So good you can smell the honey-glazed barbecued pork sitting on fresh greens, feel the steam rising from hand cut noodles, and yes, taste the cold yogurt, and the hot and sweet chutneys (over deep fried potatoes in different forms) in your living room. When you’re eating your humble daal chawal with achaar (for the nth day!), watching episode after episode of what good food is, you begin making plans to visit these food heavens when the pandemic is over.
Don’t go far, though. Our first stop is a place that gives you visas on arrival: Thailand.
Why do I start with Thailand, when your preferred food delivery app will bring your favourite pad thai home in minutes and its tracking will make you salivate even more?
Because Bangkok, Thailand, has a Michelin-starred streetfood stall. That’s why.
The show Street Food - Asia as well as Latin America - will also take you, among other places, to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for the most delicious pho. Or you could watch, with a mixture of awe and disgust, the snail dishes being prepared while you wait to eat.
Confession: I ate snake soup once because there was no translation app on my phone. I was cold, and with colleagues who were excitedly eating chicken feet and beaks, and I was too chicken to ask, ‘What is this?’
Dinner and a show
If I could, I would move to Italy, and Japan, and Korea, and Pakistan for their respective street foods. And no, I did not use the punctuation incorrectly. It isn't ‘or’, it is ‘and’! So here’s my favourite go-to food show whenever it’s late into the night and I feel the need for company: Midnight Diner. It’s a food show, but it’s fiction combined with food. And there are five seasons to watch with stories and food connected brilliantly. The last two seasons are Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. You will fall in love with not only the food in the show (I am sure you remember the joys of eating ghee and rice as kids, you will rediscover it in the form of Neko Manama or ‘cat rice’ here).
You will love all the characters who are regulars at the diner. I smiled each time the super chatty ‘Ochazhuke sisters’ showed up and ordered similar dishes, gossiping loudly and ogling unashamedly at other diners. You all know someone like them, or are part of a group like that one!
Wontons and whatnot
Back to street food Asia, you will be amazed at the camera work that captures minute details like sesame seeds and the superb colour and shine that glazing gives to barbecued foods.
There are Singapore noodles with wontons that will make you wish travelling would become easier soon. But when Chef David Chang eats Indian food with his hands and you get to see Chef Floyd Cardoz (gone too soon!) taste Awadhi chicken, you wish technology were advanced enough for you to smell the foods they’re showcasing. This is Ugly Delicious.
The conversations around food are simply incredible. I never knew steaks were aged by burying them in Lavender… And every time I watch these celebration-of-food shows, I end up wanting to make the perfect blooming onion. Try it. It’s not just an entire onion pakora (make vertical cuts without slicing it fully, batter fry and present it to look like a lotus) it’s something incredible - describing it as a ‘pakora’ seems inadequate somehow…
How can we talk about food and not get into food flavours? The next show is not for everyone. The flavours they’re talking about are a tad complex (erm...even to my Indian palate). But the foods look so interesting. I look at flaxseeds in my kitchen with new respect. I had simply used them in a fine roasted podi made with roasted cumin to sprinkle on my buttered toast, and now lately during the pandemic, using them to create weird homemade gels to stop hair fall…
Flaxseeds in moon cakes would be so cool. I loved the idea of Lotus root being used to flavour food but balked at what sheep entrails can end up being… I sat through the entrails episode transfixed knowing I’m going to skip that lesson. Nadiya is a British chef who has shown me tricks about how to put aside foods and create a second dish with them… Her show Nadiya’s Time To Eat makes you wish there were more shows which made this ‘second cook’ possible.
'Anya' showsThe Indian show Raja, Rasoi aur anya Kahaniyan on Netflix is good, but turned out to be too self-conscious for me. I love Bourdain’s genuine love for the people and the foods of different places. I am also watching Stanley Tucci on CNN wandering about Italy looking at foods when searching for his roots. Meanwhile, since it’s time to eat (again!), I am carrying my phone to the kitchen and taking cooking lessons (mostly with ghee) on YouTube with the irresistible Chef Ranveer Brar.