The Dumpling Divide: Food and Family in Crazy Rich Asians
by Savanna Mathis
Jon Chu’s modern day romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), follows Chinese American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she travels with her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), to Singapore to meet his family. Upon her arrival, Rachel learns that she is much more out of touch with her Asian roots than she thought, feeling like an outsider among people of her own origin. One of the most prominent disconnects for Rachel is the importance of and many traditions surrounding food in Asian culture and specifically her boyfriend’s family.
One of the most enthralling scenes concerning food in this film comes when Nick and Rachel sit down with his family to make dumplings. As flour flies across the table and laughter fills the room, Rachel is amused by the “cuteness” of folding dumplings as her boyfriend demonstrates. But Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), is quick to burst Rachel’s bubble when she criticizes Rachel’s desire to chase her passions, emphasizing the importance of family and preserving traditions such as hand wrapping dumplings.
This debacle over dumplings not only emphasizes the importance of traditions, but also the importance of remaining in touch with one’s heritage. Although living in Singapore, Nick’s family is Chinese and their relationship with food is what keeps their heritage intact while being an immigrant family. Even though Rachel is Chinese as well, she does not understand their familial views because of her upbringing in the US and she has experienced less direct contact with Chinese culture.
This film and its relationship to food produce many lessons about family and culture. At first glance, food in this film appears to be a force of division and inflicting criticism on one’s way of life. But these food traditions actually promote love, growth, and togetherness. Although Rachel struggles to grasp the familial and cultural ties to dumplings and other foods throughout the film, these experiences give her the chance to grow in her Asian identity. This journey with food for Rachel only strengthens her love for Nick, allowing them to overcome their cultural divides.
Crazy Rich Asians, Dir. Jon Chu. Warner Bros. 2018.