By Calum Henderson
Watching the new Netflix documentary series Street Food, there are moments where I'm filled with such an intense longing I could scream. I'm Ryan Gosling in The Notebook, gazing at a photo of Rachel McAdams; I'm Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, involuntarily mouthing "I want to go to there".
"There" changes with each episode, from Bangkok to Osaka to Delhi (also Yogyakarta, Chiayi, Seoul, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Cebu). Wherever the camera is pointed is where I want to be more than anywhere in the world. Preferably eating myself sick.
This might be the most hungus I've ever felt watching a food show. And with previous Netflix binges like Ugly Delicious and Salt Fat Acid Heat under my belt, this is saying something.
It makes sense when you learn Street Food is made by the same people who do Chef's Table, another poetic and mouthwateringly shot Netflix series which focuses on the life journeys and philosophies of renowned (and often sensationally pretentious) chefs.
This series takes a similar approach, focusing mostly on one remarkable local chef per episode. It makes a nice change from the usual shows, which approach street food as some kind of random exotic novelty.
With the capital letters of Street Food we move beyond "check it out, a scorpion on a stick!" and start to get a sense of the story and personality behind it. Here, the chefs are treated with the same kind of reverence as the posh ones on Chef's Table.
Like train station sushi master Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Bangkok icon Jay Fai has seen her culinary flair rewarded with a Michelin star. Toiling away over a fiery wok in a beanie and ski goggles, she looks like a character who might help you on your quest in Zelda. Her crab omelette is legendary.
This element of theatricality is a common thread among the chefs featured in the series. In Osaka, customers seem to flock to Toyo's bustling izakaya to be part of his never-ending slapstick routine almost as much as to eat his food.
The other common theme of the series is the incredible stories of pain and sacrifice that each chef seems to have endured to arrive at this point. Toyo seems like the happiest man alive, searing tuna with a massive blowtorch – then he talks about his father, and starts sobbing. The tears of a clown.
My own tears come from a more selfish place: I'm just so hungry when I watch this show.
I know if I ever actually did rock up to Jay Fai's spot in Bangkok or Toyo's izakaya in Osaka I'd be completely out of my depth. They're so hectic I doubt I could even figure out how to order anything. I'd probably just hover on the periphery for a bit going "wow", then scuttle away to McDonald's and order something they don't have at McDonald's back home.
But still, I can dream. Television's good like that. In my dreams I'm eating crab omelette, drunken noodles, tom yum, takoyaki, and life is very, very good.
Street Food (Netflix)