Food Culture in Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie about a Chinese-American girl named Rachel Chu who travels to her boyfriend Nick Young’s hometown for his best friend’s wedding. Upon arriving, Rachel discovers the Youngs are one of the richest families in Singapore. As Rachel gets to know Nick’s family and friends, she learns about Asian culture and uncovers some secrets about her past as well. Because of Rachel's lower class background, she is constantly looked down upon and treated as a gold-digger. Although under the pressure of the jealous socialites and Nick's disapproving mother, Rachel firmly believes that money cannot buy love. Ignoring all the negative influences, Rachel eventually makes her decision to pursue the love that she desires.

The movie vividly portrays the extravagant lifestyle of the Young family, an extravagant lifestyle that few people have experienced. However, the unfamiliar lifestyle does not distance the audience from understanding the story or Asian culture. The movie finds a way to make connections with the audience through an integral part of every culture: food. Crazy Rich Asians not only presents the audience with fancy food at the Youngs’ dinner party, it also displays some of the street food that is enjoyed by common people in Singapore. Although food is not the emphasis of the movie, it plays an important role, serving as an effective channel through which to present Asian culture.

Food is considered to be the most important component of Asian culture. In Asia, people do not greet each other with the classic phrase “How are you?” Instead, a casual, everyday question “Have you eaten yet?” is used to start up a conversation. If your answer to this question is “no,” then you might be taken straight to a meal, just like Rachel is as soon as she gets off the plane. Once Rachel lands, the first scene that the movie presents to us is the Newton Food Centre, a major tourist attraction for Singaporean cuisine. Nick and his friends, Colin and Araminta, take Rachel to this famous hawker center to chat, bond, and have fun. The scene creates a huge contrast with the other scenes in the movie. Compared to the Youngs’ luxurious house and stylish clothes, this is one of the few moments where Nick and his friends dress like common people and hang out somewhere the average person could. At the outdoor night market, Nick and his friends welcome Rachel with affordable street food, such as satay, chili crab, and stir-fried noodles. This scene indicates that street food is an essential part of Asian culture, for it is enjoyed by people of all ranks. Through the image of street food, the movie successfully portrays the collision of two cultures in a harmonious way.

The movie creates a completely different atmosphere when introducing the high-grade food at the Young family’s dinner party. Although there are no specific shots of the food, the audience is offered a quick glimpse of it in the background when Nick introduces Rachel to his mother, Eleanor Sung-Young, in the family kitchen. It may seem unusual to the audience that Nick's mother, the head of the household, is supervising the cooking rather than greeting the guests. However, in Asian culture, mothers are always in charge of the kitchen. We see this value cherished by a rich family like the Youngs. In an extravagant party like this, food is representative of the family status. Therefore, every food item needs to be approved by Nick’s mother before it goes out to the guests. Compared to the street food, the food at the dinner party is meticulously prepared and carefully made. However, it is during this fancy meal that we also see the gradual buildup of the tension between Rachel and Nick’s family.

One of the most significant and intense scenes in the movie is when Rachel makes dumplings with Nick’s family. Dumplings hold a vital position in Asian culture. Unlike the food at the dinner party, the dumplings are made by the family themselves. It is a tradition that has been passed on through generations. The Young family enjoys making the dumplings because it creates time for them to sit down and talk to one another. Despite the peaceful atmosphere, Nick’s mother’s dissatisfaction with Rachel is obvious during this scene. When describing the tradition of making a dumpling, she criticizes Rachel’s undesirable background, suggesting that she is not a perfect match for Nick to pass on the tradition. The scene of dumpling-making serves as a foil to Rachel’s complicated emotions.

Food is involved in every detail of people’s lives. It is enjoyed in casual occasions, social situations, as well as family gatherings. In Crazy Rich Asians, food helps the audience understand Asian culture as well as the inner life of the characters. It also sheds light upon the portrayal of just how crazy and rich these Asians are.

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