Title: THE RAW AND THE COOKED: A Culinary Journey Through Taiwan
First Run Features
Director: Monika Treut
Screenwriter: Monika Treut
Cast: Monika Treut, Robin Winkler, Wang Fu-yu, Ladibisse, Sumi, Miao Ming, Liu Heng-hong
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/14/12 Opens: November 13, 2012 on DVD
On his website http://hillmanwonders.com/top_10_world_cuisines/top_10_world_cuisines.htm, noted food critic Howard Hillman knocks out what he considers the world’s best cuisines. In doing so, he mimics the choices of many others of his specialty, naming, in order: Chinese, French, Italian, Moroccan, Japanese, Spanish. He surely does not mean the chop suey and chow mein that constituted Chinese food in the 1950s. Does he mean that Kee’s of Roslyn Heights and Fu’s of Dubuque dish out fare superior to antipasto, coq au vin and unagi-avocado sushi? Not exactly. Nor is he in love with the output of New York’s Chinatown. To get a taste of what these critics like, you’d have to go to Beijing, Hong Kong or, best of all Taiwan—the last being the city of the most renowned Chinese chefs. To call the residents Chinese is oversimplified, despite the fact that the island is known to its denizens as The Republic of China Not mentioned in Monika Treut’s “The Raw and the Cooked: A Culinary Journey Through Taiwan” is the item that before Chiang Kai-shek fled from the Communists in 1949 to Taiwan, the land was composed not principally of Chinese but of Taiwanese, who in turn can be broken into fourteen different sub-groups including the Atayal, Abuza, Luilang, Paiwan and Taokai. Each of these groups has its own specialties, some covered in this mouth-watering documentary.
The film, which at eighty-three minutes does not overextend its welcome, opens in the midst of the island’s capital, Taipei, located near the northern tip. Taipei is far from a backwater but as photographed by Bernd Meiners resembles a city as highly developed as Tokyo or Shanghai or even New York. Nor are skyscrapers unknown. At the summit of one skyscraper, at a time the world’s tallest building, lies the Shin Yeh restaurant, resembling in landscape the late, great, Top of the World Trade Center, though at Shin Yeh the patrons consume not caviar but dumplings. There is even a lesson on how to eat this labor-intensive dish, scooping the dumpling with a plastic or porcelain spoon, boring a small hole in the top, and sipping first the soup and then the solid food. Chopsticks required.
Leaving Taipei, Treut takes her team to six other sites with names unfamiliar to us in New York—Shitiping (not a joke), Kaohsiung and Hsinpa, for example. In some of these establishments you can enjoy bouillabaisse from inside a tree trunk. Try to find that in Roslyn Heights, New York. Perhaps most exotic of all is the way that the Taiwanese chefs use roses—not on Valentine’s day but to eat directly or make into sushi.
Monika Treut, the fifty-eight-year-old filmmaker born in Mönchengladback, Germany, has previously given the world such documentaries as “Didn’t Do It For Love,” about Eva Norkind, a sex therapist known as Mexico’s Marilyn Monroe, and one of four sections of “Erotique,” dealing with sexuality. This is not unusual. If you question whether the pleasures of Taiwanese food can be equated those of sex, you’ll want to take in both “Erotique” and “The Raw and the Cooked.” If you’re familiar with one goody (likely) but not the other (also likely), take the sixteen-hour flight on Eva Airlines from JFK to Taipei and post a comment to this review.
Unrated. 83 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B