If you are an ardent Asian TV series watcher, then among the various genres spanning from rom-coms to action-thrillers, the one genre to clink 🍻 everyone’s taste is food or cuisine shows. I could name innumerable dramas, all about ravishing foods and drool worthy cooking, but here are one from each of the three dominant East Asian cultures- Korean, Japanese, Chinese (Taiwanese to be specific) that are definitely worth your time.
South Korea Jewel in the Palace – Dae Jang-Geum
Plot: The Protagonist Dae Jang guem, orphaned early, enters the palace to avenge her mother’s murder. She enters the Royal Kitchen aiming to become the Head of Royal Kitchen to prove her mother’s innocence. Amid her struggle to rise, she too becomes a victim of her mother’s perpetrators and is kicked out of palace under false charge of treason. Once thrown out, it was only as female physicians that women could re-enter the palace. She therefore resorts to learn medicine, and successfully returns to become the First Female Royal Physician.
The drama displays a detailed world of Joseon Royal Kitchen, the sensational traditional culinary art and cuisines of the time. Mixed with intricate palace conspiracies, it manifests as a remarkable drama.
Apart the gastronomical reason, this is worth a watch because it depicts a real part of Korean History. Korea following Confucian Ideologies had no place for women in the society. Women could never become anything more than palace maids or female physicians, the highest status if at all achievable was becoming a queen or royal concubines. Even in that, women could never become Royal Physicians only as mere attendants to their Male counterparts. Therefore, her achievement is a historical success for all women.
It’s a historical drama, rather longer (54 episodes of 1h each) than the normally produced series, but its an excellent work of art. Airing in 2003, this drama is made with early cinematography techniques and yet manages to trap imagination perfectly in every moment. It’s no surprise therefore that it’s the 10th highest rated drama of all time and internationally broadcasted in 91 countries.
Sure the modern dramas might be visually more pleasing, with cheesy story lines, and are a great many in number, but this one is different, you could even say singular. Not only that, but often Youtube Mukbangs (eating shows) can provide the same pleasure of savouring the gastronomy, minus the hours apart from food scenes present in dramas. Nevertheless, it not only time travels to traditional cuisines but also to real history.
History : Jang Guem (early 16th century), mentioned 10 times in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, is considered as the first female Royal Physician in Korean History. It is said so great were her achievements, that the king bestowed the title- Dae (great) to her name, and the position of third highest ranking Court Official.
Real life recreations inspired from the drama in honour of Dae Jang Guem and tadtional cuisine.
Japan – Shokugeki no Soma- Food wars
Think about Japan and Japanese TV shows, and the definite unanimous result is Anime (read more https://easterninterest.com/the-life-of-anime/ ). Anime is unknown to very few only, some might not recognize it as anime specifically, however the following examples should remind you– Pokemon, Doraemon, Super Mario, Hello Kitty…you name it!
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, a recently concluded ‘manga (comic) turned anime’ airing since 2015, is one of the most popular of all times. Just over with the 5th season, it didn’t cess to display incredibly scrumptious reproduction of dishes.
Plot: The story revolves around a young Soma Yukihira’s journey to master the culinary arts. A boy from his ordinary family restaurant life, finds himself thrown into an elite Culinary Institute-Totsuki life. A school for the best of the aspiring culinary students, obviously delivers the best food and cuisine scenes to the viewers too. Needless to say, it evokes a vibrant interest in Asian cuisine, (especially Japanese), and a sigh-full urge of food cravings.
The culinary art is the limelight, but so is Yukihira’s approach to his aspiration. It’s not privilege but passion, not ego but humbleness, not pessimism but fighting spirit that drives this ordinary boy to extraordinary levels. His will to learn, his optimism in life, his passionate approach, are all a hopeful reminder to the viewers about the good things one can reap out of these. Although life is unfair, it still lights hope in the heart and hunger in the stomach as well.
P.S – Oh rated 18+, there’s also foodgasmical after-food effect scenes for those with a taste for visual effects, is complimentary…
Taiwan- The Perfect Match
Now this 2017 show not animated neither historical, but it’s simply a perfect rom-com living up to its title. Broadly Chinese (specifically Taiwanese), it’s a great motivation for food and Chinese culture.
Plot: A world famous Chef Huo Ting En, goes on logger-heads with a girl named Wei Fen Qing who is a Night Market Chef, when her dishes are claimed as the affordable version of his. Their fated meeting brings love but also uncovers secrets of their past.
This drama unlike any other, manages to show all human characters- good and bad, and yet does not leave you hating the antagonists at any point. The drama leaves you satisfied just like a warm meal at the end of day.
This 22 (+1) episode drama, manages to bring out all flavours of humour and love perfectly, along with the delicious cuisines. Echoing the Chinese expression Suan tian ku la: sour, sweet, bitter and spicy hot– meaning the joys and sorrows of life, the drama displays the flavours of life perfectly.
P.S you can also read Food Wars manga, and Gourmet Hounds on line webtoon.
For an additional list of Asian food dramas – https://mydramalist.com/list/W47aYwNL