Street Food: Season 1
Street Food is another pristine slice of Netflix food programming, but it fails to capture the energy and vibrancy that make its topic so interesting in the first place
The latest documentary series from the team behind Chef's Table, Street Food is a classic piece of clue's-in-the-title television. Each half-hour episode focuses on the street food scene in a particular Asian city, and turns its microscope onto the story of one particular member of that city's street food community. In Osaka, we meet Toyo-san, the borderline-pyromaniac proprietor of outdoor diner Izakaya Toyo, wielding his blowtorch and shouting at his customers. In Seoul, the focus is on Yoonsun Cho's noodle stall in the city's Gwangjang Market, where cutthroat competition between vendors makes for an intimidating atmosphere for new cooks. The episodes also present with their own overarching theme – in Japan, it's the importance of family and tradition; in India, it's the community aspect of food; in Korea, it's about personal sacrifice and overcoming difficult changes.
That, on its face, seems like more than enough material to fill thirty minutes, which makes the insistence on cutting away to brief vignettes talking about the street food dishes of other local venues seem a little strange. Street Food seems to be caught between two houses; it wants to be an inspirational deep dive into the stories behind the dishes, but also a potted history of an entire city's street food traditions.
As a result, it ends up spending a little too much of its time on the backstory of its principal characters but without leaving room to really get into their food, while the fleeting glimpses of the wider scene only serve to detract from the emotionally-charged central stories. Also, and this feels like an odd complaint to make, but there isn't a whole lot of 'street' or 'food' in large chunks of this series. The energy and vibrancy of roadside dining doesn't always come across amid the hails of slo-mo and swells of music.
On the plus side, Street Food looks brilliant – the food photography is so appealing you may end up headbutting your laptop to try and grab a taste, and there are some very nice long shots of city bustle and glistening street lights. While they may be a bit muddled, the half-hour episodes are brisk and well-paced, and it's great to see this kind of food given the full HD streaming treatment – although if you aren't careful with your settings, you'll end up stuck with inexcusably shoddy and ridiculously out-of-place dubbing over some of the interviewees.
But overall, there's a lack of energy and vibrancy to Street Food. Instead of a vibrant celebration of one of the most exciting and immediate forms of food there is, this is an earnest, reverent but somewhat po-faced look at the subject. For series two, the Street Food team would do well to bring some more of Toyo-san's flamethrowing energy to the screen.