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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hassan's biggest competitor in this book is himself.
This book argues that competition with others always comes at a steep price.
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.
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.