‘Street Food’ – The human stories behind unpretentious eats
In the aptly titled “Street Food,” cameras go to some of the most vibrant cities in the world to explore their street food scene and the rich culture behind it, with each episode spotlighting stories of individual perseverance that bring each country’s cuisine to life.
They’re stories that address the human condition, maintains Brian McGinn, who served as executive producer and director of both series, as well as co-creator here.
“The thing that was so exciting to see,” he explains, “was, instead of it being, ‘How can I be the best chef in the country?’ – the question became, ‘How can I continually improve the dish? How can I make my food great so that I can support my family or I can help my son have a choice of what type of life he wants to lead?’ And to me, those are such universal, human life questions, and to see how food intersects with those and to see what role food plays in helping people answer those questions is awesome.”
The opening episode goes to Bangkok, where viewers meet Jai Fai, a Michelin-starred chef who is arguably the most famous street vendor in the world. It also spotlights Jek Pui, a cart vendor renowned for its curry.
“People line up in the morning for these curries,” McGinn says, “and they sit on little red stools and they eat their curry on the street. And it’s the story of this family and how they started this curry business and how they have continued those traditions.”
Other Season 1 episodes go to Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and India, where a dish called nihari – aka buffalo stew – is all the rage in New Delhi.
“People line up about an hour-plus before … this shop opens its stand – and basically jostle for position,” McGinn explains. “So this shop that sells stew opens in the morning, people frantically jostle for position, they’re yelling their orders out to the vendor and it’s this incredibly frenetic, energetic scene for about an hour. And then they sell out and the stew is gone and the street returns to normal. And it’s something that I had never seen before and was so exciting to witness.”
“There’s so much technique and craft and expertise and mastery that goes into making what seems like a simple plate of food that you can get for a very inexpensive amount of money from a stall in the street,” he continues. “And what you don’t kind of know is that a lot of these people have spent 40, 50, 60 years mastering that one dish or figuring out how can they improve one thing after the other. … And what’s so interesting to see is the dedication and the focus that people have in the street food world.”