Study Guide

The Hundred-Foot Journey Contrasting Regions: West vs. East

By Richard C. Morais

Contrasting Regions: West vs. East

And it was on these seats that I had my first taste of England: a chilled and soggy egg-salad sandwich wrapped in a triangle of plastic. It is the bread, in particular, that I remember, the way it dissolved on my tongue.

Never before had I experienced anything so determinedly tasteless, wet, and white. (2.105-106)

Hassan's first experience with Western civilization is a nasty tasteless piece of white bread. It's kind of the worst example of Western food, but it embodies the way he first feels about leaving the culture he knows.

Southall was the unofficial headquarters of Britain's Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi community, a flatland in the armpit of Heathrow Airport, its Broadway High Street a glittering string of Bombay jewelers, Calcutta cash-and-carries, and Balti curry houses. It was terribly disorienting, this familiar noise under the gray skies of England. (3.10)

Each of thee cultures may be beautiful on their own, but when you squish them together its unnatural and ugly. Or so it seems here. This is interesting when we consider the fact that ultimately Hassan figures out how to navigate a blended cultural existence.

I can still recall that wondrous first glimpse of Le Saule Pleureur. It was, to me, more stunning than the Taj in Bombay. [Everything fit perfectly, the very essence of understated European elegance that was so completely foreign to my own upbringing]. (4.125)

Hassan is mesmerized by this new world. He compares it to the splendor of India because that's all that he knows, even though France is totally different. In his eyes, it's the grandest thing he's ever laid eyes on.

Maison Mumbai, written in massive gold letters on an Islamic green background, filled the entire billboard. (6.30)

Papa chooses a name for his new restaurant that blends both worlds seamlessly. "Maison" is French for house, and "Mumbai" is their home in India. It's a perfect merging of two cultures, and lays claim to both as homes. Go, Papa.

It was a look I would see many times again as I made my way through France in the coming years—a uniquely Gallic look of nuclear contempt for one's inferiors (6.7)

Hassan experiences European prejudice toward his people for the first time when Mallory looks across the street and glares at her new neighbors. He doesn't often mention it as seriously as he does here, but he's telling us that it's something that he sees many times afterwards.

How could I tell him, moreover, how could I tell him that I found myself secretly and passionately wanting to be a part of this pig-butchering underworld? (6.153)

Hassan is fascinated by the butchery ceremony he sees at Mallory's, complete with the priest blessing the animal being slaughtered. He's not thinking of turning from his Islamic roots, but he's fascinated by the world outside of it.

I was—I don't mind admitting it—completely rattled by the austere room, so Catholic and foreign to my upbringing, and a voice in my head, half-hysterical, urged me to dash back to the safety and comfort of my cheerful bedroom in Maison Mumbai. (12.4)

The culture clash is really scary for Hassan when he goes to live in Mallory's European home. It seems dark ands morbid compared to the bright colorful world he's used to. In other words, this Western Christianity comes from a totally different mold than what he's used to.

The side dishes I prepared were a mint-infused couscous, rather than the traditional butter noodles, and a cucumber-and-sour-cream salad dashed with a handful of lingonberries. I thought together they would make soothing and light counterpoints to the heavy mustard tang of the stewed hare. Of course, now, looking back, I realize the cucumber and cream was, conscious or not, inspired by raita, the yogurt-and-cucumber condiment of my homeland. (12.176)

At his first chance to prepare a dish in Mallory's kitchen, Hassan is subconsciously inspired by both cultures, creating his own unique fusion of flavors. Early on, Hassan is using the two cultures he hangs out in to create his own new style.

It was logical, with my heritage, that I would be drawn to Chef Mafitte's "world cuisine", which seemed to revel in combining the most bizarre ingredients from the most exotic corners of the earth. (14.13)

Hassan's diverse background has made him open to new ideas in his field. He is able to recognize the creative elements of Chef Mafitte's style, even if he doesn't agree with his full approach in the end.

Could it be? But there it was, the unmistakable aroma of my youth, joyously coming down a cobblestone side passage to greet me, the smell of machli ka salan, the fish curry of home, from so long ago. (19.26)

As Hassan is returning home after winning his third star, he finds himself drawn to the smell of a tiny Indian restaurant. It brings back memories of India from long ago, and after all these years he still finds it the most comforting smell in the world. We've said it once, but we'll say it again: You can take the boy out of India but you can't take the India out of the boy.