Made in Thailand

TV shows that put a spotlight on Thai culture

To say that Thailand has been getting global recognition lately may be a bit of an understatement. After all, it's not a secret that it's a famous tourist destination with plenty of beautiful beaches and street food that's been topping lists for years now. Of course, these are only just a few things Thailand is well-known for but we don't really have the time to get into all of that (*cough* rigged election *cough*). However, people from the outside may have a narrow view of what Thailand and its culture really is, but fortunately, there are things that help put a spotlight on these things. The next instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise is filming right now in parts of Thailand, including Krabi where its governor stated that the film would be a "great advertisement for the nature, culture and history of the kingdom". Erm sure, that's what the Fast and Furious franchise is all about anyway. While the film will most likely be more about cars zoom-zooming and vroom-vrooming, there are a number of shows on TV that give a better focus on Thai culture. Here are a few.

 

Street Food Asia Street Food Photos: Chamni's Eye/Netflix

STREET FOOD (S01E01) NETFLIX

It seemed like a no-brainer for Thailand to be included in the Netflix docu-series Street Food. The series does travel to different parts of Asia and tells stories of a variety of different people running their own restaurants or food stalls, but it also gives a great insight to how culture and circumstance shaped the way food was made and evolved in the country to what it is today. The same goes for their episode in Thailand, which is the very first episode of the show, and rightfully so. After all, we are ranked number one as the best street food destination in the world #humblebrag #notreally.

Street Food Asia Street Food Chamni's Eye/Netflix

HIGHLIGHTS

While the episode does revolve mainly around the legendary Jay Fai and how she started her now iconic Michelin-starred restaurant, it also features other street food places like the ba mee stall at Sukhumvit 38 and Jek Pui, a well-known curry vendor. The episode is enough to get your mouth-watering and make you want to go out on a night excursion just feasting on every street food you can set your sights upon, but it also tells a story of resilience especially in the case of Jay Fai and her beginnings. It also showcases how tradition plays a huge part in these restos and stalls with the business and recipes being passed down to generation after generation. It makes you appreciate that B40 bowl of kuay tiew even more knowing that there's a rich history behind it. The episode shows that Bangkok may have street food everywhere, but this street food also tells the story of the city.


 

The Chef Show The Chef Show Courtesy of Netflix

THE CHEF SHOW (S01E04) NETFLIX

The 2014 film Chef was a simple, emotional and fun film that revolved around chef Carl Casper, played by Jon Favreau who also directed the film, travelling the US in a food truck with his son and sous chef selling cubanos all the while reconnecting with his son and salvaging his name from an embarrassing blowout with a food critic. It's a fantastic movie with a great story but it also had to most mouth-watering cooking-sequences that won't just make you hungry but also inspire you to get into the kitchen. Now, five years later, Jon Favreau along with his mentor chef Roy Choi launched The Chef Show where the both of them simply cook anything and everything, even recreating some of the dishes from the movie.

HIGHLIGHTS

There are a number of special guests on the show. With Jon Favreau's involvement in the MCU (he directed the first Iron Man so he basically was one of the people who started the MCU -- and he also plays Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's driver), the first two episodes were a Marvel-filled guest line-up with Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland, Kevin Feige and the Russo Bros. In the fourth episode, he had Jazz Singsanong as a guest, the owner of a well-known Thai restaurant in Los Angeles. While it was entertaining of course to see Jazz teach Favreau and Choi how to make the likes of pad Thai and other Thai dishes, it was the story of how she took over Jitlada with her brother and how they struggled at first despite being told their food was good that makes this more than just another "how to cook Thai dishes" episode. It all turned around when famous food critic, the late Jonathan Gold who was the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, visited them and published an article about them, putting Jitlada in the spotlight. And the rest is history.


 

Travels with My Father Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father Mark Chapman/Netflix

JACK WHITEHALL: TRAVELS WITH MY FATHER (S01E1-E3) NETFLIX

If you don't know who Jack Whitehall is then you're missing out. Search his name on YT and you've pretty much got yourself an endless list of hilarious videos of him you could watch from interviews to short stand-up clips, but he's also got two things on Netflix: a comedy special and a show called Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father. While the British comedian is already pretty funny, being paired up with his father, Michael, brings out the most hilarious moments. The first season of the show has Jack bringing Michael to Southeast Asia to have the ultimate "backpacker experience". However, while Jack wants to rough it out, Michael is one of the poshest people you'll ever meet. The clash of personalities and preferences produces great, memorable comedy.

Travels with My Father Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father Photos: Hilary Whitehall/Netflix

HIGHLIGHTS

The first season has them visiting three countries in Southeast Asia but their very first is none other than the Land of Smiles itself. The first leg of the trip got off to a great start as Jack brought his father to the backpacker's hotel they were staying at, causing Michael to simply walk away at the sight of the bedroom they had to share with other foreigners. Where did he walk away to? None other than Anantara Siam (it was The Four Seasons back when they stayed there), a five-star hotel. The first three episodes of the show follow father and son as they embark on high jinks alone and together, but it gives a good insight into varying shades of Thai culture like what the hi-so life is like at the King's Cup Elephant Polo match. On the other end of the spectrum though, Jack plays football with the Panyee FC team at their floating football pitch. Plus, they also go to the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden at Chonburi, which showcases what hell is like through gruesome statues giving some insight to Thai beliefs. Arguably, however, the highlight of it all is when they're gifted a luk thep doll, which Michael dubs as his new and favourite son much to Jack's chagrin.


 

Somebody Feed Phil Photos: NETFLIX

SOMEBODY FEED PHIL (S01E01) NETFLIX

Phil Rosenthal created the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which aired from 1996 to 2005, but it was after the show ended that he got to be in front of the camera. In 2015, he had a show named I'll Have What Phil's Having where he goes to explore different kinds of food in different kinds of cultures. The show was short-lived, however, and was cancelled after only one season. In true Netflix fashion, the streaming service saved the day and ordered the "spiritual successor" of the show, Somebody Feed Phil. The show now has two seasons with a third on the way. But their very first ep? None other than Thailand.

 

Somebody Feed Phil NETFLIX

Somebody Feed Phil NETFLIX

HIGHLIGHTS

There's possibly no other person that exudes joy and enthusiasm like Phil so it's entertaining to watch him not just try out the food but experience the culture of Thailand. At one point, he finds himself walking around Chinatown, not really knowing what to buy and eat. He gets to try street food classics like khao soi but also gets the other end of the spectrum like dining at Gaggan. He also tried Jay Fai's crab omelette before the resto got Michelin starred, and he was so enamoured by the dish that he gave it a special mention during an appearance at Jimmy Kimmel Live. Phil also tries out more than just food as he visits a temple where a monk teaches him meditation and also visits elephants, which terrifies him at first though he hilariously warms up to them. But it's what he concludes after his stay in Bangkok that was truly poignant: "The people of Thailand can make you believe that all things in life are possible". In a world full of cynicism and negativity, it's good to be reminded of this, even for those of us who live here.


 

GORDON'S GREAT ESCAPE (S02E04) Channel4.com

Gordon Ramsay is a master chef (pun slightly intended). When it comes to running a kitchen, he knows what to do, so I can't really blame him for being furious and screaming at people who claim they've got it all figured out on any of his shows. But while he may be in his element in one of his kitchens, it's entertaining to see him out of his comfort zone. The 2011 show Gordon's Great Escape did just that. While the first series had him exploring India, the second one had him travelling Asia, and his last destination was none other than Thailand.

HIGHLIGHTS

The whole episode revolves around Ramsay having to prepare for a cook-off with noted Thai chef McDang, and from the get-go, Ramsay is schooled by the Thai chef. "That's really boring!" he exclaims when Ramsay thinks that the most famous dish at a street food stall is pad Thai. Ramsay knows he's in over his head but nonetheless he sets out to learn how to cook Thai dishes as authentic as possible. He heads to Chiang Mai to learn how to make sai ua and proceeds to be laughed at by the old woman who's teaching him how to do it, a great contrast to the expert chef ridiculing "know-it-alls" we see him as in his other shows. He also joins a fish paste competition with a group of other local cooks. Ramsay also heads south to gather oysters. There's nothing like seeing Ramsay travel and experience different parts of Thailand, but the moment that probably encapsulated his whole trip was when he went to a live muay Thai match to be served beer by ladyboys. "They have the most amazing legs," he remarks, "I'm beginning to mix up who's Arthur and who's Martha." To top it all off, he witnessed them dancing to none other than The Village People's YMCA.


 

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN (S3E08)

It would be a grave mistake to not include the culinary world's bad boy, the late Anthony Bourdain, on this list, who coincidentally would have celebrated his birthday last month. He had travelled extensively around the world and tried out a huge amount of a variety of dishes from different cultures. Thailand, of course, was no exception, and Bourdain went up to Chiang Mai to explore the variety of dishes it had to offer.

HIGHLIGHTS

Bourdain did try some the usual fare that even we here in Bangkok enjoy. He visited a famous khao kha moo stall run by the unmistakable Lady in a Cowboy Hat and tried out some drunken noodles which interestingly didn't have noodles. But the highlight of his time in Thailand would have to be his visit to a restaurant "in the middle of nowhere" as he called it in Mae On. Accompanied by Andy Ricker, a chef and an expert in northern Thai cuisine, it's amusing to see Bourdain cringe when Ricker tells him they were about to dig into some aeb or pig's brain and lou or raw pig's blood soup. Bourdain pretty much looked terrified and honestly, can you blame him? But the moment he tries it, (spoiler alert) he becomes a convert and declared that it was the best meal he ever had in the country, a testament to the fact that Thai cuisine, no matter how quirky or perhaps even downright disgusting it may be to outsiders, can make you fall in love with it with just one bite.


 

Amphibia Photos: Amphibia

AMPHIBIA Disney Channel

This show has yet to come out but it made a bit of a splash locally a couple of weeks ago. It's the first Disney Channel show to have a Thai-American as its main character. Anne Boonchuy, a young girl, finds herself transported to Amphibia where a frog-talking people reside. She eventually settles there and even sets up her own Thai restaurant with a bit of a twist to make it edible to frogs because after all, frogs are her patrons. The show was created by Matt Braly who is half Thai and based the show on his experiences travelling back to Thailand as a kid. Braly stated that he "wanted to bottle that magical feeling" of not wanting to leave Thailand at the end of his childhood trips. Anne herself is played by half Thai actress Brenda Song.

 

Amphibia Amphibia

Amphibia Amphibia

HIGHLIGHTS

One episode titled "Lily Pad Thai" has Anne helping out in revamping the local diner named Stumpy's. Using her experience in helping out at her parents' resto, she turns Stumpy's into a Thai fusion restaurant. Her frog patrons are treated to local dishes like pad Thai and larb. And with that, even frogs are falling in love with Thai dishes.


 

Our Floating Dreams Mickey Mouse YouTube Channel

OUR FLOATING DREAMS - DISNEY SHORTS YouTube

For those of you who didn't know, the iconic mouse, which is now synonymous to the Walt Disney company and who now owns basically every moneymaking property out there (LucasFilm meaning Star Wars and 20th Century Fox meaning Deadpool and X-Men), was introduced as a humble character in numerous cartoon shorts way back in 1928. The way Mickey has been drawn has changed over the years, he's got a number of friends, and he's done more than just cartoon shorts now. However, Disney decided to go back to their roots and revive the classic shorts on YouTube which now have almost 100 shorts. The animation is reminiscent of the classic style Mickey is drawn which gives you such nostalgia. But the coolest thing about it may be the fact that the very latest short they released is set right here in Thailand.

 

Our Floating Dreams. Photos:

Our Floating Dreams Photos: Mickey Mouse YouTube Channel

HIGHLIGHTS

The short, titled Our Floating Dreams, follows Mickey and Minnie who are two vendors at a floating market trying to compete with each other and all hilarity breaks loose as they do so. The short is barely four minutes long but is chock-full of cultural references. For starters, it's funny yet endearing to hear Mickey and Minnie speak in Thai. Mickey yells out "Sapparot!" while Minnie shouts "Khao pad!". At one point, they're both screaming at a helpless giraffe, shoving what they're selling to its face. The murmurings in Thai all around the market were a delight to hear, but my favourite part would have to be the appearance of Chip and Dale who were singing a Thai song. Since it's only about four minutes long, I won't go into it anymore, but this short was entertaining and does a great job in showing Thai culture to a wider audience.