Hello and welcome back to Kitchen Catstrophe’s ongoing dissection of a single episode of a Netflix food show. Why? Because Jon O’Guin’s brain doesn’t work quite right, and he super-cares about this. I’m your host and broken-brain buddy, Jon O’Guin. Today, we’re wrapping up our discussion of Street Food Around the World, a food television series originally released on National Geographic, now on Netflix, with a single star. I was intrigued at such a low rating, and the first five minutes of the first episode blew me away with their singular inability to land any point.
I want to once again quickly state, for the record: I don’t hold this against the creators of the show, or the host. Making good TV can be hard, and this really helps you see why: almost everything I complain about is ALMOST right. It just lacks crucial steps, options, or follow-through to really sell it. In a way, it reminds me of the famously bad film Birdemic: watching the first half of Birdemic is an instruction manual on how to make movies, through illustration of negation, AKA “Don’t do THIS.”
Film school 101: Don’t make your villains out of Microsoft Clipart.
Heck, despite how much I absolutely hate the first 5 minutes of this show, from about the 8 minute mark on, it actually finds its tone and hits a fun stride. I ended up watching the whole season with my mother later. But, if I didn’t watch the whole episode out of a vague sense of journalistic integrity, I’ve had given up on it long before then. And that’s killer in a format like Netflix. On Television, a weak first act is alright: you don’t know exactly when people are tuning in. In Netflix, that first impression will decide whether you get a second.
So let’s jump back onto my high horse as I ride roughshod over this show’s first five minutes of production.
The Show Must Go On
When last we left off, we had been suddenly hit with a time limit out of nowhere. The host then proceeds to give us more background to Istanbul, in the form of discussing the Ottoman Empire, which ruled, in his words, “from Italy in the west, to Persia in the East”. Remember that quote. Or don’t. I don’t care. He also brings up it’s the only metropolis in both Asia and Europe, since the political dividing line for the continents is a river that flows through Istanbul. That’s fine. It’s legitimately a fun fact.
And this is a legitimately fun map!
After a quick break, he butchers a joke. By which I mean he takes a functioning joke, breaks it into pieces, and kills it. His joke is based on an origin story for a Turkish dish, meze, which are basically tapas, or “bar snacks” in English. Little bits of food to eat while drinking. The story goes that the Sultan, in order to prevent a poisoning from his many enemies, had taste testers. If the food was good, the taster would cry out “Mezzet”, meaning “Tasty!”, and so the dishes became known as mezzet. If it was poisoned, he’d say…nothing. Because he’s dead.
You see that joke? Not groundbreaking stuff, but solid. Here’s the thing: He says the punchline before the set-up. He literally says ‘Had many tasters. If the food was poisoned, he’d say…nothing. Because he’d be dead. If it wasn’t, he’d say…” That’s literally the opposite of how jokes work. It creates an awkward pause mid story, because he has to let the punchline hit before his set-up.
Look at his eyes. He knows he fucked this up. There’s a pain there. A sorrow.
Another fun fact: That story? Probably bullshit. Because, firstly, as the literate of you might have noticed, he says the dishes are called mezzet, and I wrote meze. I did that because, when I looked up that story, I couldn’t find anything at first, because he uses the wrong damn word. Further, I then looked it up, and the Turkish word for tasty is lezzeti. He is killing jokes to surround their corpses with lies.
Then he wanders into a place. Literally, we aren’t given context as he enters a building and starts talking to a woman at the counter. He says “Good morning”, she says “good morning”, he asks if she speaks English…
Wait. She just answered you in English. But fine, sure, greetings are greetings. I know the traditional Muslim greeting in Arabic, but I couldn’t speak a full sentence of the tongue. That’s fine. Here’s what’s not fine: This woman, who will be his companion for the next two minutes, isn’t introduced. This restaurant gets an intro card, the shop owner she’s translating to and from gets a title card, she gets nothing.
I feel weird saying “This is the most attractive Turkish woman I’ve seen”, since it feels both racist and sexist, but at least it’s acknowledgement of her existence and identity as a individual, instead of treating her like a human convenience kiosk.
With her help, he launches into a series of questions about the shop’s connection to the Ottomans, and if the breakfast is traditional for the Ottoman time. As I noted last time, he is mildly obsessed with the words “Sultan” and “Ottoman”. The shop owner’s response is important, and telling.
Sidenote: While the placard says “fourth generation”, they only show pictures of his father and grandfather, which would make him 3rd generation. So maybe that’s a lie.
Firstly, that’s a goddamn typo in the translation. How hard is it to spell ‘here’ correctly, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC? YOU USED TO BE A RESPECTABLE ORGANIZATION. Secondly, the next two minutes are going to talk about kaymak pretty frequently, and NO explanation is EVER given for what the shit it is. I had to look it up, and it’s…a little complicated. If you imagine a sweet midpoint between butter and cottage cheese, you’re not very wrong. It’s a smooth cooked cream. But even that half-assed explanation is more than the show ever tries
So he sits out with the mystery woman, and they have their breakfast served. It’s butter, 3 different cheeses, kaymak, and eggs.
How deliriously white this breakfast is.
And he asks the woman, “Why so many cheeses?” Which is, I think a rational question for a breakfast. I mean, we’ve all had our “Spicy Sunday Eggs” with 4 cheese Mexican blend, but we don’t serve it on 4 different plates. That’s a lot of cheese. Her answer is pretty straightforward, because the Ottoman empire is so large, it covered a lot of territory-
I wonder what’s happening with the two guys in the foreground, here. Like, the guy on the left seems pretty intense. Also, the woman seated behind our main duo looks sad and alone.
Wait. That’s his exact line from earlier. Like, the exact boundaries. That’s…suspicious. For one thing, the Ottoman empire simultaneously goes more west than Italy (It reaches Algiers in Northern Africa) and NOT AS FAR AS ITALY, since it actually ended in Croatia. Hell, it hits the borders of Austria more firmly than Italy’s. So why that line? ARE YOU A PLANT, LADY? IS THAT WHY YOU HAVE NO NAME? SO THEY CAN’T TRACE YOUR SIN???????????????
(At this juncture, Jon had to be tranquilized.)
Also, I want it noted the first thing he eats in Istanbul, which it takes us 5 minutes to get to, is the eggs. He has some fried eggs as his first dish. And one of the phrases he uses to explain to us, the viewer, what makes these Eggs unique, is that they are so…’eggy’. That’s the word. He calls them, and I quote: "Crispy, Spicy, and Eggy."
At this point, I hate the host. He’s an idiot, who says dumb things, and I want him to die.
Later in the episode, it’s revealed to me: That’s the joke. Literally every other guest he has, including random street people, is more knowledgeable than him. He blindly cheers for foods, pumping his fists wildly, before stopping to ask “What am I cheering for?” He insists on calling cooks ‘doctor’ because they wear face masks as they cook.
And as I said earlier, once you know that, the show improves dramatically. It’s “An Idiot Abroad” with cooking. Heck, he even has some fun winks and jokes about him flailing wildly. And the first 3 minutes of the second episode are leaps and bounds better than those of the first episode. IN the end, I guess this was just a case of a crappy pilot.
I misjudged you, Ishai. And I’m sorry.
Please stop celebrating, it makes it hard to forgive you.
NEXT TIME: THANKSGIVING GUYS!!!