More than anywhere else, food in Asia is something that is weaved into our lives through tradition, custom and upbringing.
We look forward to certain must-have dishes at family get-together and festivities; and there are certain recipes that have been passed down through the generations that are just as valuable as a physical heirloom.
It is these and more that the new HBO original anthology drama series, Food Lore, looks into.
Consisting of eight stories, each hour-long episode takes place at a location in Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines – and explores the characters’ emotional journey, with the common factor being Asian cuisines. The series kicked off with a story set in the Philippines on Nov 3,2019.
The Malaysia episode titled Stray Dogs will air on Dec 22,2019. Directed by Ho Yuhang (Mrs K), it has actors Wilson Tin (Lee Chong Wei: Rise Of The Legend) and Fabian Loo (Fly By Night) playing a bad-tempered cook and an ambitious young salesperson respectively.
The two characters first meet at Chef Maki’s restaurant, a nondescript eatery located at a shopping mall, where young Tim is trying to convince a patron to invest in his multi-level marketing business, only to get thrown out from the restaurant by Maki himself.
But Tim comes back to the restaurant with a business plan involving Maki making a lot of money if he’s willing to hand over his secret sambal recipe.
Over the course of Tim’s visits to Maki’s restaurant, they form an unlikely friendship.
Ho, who also wrote the script, summed up food as something that brings people together.
“The idea of exploring a relationship between a young man and an older man, kind of like a mentor, was something I have never done before. It sounds like a typical plot, but it’s not that easy, ” said the director. The challenge was finding layers to the characters, to the dialogue, as well as making the subject relevant to our current society.
“I think a lot of young people are unsure what to do in life. Sure, if you go into business, you can make a lot of money, but is that what you are passionate about? Sometimes you may think this is what you should do, but it may not be right for you.
“Then we have this older person, who pays more attention to making his dishes from scratch than he is about making money. (That dedication) is something I feel we are slowly losing in today’s environment.
“I wanted to showcase an outcome when these two people come together, ” added Ho.
For Tin, playing a cook wasn’t that hard at all as he owns a restaurant in Puchong, Selangor, where the speciality just happens to be sambal udang petai.
“I have always liked to cook from a young age, which is how I started a restaurant.
“But I must say that my cooking has improved because of Food Lore, ” said Tin, explaining that the way he holds the wok and flips the food in the wok weren’t good enough for the production, so he relearnt that skill for the series.
Loo, 29, said the difficult part about acting in this series was eating the dishes during the shoot.
He recalled: “I thought that filming scenes of me eating would be easier than doing a physical scene. But after this shoot, I realise that eating scenes are way tougher because when you are full, you are full.
“I mean, when you are tired, you can still push yourself to go further, but there’s not much you can do when you are full. I had to take some (laxative) to ease my digestive system, ” he explained.
Both Loo and Tin said they are proud to be part of Stray Dogs as it carries a positive message.
Tin said: “What I like about my character is, he is someone who’s changed the course of his life for the better. He has a dark past, but he broke free from that, and – although he doesn’t say much – he genuinely goes out of his way to help this young guy.”
Loo continued: “And I feel, at the end of it, Maki gains something from his friendship with my character as well.”
As for how they view food, Tin sees it as an identity. He said: “The food that you get in Malaysia is unlike anywhere else. Yes, we share some dishes with Hong Kong, China and other countries but there are slight differences.”
And Loo’s take is: “I think food allows people to celebrate differences. You can cook your way, and I can cook my way, and although it is different, it’s still OK. With food, we truly appreciate the differences.”
Food Lore airs on Sunday at 10pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411).
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