Best Shows to Watch for a Cultural Exploration Through Food

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The best part? These are all available on Netflix. I have spent an exorbitant amount of hours watching food shows. But when you hear the term “food shows”, what instantly comes to mind? The over-glamorized, competition-based series of the Food Network or the Cooking Channel, is the answer for many of you I’m sure. And for a lot of audiences, these types of shows are great entertainment, but surveys have shown time and again that that is what those shows simply are – entertainment. There is zero educational value as those surveyed reported they have never actually cooked anything they’ve watched being made on Top Chef or Cutthroat Kitchen.

I don’t watch TV anymore – I haven’t, for many years now. So when I watch a show, especially a food show, it must deliver on three criteria for me:

  1. It must be educational
  2. It must be beautiful
  3. It must be thought-inspiring

A handful of networks have recently invested very good amounts of money and finally created what I would call food documentaries with such artistic style and poise, and such great educational value, that it has been difficult for me to stay away. Of course Chef’s Table is not everyone’s cup of tea as some might call it overly artistic and pretentious – but I love it. It puts the culinary scene back where it should be – onto a pedestal of an art form, which is exactly what it is. But what Chef’s Table succeeds to portray where many other shows fail is the narrative of hardship and struggle of the greatest chefs on the planet, embracing the concept that greatness is earned and takes many years to achieve.

But we are not talking about Chef’s Table here. We are talking about those shows that masterfully manage to educate on culture around the world through a food journey. Why is this so important? Because food is the biggest differentiator yet uniting element that makes any culture uniquely distinct. Culture without food is meaningless. So, if you want to learn about other cultures in the most meaningful and relevant of ways, the following are some of my favorite shows that deliver:

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

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You may love him or you may hate him – regardless, in his semi-sober and sarcastic state of being, Anthony Bourdain delivers narratives and locations that are difficult to ignore. His storytelling is always multi-layered and complicated, focusing on the strife and upheavals of less well-to-do nations, defining the food and showcasing it as a source of national pride and united joy. If you’re hesitant to try Bourdain for yourself, this is the show I most recommend to start with.

Michael Pollan’s Cooked

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This is hands-down the BEST educational food show I’ve seen so far. It not only focuses on food as a significant cultural definer but also on how we as humans evolved as a result of cooking food. Masterfully filmed and beautifully narrated, this show is a MUST for anyone who wants to know what they’re talking about with both their grandma and a highly skilled chef.

Street Food Around the World with Ishai Golan

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This show is completely unpretentious and explores the less glamorous side of cuisine, focusing on street food classics around the world. By doing so, it narrates the cultural aspects in a very straightforward and educational way and features mouthwatering elements that are both internationally definitional of their respective cuisines while at the same time being completely exotic.

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