If your college Goa trip never materialised, talk shows were a common surrogate. Floyd’s India, Jamie’s Kitchen and the zingy escapades of Anthony Bourdain have been the norm since time immemorial (read: the year 2000), an accessible heaven that could breathe life into dal-sabzi weekends. Now that a significant chunk of aspirational telly’s been replaced by vloggers, Instagram gods and the like, production pitches have gotten more competitive; there’s a constant scouting for the unfamiliar to keep audiences hooked.
We’ve compiled five non-fiction titles about offbeat travel here that we currently love. They aren’t your usual road-trip-and-discover-yourself stories, nor do they belong to the brand of exotic country hopping that’s sometimes tinged with colonialism. They all have one thing in common, though—incredible learning value.
Take a read, check out the trailers, and let us know what else you’d tack onto the list.
Ugly Delicious is a witty and incisive ode to the Sunday roasts and intoxicating broths that make us weep in joy. Each episode tracks the legacy, global parallels and messy culinary opinions surrounding an iconic food (say, tacos), alongside exploring the socioeconomic realities that can trouble its cooks. Celebrity friends like Rene Redzipi (of Noma fame) occasionally ‘drop in’ for discussions. What’s interesting is that these culinary giants often have conflicting views, making their sarcastic banter a brilliant info pool for those just diving into the scene.
“I’ve just reached the point where I’m okay making really ugly food,” says Chang, championing flavour over form. Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan accompanies the restaurater on his trips, balancing Chang’s entertaining snark with insightful (and gentler) inquiry.
Duration: 1 Season, 8 episodes
The Rolling Stones Olé, Olé, Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America
Bandana-clad devotees scream in ecstasy. Five hundred thousand sway to ‘Brown Sugar’. A man breaks down on the street after glimpsing Jagger.
Equal parts concert film and travelogue, Olé captures the rock band’s fiery presence as their motorcade travels across Latin America, combining stage, city and fandom goodness. The band’s unwavering popularity in Argentina is also dissected: a much-criticised ban on English music had moved citizens to form their own defiant subculture venerating the Rolling Stones, which in turn influenced generations of rock acts in the country. And of course, you can’t end things without a killer performance or two.
Duration: 1h 40m
Stephen Fry in America
From trying frybread with the Navajo tribe in Utah, to revisiting Salem’s history of witchcraft, to scouring Oregon’s forests for Bigfoot—the British comedian covers the length and breadth of the star spangled banner in a London taxi cab. In hand, of course, is his childlike curiosity and characteristic dry humour. The show is an irreverent, open-minded and refreshingly respectful take on the lesser known customs and beliefs that inhabit the continental US; unexpected cameos by American celebrities such as Sting, and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, feel delightfully in tune with the spontaneity of this show.
Duration: 1 Season, 6 episodes
Bold. Gripping. Beyond wild.
These are just a handful of the veritable mountain of phrases that critics showered on this film. Channelling the indomitable Texas spirit, Unbranded captures four cowboys as they ride alongside 16 wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada, a spine-breaking journey celebrating the bond between man and animal.
The US has a critical adoption problem when it comes to wild horses—only 3,000 found a home out of 50,000 at the time of making this film. Seeking out a taste of adventure at the brink of adulthood, the quartet take it upon themselves to prove the worth of these magnificent creatures via a visceral cross-country journey spanning deserts, glaciers, canyons and waterfalls.
Duration: 1h 45m
Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy
“How do you break into comedy in Somalia?”
Writer and director Larry Charles battles these questions—and a lot more—as he explores the standup comedy circuits that persist amid governments lacking a sense of humour.
The show isn’t as much a joke lineup as it is a way of understanding how comics excavate threadbare optimism in troubled regions; the artists go into amusing detail about their lives as unintentioned messiahs of laughter, with no qualms about the serious extremes they resort to, just for a few laughs. The fact that they’re succeeding in countries like Nigeria, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia, is a miraculous testament to human willpower.
Duration: 1 Season, 4 episodes
For Netflix travel shows that are a little more straightforward, try our past stories.