TV Review – Street Food: Season One

TL;DR – This is a fascinating series exploring the food and people that make up some of the most interesting cities in Asia.  

Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars

Street Food. Image Credit: Netflix.

Review

If you have read my reviews in the past you could probably tell that I am a sucker for a good food documentary. A documentary that explores the origins of a dish, or the people that make it, or the cultural context it exists in. Well, today we get a show that does all three with Street Food. When you think of street food, what first comes to mind? Well for a long time for me it was that kebab shop that is open to late in the morning or that one chip store I found in Sydney that one time. However, as I have started to travel I have found it is much, much, much more than that, and this is what we will be exploring today.

So to set the scene, today we delve into the street food cultures of eight different cities across Asia. Some of these locations are quite well known like Bangkok, Osaka, Delhi, Seoul, and Singapore, as well as some less well-known places like Chiayi, Yogyakarta, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We see the foods that mark each of these cities and the people that make them. We discover the Fish-head Stew of Chiayi, the Crab Omelette of Bangkok, or the Putu Piring of Singapore. But more than this we explore the cities, their history, their relationship with food, and what it means for the people who make/eat it.   

Street Food. Image Credit: Netflix.
The beauty of food is on full display. Image Credit: Netflix.

We live in an ever-changing world, and nowhere can you see that more than in Asia. As cities rapidly develop there is the tension between keeping the character of the past while still marching forward. You see this tension in nearly every episode. In some cases, it is through governmental intervention like in Bangkok, or in other cases, it is more personal like the shifted times of different generations. There are times when maybe this seems like a good idea, which we see with the Three Day Goat Stew, a meal that hurts the people that make it. However, in the drive to make things better, it doesn’t mean we should lose what makes us special. We should also not be opposed to new ideas, because all street food was new at some point.

The heart of Street Food is not just the food but the people that make them. Throughout the show, we get to meet eight people doing wonderful things with food. Entoy who makes a sea ell soup that is apparently an aphrodisiac, Yoonsun who has perfected knife cut noodles, Toyo who works out of a converted carpark. It is their stories as much as the food that gives you context into the world of street food. It is also a very different world to the one I was brought up in, by focusing on Asia in the first series we see that weight of tradition and the strength and obligations that come from being part of a family. One thing I really liked about the show is while each episode has a core person that they follow, we get to see the food and lives of many different people in each of the cities. This helps give the food histories of the place context, as well as some actual history for those who don’t know about Asia’s past. These are living places, with a history which is expressed through food.

Street Food. Image Credit: Netflix.
It brought me back to exploring places in Japan and Korea and finding these little stalls selling wonderful things. Image Credit: Netflix.

Of course when looking at a documentary series like this how you show the subject of the documentary can be just as important as the what. Here is another area with Street Food excels. There is an intimacy with which they get to know the people who they are looking at and how they reveal their stories. This is a show that will keep the camera lingering just that little bit longer before cutting to the next scene to let that emotional moment hit. As well as this, if you have seen David Gelb & Brian McGinn’s work before, you know they know how to weaponise a sunset, and that is on full display here. I liked all the little touches, like the individualised graphics introducing each of the locations and people. Also how the music is this weird combination of local sounds and really old fashioned styles, like I think at one point they were rocking the electric organ and slide guitar.

While all shows should be able to stand on their own merits, and indeed Street Food does, you can’t help but see the DNA of past projects in here. This feels like a refinement of Chef’s Table, which was, in turn, a refinement of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. You can see how they both tightened up the storytelling while also branching out and telling more of the broader story of the area. If there is one thing holding the show back, it is some technical issues that at the time of writing are still live. When I watched the first number of episodes, there was this odd thing where sometimes it would not present the original audio but this really bad dub that took the wind out the show. It was an easy fix, but when I went to watch the rest, that option was removed and you could only view the dubbed version. I have no problem with dubs (when they are done well, which these are not) and I am glad that they are there because for some people subtitles are not an option. However, that should be there as an option and it does the show a great disservice, especially when it is clear that there is a better option available. I can imagine this is even more frustrating if you were from those regions and were forced to hear an English dub over it all (Note: This has since been fixed).

Street Food. Image Credit: Netflix.
It is not just the story of food, but the people who make it their lives, and the cities it helps craft. Image Credit: Netflix.

In the end, do we recommend Street Food? Yes, yes we do. Technical issues aside, which I hope they fix really quickly. I really enjoyed my time exploring the streets of cities across Asia. It made me reminisce of my time exploring Japan and Korea and stumbling across these little stalls selling new and wonderful things. As a concept, this feels like the next step along from Chef’s Table, and I think it really works, and I would be interested to see where they visit next.               

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you seen Street Food yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.   


Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Street Food
Created by – David Gelb & Brian McGinn
Production/Distribution Companies – Supper Club, Boardwalk Pictures & Netflix.
Featuring – Yoonsun Cho, Florencio ‘Entoy’ Escabas, Jay Fai, Grace, Aisha Hashim, Dalchand Kashyap, Thái Thị Kim Phượng ‘Truoc’, Mbah Satinem & Toyo

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