe? No. Have I always wanted to? Absolutely. Looking at it now, none of the ingredients looks especially complicated on its own, but the construction seems a little daunting. It’s possible the movie may have oversold the difficulty of the timpano. On account of it being an entire movie about a timpano and all.

All that Genoa salami in the New York Times version sounds aggressively salty to me, but that’s a personal preference. I’d probably use Italian sausages or a little Mortadella instead if I was doing it myself. I mix a little sweet Italian sausage into my meatballs when I make them. It’s good!

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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