10 Foodie Experiences from Classic Movies
Food becomes a secondary character in these films
Role play the scene by visiting real-life restaurants that serve the featured fare.
Story by Erin Z. Bass
“I’ll have what she’s having” is arguably one of the most recognized lines in movie history. Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s 1989 “When Harry Met Sally” humorously explores the difference between men and woman and whether or not they can really be friends. Sally, played by Meg Ryan, is depicted as a picky eater who wants things the way she wants them. She’s eating a deli sandwich in the classic scene, proof that movie food scenes layer theme into cuisine.
Fights at the dinner table, holiday meals, budding romance and even violence all play a part in some of film’s most memorable food scenes. Sure, popcorn is always a great accompaniment to watching a movie, but sometimes films make us crave a piece of double fudge chocolate cake or fried green tomatoes instead.
When Harry Met Sally
In this 1989 film’s now infamous deli scene, Sally, played by Meg Ryan, reassembles her turkey sandwich and takes a bite, while Harry chews on his pastrami and tells her he thinks women have an okay time with him. “How do you know?” Sally asks. Implying that women fake orgasm, she puts down her sandwich, wipes her hands and proceeds to start moaning. By the time she is yelling, “Yes, yes, yes” and banging on the table, everyone in the restaurant is staring. She finishes her performance with a bite of coleslaw, and a woman at a nearby table (Director Rob Reiner’s mother) says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Sally’s quirky food habits run throughout the movie. She doesn’t like to eat between meals, she gets her salad dressing on the side, and takes an “hour and a half” to order a sandwich. Her explanation: “I just like it how I like it.”
Role Play: The scene was filmed in New York City at Katz’s Deli, which first opened in 1888 and was famous long before the movie set a scene in the place.
A Christmas Story
Ruined Christmas dinner will never be seen the same again after this classic holiday film’s family meal at Chop Suey Palace. Chinese food comes with a serenade of “fa ra ra ra ra” as mom, dad, Ralphie and Randy try to salvage what’s left of their holiday meal. Mom screams when they bring the whole Peking duck to the table, and dad says, “It’s smiling at me.” The server chops off the head, and everyone claps as the narration takes over to say: “That Christmas would live in our memories as the Christmas we were introduced to Chinese turkey. All was right with the world.”
Role Play: The scene was filmed at a restaurant in Toronto, Canada; the building still stands though Chop Suey Palace is now Batifole French restaurant. Fans can visit A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. If you crave peking duck, try Emperor’s Palace while in Cleveland. Odds are you can try the traditional dish close to home; it’s common to Chinese restaurants nationwide, from Confucius Chinese Cuisine in Rehoboth Beach, Deleware, to Peking Restaurant in San Francisco, California.
What’s not delicious about single mother Juliette Binoche moving to rural France to open a chocolate shop? She opens just in time for Lent, which the townspeople call shameless, but once she starts awakening their passions with her sweet treats, they keep coming back. Whether she’s icing a chocolate cake, putting chili pepper in hot chocolate or recommending chocolate sea shells, she transforms the small town with her chocolatier. According to IMDB, Binoche went to a chocolate shop in Paris to learn the ropes, and some of her creations were used in her chocolate festival scene. And if that’s not yummy enough, this film stars a young Johnny Depp as a gypsy.
Role Play: Craving chocolate? Check out these “10 Must-Try Chocolatiers in the U.S.A.”
Fried Green Tomatoes
Based on the novel by Alabama native Fannie Flagg, who also wrote the screenplay, this Southern favorite has everything going for it. Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker make up the lovable cast serving up fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Parallel story lines have Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy) telling Evelyn Couch (Bates) the story of Idgie, a young woman in 1920s Alabama. Idgie (Masterson) and her friend Ruth (Parker) open the café after Idgie leaves her violent husband, Frank. The restaurant becomes best known for its barbecue, which later factors into the plot when Frank mysteriously disappears. Of course, fried green tomatoes are on the menu as well, and Evelyn brings a plate of them to Ninny in the nursing home. There’s also a memorable scene with Evelyn involving cellophane. Towanda!
Role Play: Eat at The Whistle Stop Café in Juliette, Georgia. Props from the movie remain on display in the tiny town. See it all for free just a short walk away from the restaurant.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
The original 1967 version of this film revolves around the idea of an interracial marriage being discussed around the dinner table. A woman, Joanna, brings her new fiance, John (Sidney Poitier), home to meet her parents. He is black, she is white. Her parents are liberals but upset, and things escalate when John’s parents arrive for a steak dinner. Cocktail hour gives everyone a chance to share their views, and despite maid Tillie’s reservations about the whole thing, Joanna requests that she serve turtle soup and tournedos for what might be the most awkward on-screen dinner of all time.
Role Play: Though the scene wasn’t filmed here, you can enjoy turtle soup and filet mignon (a similar cut to tournedos) at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Opening with a champagne toast, this 2009 instant classic just keeps getting more and more delectable. Meryl Streep as divorced mom Jane owns a French bakery filled with croissants and pastries. She bakes three pies—apple, blueberry and plum—for a get together with her girlfriends to tell them she’s having an affair with a married man. That married man is her ex-husband, Jake, played by Alec Baldwin, but she’s also interested in her architect played by Steve Martin. She makes him croque monsieur in her gorgeous kitchen and serves it with a side salad and lavender honey ice cream, which Martin says is the “best dessert of any sort I’ve ever had, like, in my life.” Jane says she always makes ice cream when she can’t sleep. She also cooks Jake his favorite dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed string beans and double fudge chocolate cake. She’s high and eating a piece of that cake when Martin picks her up for her son’s graduation party. They go to her bakery after the party where she makes him chocolate croissants. We get a look at Jane’s garden toward the end of the movie—it’s gorgeous! Things don’t work out between Jane and Jake, but Steve Martin is still asking about those chocolate croissants as the movie closes.
Who can forget the Royale with Cheese? In Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson have a conversation about French fries and burgers. Travolta is telling Jackson about the differences between Europe and America. “You know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris?…They call it a Royale with Cheese.” He continues, “You know what they put on French fries in Holland instead of Ketchup? Mayonnaise.” More burgers enter into the film when the pair interrupts some kids having breakfast and Jackson asks if he can try their burger. “That is a tasty burger!” he exclaims. The movie’s second most memorable food scene involves Uma Thurman, a milkshake and a now-iconic dance. Travolta takes Thurman to the diner Jack Rabbit Slim’s where she orders the Five Dollar Milk Shake. Afterward, she tells him she wants to dance and they take the stage to Chuck
Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.”
Role Play: Inspired by the film, some restaurateurs opened eateries named “Jack Rabbit Slim’s,” but the scene was filmed in a constructed movie set not an actual restaurant. For an upscale burger and milkshake experience in Hollywood, California, consider 25 Degrees, which is open 24/7.
A rat cook dreams of becoming a great French chef at a Paris restaurant. It may not sound like any of those words should go together, but Disney/Pixar’s 2007 animated film is filled with delightful food scenes. Rat Remy befriends Linguini, a young garbage boy, and the two decide to pair up in the kitchen. Despite being an unwanted visitor, Remy wants to be “discovered” by his culinary hero Auguste Gusteau. Chef Thomas Keller served as food consultant on the film and allowed producer Brad Lewis to intern at The French Laundry for two days. He asked Keller how he would cook ratatouille if the most famous food critic in the world were to visit his restaurant. Keller decided to make the movie’s namesake dish in confit byaldi form, a fancier variation on the traditional French ratatouille, which is served to a pompous food critic at the end of the film.
Role Play: For a dining experience that is the stuff of dreams, head to The French Laundry in Yountville, California.
While this Southern film has many humorous scenes and one-liners, arguably the most memorable foodie scene features the groom’s cake at Jackson’s (Dylan McDermott) and Shelby’s (Julia Roberts) wedding: Shaped like an armadillo, the red velvet cake looks, as Shelby says, “Blood red!! People are gonna be hackin’ into this poor animal that looks like it’s bleedin’ to death.” Character Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), who’s been in a very bad mood for 40 years, gets the honor of cutting the groom’s cake at the reception. When Shelby’s daddy Drum comes up for a piece, she tells him she’s not speaking to him. He asks if they can call a truce long enough for him to get a piece of cake. She dramatically chops off the tail for him. He eyes it and says, “Nothin’ like a good piece of ass.” Shelby and her mother agree on one thing about the wedding: the groom’s cake is awful. Ouiser later tells a guest her piece looks like an “autopsy.” Despite its unappetizing appearance, imitations of the armadillo cake have run rampant since the film’s release in 1989.
Role Play: “Steel Magnolias” was filmed in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where fans can take a tour of filming sites or stay at the Steel Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast. As for the armadillo cake, Cinotti’s Bakery in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, makes them, bloody-looking insides and all.
Now a Broadway musical, this cult classic has Keri Russell, as unhappily married waitress Jenna, hoping to win a pie-baking contest so that she can use the prize money to leave her husband. Jenna works at Joe’s Pie Diner, where she is responsible for making unusual pies with names like “Bad Baby Pie,” a result of her unwanted pregnancy, and “I Hate My Husband Pie.” All in all, Jenna makes 18 different pies in the movie, ranging from quiche to spaghetti and pumpkin. She becomes known as a “pie genius” and does in fact win that contest, buy the diner and open a pie shop named after her daughter.
Role Play: There’s not really a Joe’s Pie Diner, but the movie is set in the American South, a region where tasty pie options abound. Here are just a few pies worth biting in to: buttermilk pie at The Yesterday Café in Greensboro, Georgia; pecan pie at Carolina Cider Company in Yemassee, South Carolina; mixed fruit pies at Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies in Mt. Airy, North Carolina; lemon icebox pie at Sherman’s Restaurant in Greenville, Mississippi; or any of the creations at The Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama.