I love Chinese food; I love Taiwanese food. The 2001 “Tortilla Soup” is based on the 1994 film “Eat Drink Man Woman” (飲食男女). If you take time to watch either film, you’ll want to either have food ready before hand or have enough time afterward to fulfill your cravings. These are films about family and food and you won’t want to see them and go hungry.
The title of the Taiwanese movie drew from a quote “飲食男女，人之大欲存焉” from the “Book of Rites” which translates as “Eat Drink Man Woman; Human desires.” Directed by Ang Lee and written by Lee with James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang, the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The basic human desire are having good food, a good family and love.
Written by Tom Musca, Ramón Menéndez (“Stand and Deliver”) and Vera Blasi, this romantic comedy centers on semi-retired Mexican American chef Martin Naranjo (Héctor Elizondo) whose three adult daughters still live in his suburban Los Angeles home. Since his wife’s death, he has lost his sense of smell and taste, but still insists on cooking wonderful meals for his daughters–Leticia (Elizabeth Peña), Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) and Maribel (Tamara Mello)–and friends.
Amongst the friends are new potential lovers. The eldest daughter, Leticia, is a high school chemistry teacher who hasn’t found love but is about to be matched up by her students with the goofy, but good-hearted baseball coach, Orlando Castillo (Paul Rodriguez). Carmen has the curse of the middle child–trying to be more suitably ambitious by training as a business analyst with international potential although she really dreams of owning a restaurant and becoming a chef. The youngest daughter is the impulsive Maribel who falls in love with Brazilian Andy (Nikolai Kinski), but wants to move too fast.
Newly divorced family friend Yolanda (Constance Marie) is a constant visitor at the Naranjo home and Martin strikes up a friendship with her daughter April (Marisabel Garcia). Yolanda’s visiting mother Hortensia (Raquel Welch) is also unmarried and pursues Martin.
Some of these couples come together for a happy ending but not all will end up happy. Martin will, of course, find love and his sense of smell and taste will also reawaken.
“Tortilla Soup” didn’t get any Oscar nods, but is a charming film, nonetheless. For Los Angelenos, it has a feeling of cozy familiarity. It was shot in El Segundo and other parts of Los Angeles County. The meals featured were prepared by celebrity chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Foodie fans may feel a pang in their stomaches as the Two Hot Tamales chefs closed their Ciudad. The pandemic has resulted in the closure of the Downtown location of Border Grill (You can still get meal kits from their for curbside service but it is pricy). You won’t be able to get a good tortilla soup though.
“Tortilla Soup” is currently streaming on Netflix.