DIR: Richard Fung | Canada | 2012 | 80 mins | English
Saturday, Nov 10, 4:30 PM | The Royal
Richard Fung lives out a fantasy for many “foodies”, as he travelled around the world to trace back one of his favourite dishes he ate as a child in Trinidad. The dish is “dal puri”, a type of roti bread that has a layer of lentils sandwiched inside.
It should be noted that Fung is of Asian heritage. His Asian family is representative of the demographic make-up in Trinidad: developed from migrant workers, indentured servants and slaves. Fung spends a considerable amount of time documenting the population development of Trinidad, mainly from India and Africa. He details the cultural, societal and economic struggles of these migrants and how they sought to adapt their food to a new environment. He travelled to Trinidad and India to trace back the origins of dal puri and at the same time was able to portray how food evolves from region to region and generation to generation.
So did Fung find his dal puri? Not really.
The dal puri he had in Trinidad remains in Trinidad. After his explorations, it can be said that his favoured version is an adaptation. The most native form of dal puri that he found in India was nowhere close to what he had in Trinidad. And maybe that’s the most fitting story. A dish that originated in India was adapted to suit the tastes and ingredients in Trinidad.
It would have been amazing for him to eat a more authentic version of his favourite, but maybe it’s not the original that appeals to him. We discover this as he tries different variations of dal puri and each time, it’s radically different from the Trinidadian counterpart. However, in discovering the roots of his favourite dish he was able to find out how food is not just nourishment but highly symbolic. A great example of this is from an Indian food expert who is helping Fung on his quest. He explained that there is a more rudimentary form of a dal puri called a “litti” which is seen as more common. When the Chief Minister came to power, he chose the litti as a symbol which represented the rise of the common man. Yet even though dal puri has a step up over litti, it’s referenced as a very homey dish. No one seemed to sell the dish on the streets, it was a dish that’s reserved for home and special occasions. So it seems fitting that a dish that has its place firmly ensconced in the home is his favourite.
Fung returns home to Toronto and explores local roti shops and how they have played an important role in the development of the Caribbean culture in the city. It was interesting to see how one dish that originated in India was transplanted and adapted in Trinidad and then eventually made its way to Toronto.
It was a great film that explored food and culture, but I found that I had to make the linkages myself. Fung presents the histories of migration, profiles of food experts and regional cooks, yet doesn’t push a strong enough narrative of what he’d like to convey. On one hand, this allows the viewer to interpret for themselves the story behind migrants and food. Yet, at times, I felt the film was unguided. The film is a feast for the eyes and I’m sure for Fung’s stomach and he did a considerable amount of research to trace the origins of the dish. Although satisfied, I still felt the hunger of wanting to know more—or at least a better understanding of how the images I watched fit together.
Billie-Ann is a communications professional based in Vancouver. She is a past contributor to Schema. When not writing, baking and catching up on her Twitter feed, she is a personal assistant to a 10 year old black and tan Shiba Inu named Koi. You can follow Billie-Ann on Twitter @tweetinteddy or Koi on Tumblr.