Are you a food show lover tired of Top Chef’s immaculate plating and stuffy presentation? Then feast on Netflix’s Street Food. If you haven’t yet watched the 9-episode first season of the street food vendor documentary series, cancel your fine dining reservations, stay home and binge of the world’s finest, least fancy foods.
In the Asian-set first season, the show follows street food chefs in bustling cities such as Seoul and Bangkok. As in their previous show Chef’s Table creators David Gelb and Brian McGinn blend hunger-inspiring images of food with personal stories of food creators. The food porn factor is off the scales, with hunger pang-inducing slow-motion shots of fiery woks, glistening noodles and steamy fragrant rice. You’ll swear you can smell the food through the screen.
Each chef tells their own story, in their own words, allowing Gelb and McGinn to address poverty without exploiting it. The chefs are direct about their class status and how local governments crack down on their businesses in the name of gentrification. They share the joyful highs and crushing lows of their lives and careers. In their interviews, they honestly recount their struggle to survive in some of the poorest neighborhoods on earth while remembering cherished childhood memories and their triumphant moment of culinary ingenuity that propelled their food to local fame.
Chef’s Table featured similar themes in the backstories of world-famous chefs, but without the chefs’ whites and multi-million-dollar kitchens, the stories in Street Food are more immediate. Most of us won’t experience a multi-course meal in the restaurants helmed by the masters in Chef’s Table, but we’ll likely hit up our corner halal cart or taco truck on the daily.
The lifestyle industry has gone hard on aspirational luxury and the gritty relatability of Street Food is part of a larger cultural correction happening in response. Foodies aspire to experience the restaurants and be in the presence of Chef’s Table’s celebrity chefs. Nobody has to aspire to be served by Street Food’s cooks—they’re readily available in their communities, where people experience them everyday. Many of those communities are underserved and impoverished. Focusing on the people who feed them signals a cultural shift towards valuing people who contribute to our daily lives. In this way, Street Food plays the perfect platter.