For middle-class America, food-centered shows such as “Chef’s Table” and “Salt Fat Acid Heat” offer a glance into another world, where every meal consists of choice ingredients that are deftly prepared with time, artistry and precision.
Netflix’s “Flavorful Origins” is the newest addition to the mix. The inaugural season of the streaming service’s newest docuseries entices viewers with a wholly unique outlook on food. Rooted in the traditions of ancient Chinese dynasties, meticulous and disciplined techniques and subtle, minimalist flavors, the ingredients and dishes of Chaoshan set “Flavorful Origins” apart from its predecessors.
“Flavorful Origins” showcases the tradition-steeped ingredients of the Chaoshan region and those who continue the tradition.
Each episode features an ingredient specific to the coastal region of the Guangdong province and delves into how the ingredient is harvested, prepared and incorporated into different dishes. The episode also informs the viewer on the historical roots of the ingredient. A frequent theme in the series is the importance of tradition, and in several episodes the narrator mentions native Chaoshans returning to their home region just for a taste of home-cooked Chaoshan dishes.
“Flavorful Origins” is laden with up-close and sensuous visuals of food. Prolonged shots of olives twirling in pirouettes on a dark mahogany table, plump and wet oysters floating adrift voluptuously, and sticky, moist tofu cakes being separated slowly demonstrate the allure of the culinary heritage in Chaoshan.
Part of the appeal of “Flavorful Origins” is how culturally immersive it is. Some episodes feature more common ingredients, like fish sauce and seaweed, but most of them showcase food specific to Chaoshan — American viewers won’t recognize most of the methods and ingredients featured, and that’s part of what makes the show so interesting to watch.
In addition to the unique food, the scenic visuals of the lush Guangdong region are otherworldly. Paired with a dreamy score and melodic, rhythmic Mandarin narration, the viewing experience can be either tantalizing or like a sedative, depending on how interested you are. For this reason, “Flavorful Origins” may not be the best series to binge watch — it might be more efficient to pick out episodes that look interesting to you, and start there.
Although “Flavorful Origins” pays great attention to the cuisine of the region, they drastically neglect the human stories of Chaoshan. The people that make each dish are named and shown doing various tasks, but there is little background information on their lives and what the ingredients and dishes mean to them. There is also minimal information on the socio-economic conditions of the region, both historically and in the present, which would give much-needed context to the different components of Chaoshan cuisine. Consequently, the people responsible for the rich, traditional cuisine of the region are an afterthought, and some episodes suffer for this.
“Flavorful Origins” is an educational experience on a subject most people don’t know anything about going into. The abundance of cultural value available in these short but sweet 10-minute episodes will make watching worthwhile.
“Flavorful Origins,” Season 1
MPAA Rating: TV-G