Quarantine and Chill: 10 Best Food Travel Shows On Netflix
Food travel are the only TV shows I watch. It’s my bread and butter. I’ve been binge watching No Reservations and Parts Unknown for the last decade. It’s one of the reasons you’re reading this blog in the first place. Pardon the length of this post but I have this wild fantasy of hosting my own (meatless) food travel show one day so it’s a personal one for me 😀 With the coronavirus quarantine’s end nowhere in sight what better use of your free time than to catch up on all the food travel shows that Netflix has been churning out. Admittedly, some are much more worthy of your time than others. Here are my favorites to help you decide:
1. Parts Unknown
No intro needed – it’s Anthony Bourdain. And it’s the one TV show I’d bring with me to a desert island. Parts Unknown, just like its predecessor No Reservations, have set the bar for food travel shows sky high, and it’s unlikely any TV show in the near future will measure up to its standard. Even though every episode of Parts Unknown seemed to be less and less dedicated to food and more so to the cultural, social and political context. In fact, Bourdain played a colossal role in not just defining the ways we eat food and talk about it, but in proving that a popular TV show can effectively use food as a gateway to explore social and political issues and the world at large. An all time favorite, catch it before Netflix takes it off. Thank you CNN for leaving Tony to doing what he does best and giving him the space and enough creative freedom to create a legacy, on TV and beyond. Check out my favorite Bourdain quotes here.
Get your notepad ready. With the irreplaceable Anthony Bourdain gone too soon, the responsibility to continue the ‘food and culture are inseparable’ debate has fallen on a select few. I personally feel that Michael Pollan is leading the pack and has done a great job at it. Everything Michael Pollan says in this show (and in all his 7 books) is so valuable you’ll want to take notes! (Have you heard the SuperSoul Sundays podcast with Michael and Oprah yet? Find it here and listen and then re-listen. “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much” will be my next tattoo.) Based on his acclaimed book, Cooked features Pollan exploring the art of cooking, and what we gain as a culture throughout the process. This is a cooking show that demonstrates how even the simplest meals can bring people together and create a meaningful connection. “If you choose to eat meat you should go hunting at least once.” Cooked is hugely thought-provoking, and will definitely make a viewer at least think about making more meaningful food choices.
Right behind Cooked in my ranking sits this gem. Possibly the most underrated food travel show on Netflix, Street Food manages to evoke similar emotions to Parts Unknown, without the host! Without ANY host for that matter! Every episode silently follows (extra?) ordinary local people across Asia and captures their traditions, hopes and dreams in a magnificently subtle manner. These aren’t just street bites. They’re dishes with heart, shaped by human stories. And the show is poetry. So far every episode had me weeping on the couch. I dare you to resist the emotional charge of those humble accounts of perseverance and respect for their heritage among the relative hardship. Watch the Indonesia episode before heading to Bali. It’ll have you ditching the instagrammable smoothie bowls and searching for jajan pasar and jackfruit gudeg instead. “When you’re eating Mbah’s jajan pasar, it’s like you’re eating the full sweetness of history.” Be sure to also watch the Bangkok story of the Michelin starred street vendor Jay Fai (“the Mozart of the noodle pan”), especially if you’re a Michelin cynic. “That Michelin start surprised the government because they continuously underplay how important street food is to Thai people.” Or how about a Filipino man who dedicated his entire life to fish soup? Netflix, can we please have more episodes already, pretty please?
Gifted. Unique. Visionary. When these elite chefs step into the kitchen, they don’t see rules. They see possibilities. Not exactly food travel per se, but hey it can be for some lucky ones (have you seen Foodies documentary yet?) Six seasons in, and Chef’s Table is still one of the best cooking shows ever made. For those that have been living under a mushroom, this stunningly shot culinary series puts the focus of each episode on one Michelin starred chef’s career and life. It’s one of those shows that will make anyone either want to give it all up and learn how to cook like a gourmet chef, or at least pick up the phone and beg for a reservation at their restaurant. I’ll have to highlight the Dominique Crenn episode, as this incredibly talented French chef has recently announced she’s cutting meat out of her restaurants which is a decision very much aligned with my own meatless/pescatarian manifesto. You can also check out the Chef’s Table French edition (with English subtitles).
Save yourself a long evening as you’re likely to watch all four episodes in one go. Hosted by the gorgeous James Beard Award-winning chef and food writer Samin Nosrat, Salt Fat Acid Heat will remind you of the four elements that make up the core of our food. The single most important ingredients in your cooking is salt. Did you know there are 4,000 kinds of salt in Japan alone, including some derived from seaweed? And thank you for letting us viewers take a peak into the soy sauce whisperer’s workshop – pure poetry. And for highlighting the importance of sour oranges – aka acid – in my beloved Yucatan. “The more I travel the more I realize that good cooking is universal. The ingredients may change but the fundamentals are always the same.” The show is guaranteed to reconnect you with what keeps you nourished on daily basis and that we tend to take for granted. I for one have had a much better understanding of food since watching it. Get the beautiful Salt Fat Acid Heat book that inspired the show here.
“If you like the food go to the source. This is why I travel” – Phil is clearly my guy. Philip Rosenthal is perhaps best known as being the creator of the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but to me he’s the food traveler who got equally sheepishly excited about his first ever smorrebrod in Copenhangen as I did. (And if I may add it was the exact same pickled herring smorrebrod at Ammann Deli!). His shameless enthusiasm when tasting great new foods has validated my own shameless enthusiasm 😀 And that child-like look of exhilaration when trying an amazing oyster or a poboy in New Orleans! Priceless. Ever-smiling Phil is my new fantasy dinner party guest. Aside from Denmark and NOLA, he will take you on an eating tour of Venice, Tel Aviv, Bangkok, and Argentina, among others. What makes the show personal is that he’s usually joined by friends and family. Don’t miss Phil’s incredible meeting with the one and only 94-year old Leah Chase who has served her famous gumbo to the likes of Martin Luther King and Barrack Obama.
Does it get any cuter than a taco narrator??? “I am simple but I have my secrets.” the Taco says in one of the five excellent episodes. “I’m not afraid to show myself the way I am…. silently and deliciously I fulfill my duty of restoring the people’s mood.” With Taco Chronicles you’ll learn the nuances of the surprisingly complex Taco Universe (can you tell the exact difference between asada and barbacoa? I couldn’t either). But you’ll also learn the basics, such as that every taco is a trilogy of the perfect number 10 taco tortilla (not unlike spaghetti in Italy – turns out Mexican tortillas have numbers marking specific thickness and uses), the toppings, and the salsa. Tacos the Canasta will surprise you, as they’re not commonly found outside of Mexico. And Lady Tacos de Canasta is my super heroine, look out for her in episode 3. “I unite cultures. I unite people. I am the bridge for the unbridgeable. At night, especially at night – I am the king… I am colorblind. I don’t care where you came from. I’m authentic, just like you. I will never leave you. I am your taco forever.” Taco al Pastor.
Netflix – how on earth did you leave Fish Tacos out of the series??? Tacos de Pescado have some of the most unique and exciting story of origin, and Ensenada, their birthplace, was good enough for Tony Bourdain to make an entire episode about! Frankly, I don’t think the otherwise fantastic Chronicles are complete without Fish Tacos.
This is a cooking show by celebrity chef David Chang of Momofuku noodles (among other ventures). Chef David has really shown his vulnerable side (if not somewhat ignorant – no, Ayurveda is not a religion…) and is really eager to learn about different cuisines and practices. The curry episode is particularly noteworthy as it features the late chef of Bombay Bread Bar and Tabla who has just passed away due to coronavirus complications. He was the first chef born and raised in India to lead an influential New York establishment and has done great work to make Indian cuisine more accessible to the American diners. Ugly Delicious may be first and foremost entertaining but I’m so glad that it also discusses a much deeper notion of race, integration and cultural appropriation through food. Whether or not you eat meat you should watch the Nashville chicken episode to appreciate the rich African American culinary legacy. Food is history, and all food should be explored and valued. Don’t miss the Stuffed episode either – Asian dumplings vs. Italian ravioli and tortellini. Where do you stand in the debate?
He played a chef in a movie, but he’s still learning to be one in life. Luckily he’s got a master to help get him there. Have you checked out my top foodie films list yet? The Chef is at number one, and for a good reason. Now actor and producer Jon Favreau returns with a Netflix original series but I have to say The Chef Show is a little bit all over the place. I’m still not really sure what the theme is, if any. “What is this show for?”, as Gwyneth Paltrow candidly asked while assisting in chopping up veggies for a pepper pot (vegetarian version – the filming took place at Goop). Nevertheless, the foodie passion is still there. That’s thanks in part to his reuniting with Roy Choi – the much celebrated (at least in LA) chef behind my beloved Kogi food truck (kimchi quesadillas!!!). You may need to be selective as for which episodes you watch but don’t skip the visit to George Lucas’s estate for a rare glimpse of his passion project Skywalker Farm. Oh and Jitlada. If you’re from LA you already know and love the humble Jitlada – Jonathan Gold’s favorite Thai restaurant. And if you’re not watch this episode and fall in love with Thai food all over again.
Another Netflix original with David Chang. Not as good as Ugly Delicious but you might find something of value there too. In each episode he travels with a celebrity to his or her favorite city, and they unravel the best meals and culture of the area. I wish I’d seen the Vancouver BC episode before living (read: eating) there for a month! Look out for some serious donut porn when they visit Vancouver’s famous Granville Market. It’s also just fun to see celebrities out and enjoying themselves – that moment when Chrissy Teigen invites all camera crew to join in on the feast of roast lamb in Marrakesh is truly priceless. It’s basically an epitome of what sharing a meal does to bringing people together and bridging cultures, and I appreciate that even as a non-meat eater. The restaurant owner had tears in his eyes. To quote Kate McKinnon during their trip to Cambodia, “I was going to say that the best part of traveling is eating, but I think that’s wrong. It’s the conversations that you have over food and the people that you meet.” Amen to that.
Honorable mention: Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer – it’s on Hulu, not on Netflix, but by all means this is one of the better food travel shows out there. Not quite Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, but a close runner up. Andrew Zimmer’s Bizarre Foods are exactly that – Andrew traveling all over the world to eat weird stuff and uncover cultures in the process. The show may be a little on the old school side but it’s very entertaining nonetheless. The reason I love Andrew is that aside form being an avid believer that food bridges cultural gaps and builds tolerance, he’s also a very active philanthropist helping everyone form recovering drug addicts to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. As he himself said about the show, he had to make the first episodes as entertaining for the masses as possible, so that he can pass his own deeper messages across later on. And with no fewer than 16 seasons under his belt, I think we can all agree he’s succeeded.
Happy watching folks! Leave a comment and let me know if I missed a show and which is your favorite.