Netflix’s new food series, Street Food, brings to mind a classic meme. It’s as if David Gelb and the team behind the now iconic Chef’s Table heard the criticism of that show — that it’s overwrought, that the food is inaccessible, that it features a decidedly western gaze, etc. — and said, “hold my beer.” They then proceeded to create something with a similar visual style that is as accessible as it gets, well-versed in the cultures it chooses to celebrate, and ditches all pretension at the door. It’s that rare “hold my beer” scenario that worked out swimmingly.
In a sense, Street Food doubles down on the qualities that made us fall in love with its mother series. Visually, the two are nearly identical, but the subject matter couldn’t be more different. The often cloistered world of haute cuisine is jettisoned for the very open doors of street food across Asia. There’s still an episode-long focus on a single culinary mind, but Street Food makes more room for the local food scene to come into play, with far fewer “mad culinary genius” moments. At its heart, the show explores how and why some people end up slinging noodles or sweets or rice on the street, and the answers aren’t always easy.
The biggest change to the format here is the run time. Each episode is only 30 minutes long, or about 15 to 20 minutes shorter than Chef’s Table. This gives the show a laser focus that never allows the story to drift. Yes, each episode features a single chef prominently, but there’s no time for them to walk through a field of sun-soaked wheat in slow motion. My guess would be that the cooks featured on Street Food live lives that don’t leave time for that sort of bullshit. After all, any show about the global tradition of street food must, at its heart, be about utility and necessity.
For the most part, the restaurants on Chef’s Table are where rich people go to be entertained. The hawker stalls and carts on Street Food are where people go to be fed — quickly and inexpensively.