Savour The World

Yummy travel shows to dig into

You cannot travel due to the pandemic, but you can still journey vicariously through your taste buds. Suzanne Sng recommends nine offerings that are a feast for the eyes

1. J-STYLE TRIP

Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou and his pals travel the world in this celebrity-studded series on Netflix, which flies to cities such as Paris, Taipei, Tokyo, Vienna and even Havana in Cuba.

While food is not the main focus - music and magic are Chou's two true loves - there are quite a few scenes in this 2020 series which feature cooking and eating, such as one with Japan's Mount Fuji as the stunning backdrop.

Soba, milk tea, yabbies and a fish dinner by Chou are some of the items that appear in the 13 episodes.

However, the real scene-stealers are the stars such as Singaporean singer JJ Lin, Hong Kong actor-chef Nicholas Tse and Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang.

2. FLAVORFUL ORIGINS


PHOTO: NETFLIX

This Chinese series on Netflix takes viewers on a journey through the cuisines of Gansu, Yunnan and Chaoshan in short, easy-to-digest episodes.

Each episode is no longer than 15 minutes and focuses on one ingredient or signature dish, such as the Chaoshan kitchen essential of fish sauce and the sheep offal of Gansu.

Flavorful Origins (2019) is food porn at its best, with lingering, loving shots guaranteed to make your mouth water.

You can easily binge on all 40 episodes in one weekend, but it might leave you very hungry.

3. ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN


PHOTO: CNN INTERNATIONAL

No list of travel food shows is complete without a mention of the late chef-turned-author Anthony Bourdain, who transformed the travel-and-food genre into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which aired for 12 seasons from 2013 to 2018, covers almost every place you can think of.

Congo, Libya, Honduras, Beirut, Madagascar - he had been there, eaten that.

Before this series, he hosted Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (2005 to 2012) and A Cook's Tour (2002 to 2003), so his experiences have breadth and depth.

Graze on best-of-Bourdain moments on CNN's YouTube page, where you can search for highlights of episodes, such as the one in which he and former United States president Barack Obama had bun cha (Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle) in Hanoi in 2016.

It is poignant knowing he committed suicide in 2018 as you listen to his laconic drawl and watch how he interacts with locals with humour and humanity.

4. UGLY DELICIOUS


PHOTO: NETFLIX

Sink your teeth into popular food in this globe-trotting documentary. Celebrity chef David Chang of Momofuku fame takes on pizza, tacos, dumplings and more in Netflix's Ugly Delicious (2018 to 2020). The food may not look pretty, but it sure looks delicious.

The star power is boosted by a diverse slate of guests such as actors Steven Yeun, Aziz Ansari and Ali Wong, model-author Padma Lakshmi and chef Sean Brock.

There are two seasons with a total of 12 episodes available for streaming, but if you cannot get enough of Chang, check out his other Netflix series, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner (2019).

More location-centric than Ugly Delicious, the four-parter sees him going to places such as Marrakesh in Morocco with model-cookbook author Chrissy Teigen and Phnom Penh with Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon. But do not worry, there is still good grub involved.

5. TRAVEL MAN


PHOTO: TRAVEL MAN/YOUTUBE

British actor-comedian-writer Richard Ayoade lends deadpan humour and a deliberately awkward persona to this fresh, irreverent series which visits various cities, mostly in Europe, for an action-packed 48 hours.

While the focus of Travel Man is not solely on food, various popular dishes do crop up in each episode, such as dumplings in Krakow and fondue in Zurich.

As the host for 10 seasons from 2015 to 2019, Ayoade, best known for his role as the dorky Maurice Moss in sitcom The IT Crowd, is paired in each episode with a celebrity traveller to comedic effect. These include actors Jon Hamm, Paul Rudd, Dawn French and Chris O'Dowd.

The Travel Man's official YouTube channel has some full-length episodes as well as hilarious compilations and bloopers.

6. KOREAN PORK BELLY RHAPSODY


PHOTO: NETFLIX

The title of this two-parter says it all - this is a delicious culinary journey around South Korea, centred on its people's favourite food, pork belly.

Available on Netflix, the documentary goes the whole hog in presenting every aspect of the ingredient, from its humble origins 50 years ago to its current sizzling success as it became a staple on the table barbecue.

Host Baek Jong-won, a popular chef and cooking show presenter, explores a metal workshop where hundreds of different grills are made, finds out how different regions produce different pigs and tastes some funky pork that has been aged for a year.

Be prepared to salivate over your screen over scenes of fatty, layered pork glistening on the grill.

7. SOMEBODY FEED PHIL


PHOTO: NETFLIX

Best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, Philip Rosenthal has stepped in front of the camera since the popular sitcom ended in 2005 after nine seasons.

Over four seasons of Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil (2018 to 2020), the genuinely affable host gamely chows down on ostrich and antelope in Cape Town and learns how to make tortillas in Mexico City, among other face-stuffing exploits.

Along the way, he also introduces viewers to his family, notably his hilariously bickering parents as well as his wife Monica, who appears in the Dublin episode to trace her Irish roots.

His sitcom experience also comes in handy as he hams it up for the camera.

8. MARK WIENS


PHOTO: MARK WIENS/YOUTUBE

One of the top food vloggers on YouTube with more than 7.68 million subscribers to his channel, Mark Wiens posts videos of his eating adventures around the world, with an emphasis on street food.

The American of mixed Chinese-Hawaiian heritage has munched and chomped his way across numerous countries, including Jordan, Pakistan, Tanzania and Turkey.

Married to a Thai woman, he is based in Bangkok, so naturally, Thai cuisine is heavily featured on his channel.

His wide-eyed enthusiasm for food is contagious and the adventurous eater goes beyond well-known dishes.

For instance, he ventures to Mae Hong Son, a town in the Shan Hills in north-west Thailand, where he slurps up different types of noodles from the region.

Not one to shy away from chilli, he often wears a T-shirt which says: "If it isn't spicy, I'm not eating."

9. JAPAN HOUR


PHOTO: CNA

An oldie but goodie, Japan Hour is a long-running weekly staple on CNA on Saturdays at 7pm (repeats on Saturdays at 11pm and Sundays at 1pm).

Even though the hosts are usually obscure celebrities and the production values are not quite slick and snazzy, it is always a pleasure to spend an hour visiting far-flung corners of Japan.

Invariably, one or more of these things will occur - the hosts will embark on a train journey, they will relax in a steaming onsen, they will partake of local traditional delicacies and the word "oishii" will be uttered frequently and with great gusto.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2021, with the headline 'Yummy travel shows to dig into'. Subscribe