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How Raya and the Last Dragon celebrates Southeast Asian food – our top dishes (and how to make them)

Cook up a meal fit for a princess with these Southeast Asian meals.

Raya and the Last Dragon
Published: Friday, 28th May 2021 at 11:28 am

Raya and the Last Dragon is Disney's first Southeast Asian adventure bringing with it rich culture, story-telling and plenty of mouth-watering food.

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The movie celebrates Southeast Asian culture, featuring traditional clothing such as Raya's salakot, martial arts such as Arnis and Muay Thai, and, of course, dragons - but the unlikely breakaway star was quite possibly the food.

The action-packed adventure movie will be available for all Disney Plus subscribers from 4th June and comes with a hopeful message to fill your heart as well as plenty of tempting tastes to get your stomach growling.

Breaking away from the usual, Raya and the Last Dragon offers more in the way of food than musical numbers or princely romances, with food acting as a metaphor for trust.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) sets off on a quest to save her land, Kumandra, which is under threat from the Druun, a mindless plague that turns everyone to stone. The land is split into five: Heart, Talon, Fang, Spine and Tail, turning the once peaceful harmonious world into a fractured struggling place. The people turn on one another, and it's up to Raya and the friends she meets along the way to save the day and regain that trust.

Here we take a look at the Kumandra inspired dishes you can try at home with your family.

How Raya and the Last Dragon celebrates Southeast Asian food

Much like food is integral to Southeast Asian culture, it's just as much of a key ingredient in the movie - Raya's father makes his version of Tom Yum while discussing plans to unite the five lands over a meal. Namaari gets emotional when Raya offers her rice, and Boun bonds with Raya by offering her a congee.

Food even features in the action scenes, with the "con-baby" Noi throwing fruit at Raya during the Talon market chase before they too bond over congee. Food is a symbol of unity throughout the movie - Raya's stubborn decision to eat only her own unpopular jerky on her quest represents her distrust of others, and sharing a meal is a key way in which Raya begins to open up and trust again, and eventually make allies from each of the five lands.

This was no accident - scriptwriter Adele Lim has said "when you look at everything that’s wonderful about our culture, and particularly our street food — which is the best in the world — it’s wonderful because of all these different elements. [Food] is also our language of love and our language of community."

Raya actress Kelly Marie Tran has also spoken about the film's focus on food in a promotional video, saying: "As [Raya] begins to learn to trust people she begins to share meals again and I think that that is really symbolic.

"Food is I think the one thing that can bring everyone together."

Unlike Sisu the dragon, however, many of the meals served in the movie are real, and we're getting hungry just thinking about it. So if you want to try a Raya inspired meal, we've rounded up the key dishes we see in Raya and the Last Dragon that will bring the family together.

Tom Yum

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya's father Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) plans to follow a very Southeast Asian tradition of discussing issues over food, planning to reunite the warring lands over a meal. The meal of choice - inspired by Thailand's Tom Yum soup - is very symbolic however as it includes the delicacies from each of the five lands: shrimp paste from Tail, lemongrass from Talon, bamboo shoots from Spine, chili from Fang and palm sugar from Heart.

These are all real ingredients, and we see Benja show Raya - and the audience - how to combine them to make a potentially unifying Kumandra dish. However, it appears using this dish as a metaphor had a very real-world origin - head of story Fawn Veerasunthorn was in a Thai cooking class when she realised that the combination of sweet, sour and spicy flavours was beautifully harmonious, and could reflect Benja’s vision for the Lands of Kumandra to coexist.

So if you too want to know what exactly Kumandra's coexistence tastes like, Benja very helpfully shows Raya - and the audience - how to combine these real-life ingredients.

If you'd like a bit more guidance, then BBC Good Food has a recipe by Masterchef judge John Torode. Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 300ml water
  • 6 sticks lemongrass
  • 4 fresh coriander roots
  • 110g fresh galangal
  • 8 tomatoes
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • Lime juice
  • 75ml tamarind water
  • 3 red chillies
  • 75ml fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 75g palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 12 raw tiger prawns
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Asian food specialist and Masterchef Australia winner Adam Liaw has his own take:

For this recipe, you'll need:

  • eschalots
  • broccoli
  • coriander leaves
  • fish sauce
  • garlic
  • kaffir lime leaves
  • lemongrass
  • limes
  • caster sugar
  • tomatoes
  • prawns
  • button mushrooms
  • prawn stock
  • red capsicums
  • bird's eye chillies
  • grated ginger

Congee

Raya and the Last Dragon

Congee is the first meal that Raya shares with other people in the film, finally beginning to trust after encountering street-savvy entrepreneur Boun and his boat restaurant 'The Shrimporium' in the Land of Tail. While the Shrimporium is sadly not a real restaurant as it is in the film, congee is a classic comfort dish in China and several other East Asian countries, made up of a thick rice porridge which usually has meat and vegetables added for extra flavour.

BBC Good Food has a Soy Egg Congee recipe you can try. For this recipe, you'll need:

  • 1 litre/2 pints chicken stock
  • 300ml/11fl oz water
  • 6 sticks lemongrass, lightly crushed
  • 4 fresh coriander roots, crushed
  • 110g/4oz fresh galangal, peeled and sliced (available from Asian supermarkets)
  • 8 tomatoes, cut into quarters, seeds removed
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1-2 limes, juice only
  • 75ml/3fl oz tamarind water (tamarind is available from Asian supermarkets. Soak the tamarind in hot water and push the pulp through a sieve to make tamarind water.)
  • 3 red chillies, thinly sliced
  • 75ml/3fl oz fish sauce (nam pla), or to taste
  • 75g/3oz palm sugar (available from Asian supermarkets), use brown sugar if unavailable
  • 12 raw tiger prawns, shelled, gutted and split in half
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander, leaves
  • 1 small bunch fresh Thai basil, leaves (available from Asian supermarkets)
  • lime wedges

Jackfruit Jerky

Raya and the Last Dragon

While no one liked Raya's rubbery jackfruit jerky in the film, that doesn't mean you can't make your own tasty version at home. BBC Good Food offer a vegan jerky alternative for those lacking jackfruit – unlike Raya, you should be able to share this one!

For the vegan jerky you'll need:

  • 140g vital wheat gluten flour
  • 115ml vegan low-salt beef or veg stock
  • 1 tbsp low-salt soy sauce
  • 2 tsp miso paste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp dark agave nectar or maple syrup
  • For the jerky sauce: 1 tbsp low-salt soy sauce, 1 tsp dark agave or maple syrup, ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp sesame oil

Nasi Lemak

Raya and the Last Dragon
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So this one isn't actually in the film, but rather inspired by the movie's message of family and togetherness. Masterchef Australia finalist and specialist in Asian-inspired pork dishes Sarah Tiong wanted to mix together several elements, textures and colours with this Malaysian dish, much like Benja did with his Tom Yum made from ingredients of the five lands. The recipe and ingredients can be found by swiping on her Instagram post:

Disney Plus is all new, all summer long, with Raya and the Last Dragon available to stream for all Disney Plus subscribers from 4th June.

In the meantime you can find something to watch with our best movies on Disney Plus or best series on Disney Plus guide.

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