TL;DR – A fascinating look into Latin American food and culture.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
A couple of years ago, we got the next evolution in David Gleb’s food documentaries with Street Food Asia. It explored a side of the different countries that you don’t usually see. It delved into everything from food, culture, history, governmental practices and more through the lenses of these street vendors. Today we dive back into this series with a look at its next destination Latin America.
So to set the scene, we jump across Latin America from Las Chicas de la Tres in Buenos Aires, Argintina, Ré Restaurante, in Salvador, Brazil, Memelas Doña Vale in Oaxaca, Mexico, Al Toke Pez in Lima, Peru, Tolú in Bogotá, Columbia & Rellenos de Doña Emi in La Paz, Bolivia. Every episode takes a glimpse into the cities and the food that drives them.
I have enjoyed David Gleb’s work since I first stumbled across Chef’s Table, so I have appreciated this new spin on the documentary that is both broader and yet often more personal as well. It explores the story of the chef they are focusing on and their food like Doña Emi’s Rellenos deep fried mash potatoes filled with meat which I 100% want to get my hands on because they look delicious. They also explore the food scenes of each of the places that they visit and what drives them. This means looking at the culture, the history, the religion, the gender relations and more. All of this focused through the prism of food, much like how Cynthia Enloe studied global politics by looking at the lives of those who live near military bases in Bananas, Beaches and Bases.
Where this series excels is in the people it chose to feature in its episodes. The series focuses mostly on women and features people that don’t usually get covered from ethnic minorities, Indigenous populations, and migrant communities. This gives us insights into worlds you would not always see and lets the series explore issues of colonisation. Through Donna Suzana, we get to see a slice of Africa in Brazil and everything that comes from that. These are also deeply personal stories exploring Toshi’s relationship with his father, the pressures of being a single mother in a society that assumes you will be married, and also that time that Doña Emi put the smackdown on a jealous street vendor that wanted her gone.
Of course, while it is exploring the culture and people’s lives, it is also exploring the food first focusing on the key dish from each of the street vendors on show but then expanding into the food culture of the cities. It is here where you learn about Buenos Aires’ stuffed pizzas, or the use of Dende oil,tamales, empanadas, and more. This is not a series that you should watch on an empty stomach because the food is that good. I mean they make beans look appetising, and I hate beans.
While the series is exciting and engaging, some moments ripped you out of the stories in places. There is a consistent style throughout the episodes that works most of the time but not in every situation. For example, after the title card they transition to a map of the country and there the city they are exploring is. Which is not usually an issue but when you show Argentina’s borders to include the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas … well, that begins wading into a conflict that wars have been fought over (to be fair, there is no right answer here because leaving it out or putting it in is going to upset someone). Also, because the episodes are quite short and cover a lot of material, there is a tendency for them to gloss over things for the sake of time. This is not usually an issue, and it is surprising just how much they cover in each episode. But it can and does lead it issues like them hand waving genocide off in one sentence which needed a bit more time to develop.
In the end, do we recommend Street Food Latin America? Yes, yes we would. It is a fascinating look at several cities and food cultures across Latin America. It is also focusing on some fantastic people and their struggles. Given how well they have gone in first Asia and now Latin America, I can’t wait to see where they go 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.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Street Food
Created by – David Gelb & Brian McGinn
Directed by – Tamara Rosenfeld & Daniel Milder,
Production/Distribution Companies – Supper Club, Boardwalk Pictures & Netflix.
Featuring – Pato Rodriguez, Suzana “Donna Suzana” Sapucaia, Valentina “Dona Vale” Hernández, Tomás “Toshi” Matsufuji, Luz “Mamá Luz” Cogollo & Emiliana “Doña Emi” Condori.
Episodes Covered – Buenos Aires, Argentina; Salvador, Brazil; Oaxaca, Mexico; Lima, Peru & La Paz, Bolivia.