For the purposes of virtual film club, I’ve recently signed up for a Netflix account who have an entire rabbit-hole of food programming to get lost down. My first, and favourite, discovery was the series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is based on the book of the same name by Samin Nosrat, who also presents it.
As a child, I really enjoyed those travel/food programmes that were all the rage in the 90s, but I hadn’t realised until I watched this series how much I missed that genre and how much it still being dominated by white guys of a certain age annoyed me. There was something so delightfully refreshing about listening to her converse with local specialists in Italian and Spanish, and the way she used her Iranian food heritage to relate to the other cuisines that were talked about in the show, made all the difference.
It’s a lovely and informative little series, and ten years ago I could really have used it – in fact I’d like to give my younger self a copy of the book to work through. There was a lot in the salt and acid sections that I was already intimately familiar with, but that knowledge was acquired piecemeal, largely through trial and error, with occasional helpful pointers from episodes of Gastropod. (I’d learned from experience that lime juice could rescue a stir-fry sauce if you’d overdone the soy sauce component, and a really fascinating episode of Gastropod had opened the world of vinegar as a flavour enhancer to me.) Nonetheless the series gave me lots of ‘huh, interesting’ moments, largely by explaining why elements worked in certain ways, some things that I knew to be true from experience but didn’t know why they were that way, are now much clearer to me than they ever where before.
After the success of my food based television binge, I decided to seek out more food programming to comfort watch. I went searching in the iPlayer and found an old favourite of mine. Fuine is a very gentle baking programme from BBC Alba, where the programme goes round to local ‘star bakers’ kitchens and they teach the presenter how to cook their signature bake. I started watching it years ago when I was studying Gaelic, as a low stress way to learn more of the kind of vocabulary that I did get in class. They changed presenter for the most recent series – the new presenter is a chef who had been on the programme as a guest baker on a couple of occasions – and I realised that while I’d heard good things about it, I hadn’t actually seen any of it to judge for myself. This latest series has more of a balance between sweet and savoury dishes, which is great for me as I love a savoury bake. (There was also an episode dedicated to ‘free-from’ baking, but throughout the series they were good at saying ‘substitute this to make it vegan’ or ‘this recipe is actually gluten free’.) It’s very much a series where the intent is that you can make the things at home yourself – a lot of the recipes are on the website if you prefer it written down – and I’ve now got a whole list of recipes that I’m keen to try. Those crackers for humus looked both tasty and easy to make!
The Netflix algorithm is still learning what I like at the moment – to start with I was only watching Studio Ghibli films and fairly violent martial arts movies so it was a little confused about my household – but my decision to watch Salt. Fat. Acid. Heat. has caused it to give me all the food recommendations. There is a whole world of food documentaries and cooking programmes that I never knew existed – Hindi-language series about the different food cultures of India anyone? – but given that the current situation has mostly nixed my usual appetite for documentaries I am ready to head down that rabbit-hole.
This week I’ve been watching a series called Street Food: Asia (I presume that means there are companion series about street food on other continents, or at least that they plan for there to be.) It is definitely food to watch with snacks, because all the food and cooking made me so hungry – I definitely hold it responsible for my decision to make sushi this week, along with everything I’ve made involving tortilla wraps. I have such a craving for noodles now, every kind and variety that you could imagine.
The decision to – mostly – focus on cities other than the capital cities of the countries in question, was one I really appreciated as I felt it gave a much better sense of there being different food cultures in different regions within a country rather than one homogenous food culture in the entire country.