I stumbled upon Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories on a usual evening of scrolling through ‘recently added’ section of Netflix. I saw the episodes were around 24 mins long, enough time for me to watch a single episode before preparing dinner. But the first episode had me hooked, and also made me too hungry to cook. I ended up ordering a takeout and watching 5 episodes back to back. Binged on the rest 5 the next day.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, based on the popular manga “Shinya Shokudo”, is set in a late night eatery in downtown Tokyo. The diner offers only pork stew and drinks, but the owner (also the narrator with a nice, calming voice) fondly known as ‘Master’ readily cooks anything for his patrons depending on the availability of the ingredients. Though the Master is either seen cooking or smoking at the back of his diner, it is his narration that takes the story forward. He also, at times, listens to his customers talk about their problems and advises them.
Each episode is named after a Japanese dish and tells the story of a regular or a visitor at the diner. These are stories of family, friendship, grief, guilt, pride, and love. Each story is emotionally intertwined to that episode’s dish, and always has a happy ending (thank God for that). The episodes end with quick tips on preparing the dish (some are already in my recipes-to-try list).
The way the dishes are presented on the show is so appetizing. There were a lot of scenes of food being cooked, served and savored. Visually appealing closeups of the dishes left me feeling contented (rather hungry) after every episode. But what moved me the most was the satisfied faces of the customers as they devoured their food at the end of each episode. It had such a calming effect on me.
I felt a very similar feeling of calmness after watching Samurai Gourmet. Based on a popular Japanese manga, Samurai Gourmet is about Takeshi Kasumi, a 60 year old recently retired man who realizes that he now has a lot of free time, and is free to eat and drink what he wants and whenever he wants.
Takeshi, guided by an imaginary samurai, uses his free time to rediscover his passion for food. The 12 episodes are about his culinary adventures eating at restaurants all over Toyko, enjoying his meal to the fullest. Apparently, the restaurants shown are all real places with real menu.
Just like Midnight Diner, every episode of Samurai Gourmet centers around a dish, which makes Takeshi nostalgic and often takes him back to a childhood event. There is something very relaxing about Takeshi’s facial expressions when he devours the food.
However, one particular episode called ‘Yakiniku Her Way’ where Takeshi takes his niece Masako for dinner to give her career advice highlights the sad reality of our current eating habits. Takeshi is amazed at how his niece was so distracted while eating — reading reviews, snapping pictures, and being generally busy on the phone while he believes in paying all the attention to the food, its texture and flavors, and enjoying every morsel. Because that’s really should be the way to eat.
Both Midnight Diner and Samurai Gourmet are endearing and feel-good shows. These shows are not about cooking food, they are about savoring food. They are about memories, nostalgia, and comfort that food evokes in us.