Study Guide

The Hundred-Foot Journey Themes

  • Cooking

    Food is the heart and soul of The Hundred-Foot Journey, and the thing that pulls Hassan back and forth across cultural lines. His family uses food to bring their Indian culture to the little French town of Lumière—hello, tension—and a key component of Hassan's process of coming into his own is figuring out how to strike a balance between the food he's grown up with and the food that's revered by the French culinary world. Add to this the fact that Hassan elevates cooking to true artistry—he's nothing if not a master—and we've got ourselves this theme.

    Questions About Cooking

    1. Do the types of memories Hassan has go along with certain types of foods? For example, are the happy memories remembered by delicious good food while the bad memories are marked by nasty food? Or is it maybe all the same?
    2. Do you think that Hassan experiences the world through food and cooking at the expense of experiencing the world in other ways? Do you think that because he is so obsessed with becoming a chef he misses out on some of life's other important experiences?
    3. Do his associations and memories change as Hassan moves around the world? Does his sense as an artist evolve with his changing surroundings?

    Chew on This

    Hassan's appetite for success isn't satisfied until he stops worrying about what other people think and starts cooking for himself.

    Hassan's appetite for success isn't satisfied until he is widely celebrated by other people; it's all about external validation for this dude.

  • Contrasting Regions: West vs. East

    Born in India and from an Indian family, Hassan finds himself navigating European culture for much of his adult life in The Hundred-Foot Journey. This straddling of two very different cultures—we're talking food, religion, and more—is something Hassan struggles to strike the right balance with throughout the story. Whereas Hassan's father and sisters stick to their Indian ways of life throughout the novel, Hassan adapts much more of the European ways. It isn't until he adopts what he learns from both worlds and creates a synthesis between them, though, that Hassan really stands tall.

    Questions About Contrasting Regions: West vs. East

    1. By the end of the book, does Hassan seem to become more French than Indian? Do you think there are aspects that he takes of both cultures? Which aspects and why?
    2. Hassan's sister Mehtab moves with him to Paris and helps him run his business. How does she assimilate herself into French life compared to him?
    3. How do the two cultures influence Hassan's career? 
    4. Hassan talks about Lumière being the turning point between his past and his future. How do the two cultures form his becoming an adult in Lumière?

    Chew on This

    Food is a metaphor in this book for the difficulty of being out of your element culturally.

    Food is a metaphor in this book for the fact that we are all comprised of a variety of cultural ingredients.

  • Family

    Family is a huge priority in The Hundred-Foot Journey, and Hassan places himself within the context of his family legacy from the very first page when he introduces his own story with the story of his grandfather's "great hunger" (1.3). This familial context stays strong through to the last page, when Hassan says that the success of earning his third star fulfills "the hungry space of generations ago" (20.80). In short, it's really important to Hassan that he is part of a larger picture, which makes him who he is.

    The Haji family is a unit throughout the story, even when Hassan strikes out on his own. Papa's words—"'Remember sweet boy, you are a Haji. Always remember. A Haji'" (11.154)—stay with him through every important moment of his life. The closeness and connection of family is a gift that Hassan never lets go, and it helps guide him every step of the way.

    Questions About Family

    1. Do you think Hassan ever strays away from his family, or does he remain as close to them throughout the book?
    2. How does family impact Hassan's career? 
    3. Do you think that his family is the main reason for Hassan's fascination with food? Why or why not? 
    4. Do you think that the Haji family dynamic would have stayed the same if they had remained in India?

    Chew on This

    At its core, this book is more about family than food.

    Family's great and all, but Hassan has to step away from the Haji unit in order to come into his own.

  • Admiration

    Hassan has lots of heroes in The Hundred-Foot Journey. He's the perfect student because he readily looks up to the leading figures in his life: Papa, Mama, Paul Verdun, and even Madame Mallory. And since Hassan doesn't have a big ego, he firmly believed that his success is thanks in large part to those who have helped him along the way; as such, he admires the heck out of these folks.

    Even after his mentors die—and importantly, they all do, thereby forcing Hassan to take the lead in his life—a part of them stays with him, constantly pushing him to be a better person than he was before.

    Questions About Admiration

    1. Which figure does Hassan admire the most? 
    2. Is there a character that Hassan consistently does not admire throughout the story? Why or why not?
    3. Does Hassan always admire the right people or do false heroes at some point lure him?
    4. By the end of the story, does Hassan become a figure that others admire as well?

    Chew on This

    Hassan's willingness to recognize the skill and talent in others makes him worthy of being looked up to in his own right.

    Hassan's success is primarily due to the fact that he has good role models throughout his life.

  • Tradition

    In The Hundred-Foot Journey, Hassan's profession faces a good amount of change. Cultural shifts aside (more on that elsewhere in this section), he's brought into this super traditional legacy of French cuisine that's been passed down for centuries, and which he grows to love However, when he gets a bit older, the new chefs on the block are getting rid of the old ways in favor of new avant-garde approaches. Paul Verdun, who built his empire on the old ways, can't adapt, and Hassan struggles to decide if there is a place for tradition and change at the same, er, table.

    Questions About Tradition

    1. Why do you think the author creates all the tension about the tradition of French cuisine, when it isn't even Hassan's native culture?
    2. Does Hassan decide in the end that the old ways, the new ways, or a mixture of both is best?
    3. Can Paul Verdun be considered a martyr to tradition? Is it worth the fight?
    4. How does Hassan's upbringing give him strength to decide for himself what is worth saving from the old ways and what is worth adopting of the new?

    Chew on This

    Ultimately, Hassan forsakes both the old ways and the new in favor of creating his own culinary space that focuses on simplicity.

    This book issues a stern warning about being too attached to tradition, which we see best in the prices Mallory and Verdun pay for their resistance to moving forward.

  • Prejudice

    The idea of some people being better than others is an issue that rears its ugly face from time to time throughout The Hundred-Foot Journey. Sometimes prejudice is based on who has more money, but other times the conflict is based more on differences of race or religion. So when the family lives in Mumbai, we see them dealing with a growing upper class that they just aren't a part of, but when they arrive in France, we can't help but sense that part of Mallory's displeasure in their arrival is based on their Indian identity.

    Prejudiced comments are thrown into the dialogue from time to time but the author doesn't dwell on them. We move on through the plot while this issue stays in the background, which is exactly how prejudice seems to operate in their lives.

    Questions About Prejudice

    1. Are all the types of prejudice in the story fundamentally connected? Why or why not?
    2. Do you think that Hassan is ever at a true disadvantage because of his race? What characters are most disadvantaged because of the prejudice of others?
    3. How does Madame Mallory resolve feelings of prejudice by the end of her life? 
    4. Are prejudice issues resolved by the end of the story? If not resolved completely, how do things come together in the end?

    Chew on This

    Prejudice is a major hurdle that Hassan must overcome in order to truly make it in the culinary world.

    Prejudice—like the old ways of cooking—is on its way out, so it isn't too big of a problem for Hassan on his path to success.

  • Competition

    Hassan is constantly caught in the crossfire of those willing to do anything to get ahead, whether it's Papa and Mallory's competitive fighting that lands him in a burning stove or, later on in life, cooking in the dog-eat-dog world that kills his friend Paul and threatens to put an end to Hassan as well. So is competition a good thing in The Hundred-Foot Journey? We're thinking it isn't, at least not when it comes to competition between people. Insofar as Hassan is competitive with himself and always trying to up his game, though, well, we think it works out just fine.

    Questions About Competition

    1. Would Hassan be able to succeed at what he does without having a competitive personality?
    2. Usually bad things happen when people get really competitive in this book. Is there a situation where competition ends well?
    3. Does Paul Verdun fall into ruin because he is overly competitive, or is it because he foolishly doesn't think that he has competition at all? 
    4. Do you think that Hassan does not have to be competitive because his friends do the dirty work for him? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Hassan's biggest competitor in this book is himself.

    This book argues that competition with others always comes at a steep price.

  • Coming of Age

    Learning is the essence of life in The Hundred-Foot Journey. One of Hassan's main traits is that he's open to the world around him, and he takes each experience as an opportunity to better understand both the world around him and the part he plays—or wants to play—in it. The story is speckled with epiphanies, both big and small, and as our narrator, Hassan constantly foregrounds these moments that change him and help him become who he is by the end of the book. In other words, he isn't just open to change—he places a premium value on coming into his own.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. Which is more the focus of the story: Hassan becoming an adult or becoming a chef? 
    2. Does Hassan continue to come of age after he moves to Paris?
    3. Compare Hassan's coming of age story to others that you have read. How is it similar and how is it different? 
    4. Out of his life experiences, which events help Hassan grow the most?

    Chew on This

    Hassan's stages of development correspond to the four different parts of the book, and each of the places he lives brings him closer to his maturation as an artist.

    At its core, this book isn't about food half as much as it's about learning to carve your own path through life.