New York Food Film Fest - I ♥ Japan
What if movie theaters offered more than just popcorn and nachos? I mean, those are pretty good snacks, all things considered, but...what if you could also have beer and wine brought to your seats during your movie? What if you were served fried chicken and ramen during intermission?
The New York Food Film Festival makes that a reality. What sets this film festival apart from others is that it features short independent films that are food-centric. Then, you get to eat what you see on screen, literally. This festival is a great vehicle for filmmakers, a venue to preview their films and get credit where credit is due; I know that sounds cliche, but I was intrigued by many films I saw and I will definitely be looking into these filmmakers' other works.
The event that we attended was called I ♥ Japan. Proceeds from the tickets went towards New York City Food Bank and the Japan Tsunami Relief Fund. As the title of the event suggests, we saw some cool films about Japanese food and tasted some pretty wicked Japan-influenced creations.
There was a little preview party beforehand where we got to sample cheese-yaki (real takoyaki to come after the film), beef carpaccio, and sardines. Takoyaki is that fried ball of batter that usually contains a chunk of octopus, though you can get non-octopus ones too, like Alex did at Smorgasburg earlier this summer. I liked seeing the chef's meticulous work drizzling batter and flipping balls. The cheese-yaki were mouth-searingly hot, but pretty good. The thin charred exterior gave way to a gooey cheese center, though I nearly destroyed my taste buds. Waiters also brought around thin strips of near-raw beef wrapped around scallion stalks. They weren't very flavorful or notable, but served as an interesting-looking snack food. Finally, I gathered my courage to have a sardine straight out of the tin. Though I'm not really phobic of many foods, I'm not such a fan of salted fish. After the chef assured me it was not fishy or salty or funky, I took a bite of the chickpea garnish and decided, okay, it's not nasty after all. Then I took a bite of the cold fish. It wasn't bad...it wasn't life-changing, but it wasn't bad. It certainly wasn't funky, and its flavor was kind of masked by the tomato chunks accompanying. The texture was a little strange because I was aware I was eating the sardine's tiny little bones. While edible, it wasn't entirely a pleasant eating experience.
Something that was a life-changing eating experience, however, came with the second film: Liza de Mosquito Guia. This film was about tebasaki, Japanese fried chicken. Oh my God. The film basically interviewed the personnel at the restaurant, Kasadela, about their unique fried chicken. This dish is originally from the Nagoya region of Japan and consists of chicken, marinated in soy sauce and garlic, dropped into a fryer sans batter. The skin itself crisps up, and then is drenched in a sauce that is additionally soy-sauce-ish and garlicky. Volunteers brought out the chicken during the film and I totally lost focus. The smells that were wafting were just incredible: I never really understood the word umami until then. The aroma of the garlic was so thick; it's like that scene in Ratatouille where the rat is describing flavors with colors exploding behind him in thick swishes. I waited a painstaking few minutes for the film to end before I bit into the drumstick. Delicious. Salty. Garlicky. Crispy, although not as crunchy as it would have been had it been breaded in panko or something. So amazing. Finger-licking, bone-sucking goodness. I was already making plans to visit Kasadela's location in the East Village. (p.s. Julia, if you are reading this, their restaurant is near where you live, so shout-out to you!)
We watched another film, Kris Brearton, about takoyaki which featured a small restaurant, Otafuku, also in the East Village, that I've actually been to before. Well, I don't know if you can categorize it as a restaurant because it's like 10 square feet in total, but they serve a mean takoyaki. Plus, the chef there is just so visibly passionate about making tons and tons of balls all day for drunk or hungover college students (they're like right next to NYU) and it was really moving.
Next, we saw a film, Ramen Dreams, by Michael McAteer, about (wanna take a guess?) ramen! I didn't know someone could be so passionate about ramen until I saw the people involved in this film, both the filmmaker and the chefs and the, well, rabid ramen enthusiasts. I mostly know ramen to be something I make out of a freeze-dried bundle of noodles and powdered broth, and I appreciate ramen as much as the next person, but the accompanying little bowl of ramen might change my perspective. We had to wait a long time for the chefs to make the bowls to order, basically, but it was so worth it. I re-scorched all my taste buds but still managed to taste the super-saturated savory flavor from the broth. The noodles, oddly, were much thinner than I've seen in ramen; they seem more like the yellow egg noodles I've had in Chinese dishes. But the broth, man that broth was good. Again, the flavor and texture was so impossibly thick. We saw from the film that they cook down entire animal skeletons to make the soup base, so I was impressed that they managed to bottle this explosive flavor from the original ramen shop in Japan all the way to the Big Apple.
Finally, the last film was New York Cooks for Tohoku, by Anne Madden. This film was about top-notch chefs volunteering an enormous amount of time and effort cooking a meal for victims of the earthquake/tsunami last year. They attempted to use Japanese influences to make some stunning dishes for a couple of thousand people. I have to admit, I teared up a bit during this film. Each country's citizens have their (un)fair share of hardship, but particularly seeing the faces of this tragedy - the adorable kids slurping on noodles to the elderly woman sitting on the grass and humbly accepting food cooked by people at restaurants where others would pay big bucks to eat...wow. It was very moving. What was even cooler was that we got to sample some of the dishes afterwards. We had a seared tuna with sesame sauce, cold noodle salad with pureed tuna sauce, little cones filled with eggplant and topped with pureed salmon, and a little shot glass with a sea scallop, sea urchin roe, and wasabi. All the food was pretty amazing and I was practically giddy, but my favorite thing was the seared tuna: the seared edge took on this salty, meaty texture, and yet the center was still translucent and chewy as raw tuna tends to be. I could have eaten a few slabs of this!
And so, this year's Food Film Fest draws to a close and I'm already excited for next year's!