The flight from Hamburg to Taipei is almost 12 hours long, but it’s a journey that German filmmaker Monika Treut has made more than 15 times.
The first time she visited Taiwan was in 2002 for a retrospective of her work at Taipei’s Women Make Waves Film Festival. Three years later, Treut released her first two documentaries set in Taiwan: Tigerwomen Grow Wings, which follows three generations of women during Taiwan’s 2004 presidential elections, and Made in Taiwan, a portrait of a 17-year-old Taiwanese dancer.
Following the 2009 release of Ghosted, a feature film about a Hamburg-Taipei love connection, Treut returned to the island to make a third documentary. The Raw and the Cooked: A Culinary Journey Through Taiwan, which will have its Canadian premiere during the Your Kontinent Richmond International Film and Media Arts Festival (July 20 to 22), takes a look at Taiwan’s vibrant and diverse food culture.
“In my previous films, plus the time I spent there in Taiwan, I realized how important food is for society and Taiwanese culture,” Treut tells the Georgia Straight when reached at her office in Hamburg. “One little example for that is they greet each other by saying, ‘Have you eaten yet?’ You know, that’s a very nice way of showing how important it is.”
In The Raw and the Cooked, Treut begins her culinary journey in Taipei, sampling traditional Taiwanese cuisine at the Taipei 101 skyscraper, watching how Chinese soup dumplings called xiaolongbao are made at Din Tai Fung restaurant, and checking out the myriad street-food vendors at night markets.
“People are used to having at least four to five meals a day,” Treut says. “After work, everybody goes out to the night markets, and some people stay out there until midnight or after midnight, sitting there, having snacks and drinks, and talking to each other. It’s a very important part of the social fabric of everyday life.”
As Treut leaves Taipei and moves on to other areas of Taiwan, the importance of agriculture and organic, sustainable produce becomes apparent, with chefs eager to adopt the farm-to-table movement and farmers markets popping up in areas like Hualien City, Kaohsiung, and Puli.
“The one thing that really amazed me was the diversity of food in terms of how many different vegetables they’re using—and they’re using everything,” Treut says. “They’re using every part of the animal when they eat meat, and they’re using every part of fish when they eat fish. It’s very beautiful. In western culture, we tend to throw away half of the animal or half of the fish.”
Treut counts time spent with Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples among some of her favourite memories from the monthlong filming process. In the documentary, an aboriginal family living in Shihtiping invites the filmmaker to a seafood feast where hot stones are used to cook the food. Later in Taitung, where wild boar and fish are the local specialties, Treut attends a music festival organized by another aboriginal group.
“I was really surprised about the different cooking styles,” Treut says. “It was a challenge for me because I love to eat but I’m not a food specialist, but I took the risk to just go for the ride as a foodie but not a food specialist.”
Although The Raw and the Cooked will undoubtedly attract foodies and travel enthusiasts, Treut hopes that viewers will ultimately uncover a sense of curiosity about and appreciation for Taiwan—similar to how she felt after her first encounter with the island a decade ago.
“I would just hope that people…get introduced to Taiwanese culture and get interested, because Taiwan is one of the places that people don’t know much about,” Treut says. “I’d like people to get introduced to the culture through the variety of food. I would just hope to raise the general interest in Taiwan and Chinese culture.”
The Raw and the Cooked will screen on July 21 during a special Dim Sum Movie presentation at Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant (2200–4540 No. 3 Road); the $35 admission fee includes a second movie, A Cup of Wine, and an eight-piece dim sum sampler. The Your Kontinent festival is organized by the City of Richmond and Cinevolution Media Arts Society, and features more than a dozen international films, multimedia performances, and workshops over three days at various Richmond venues.
Watch the trailer for The Raw and the Cooked.