Japanese Food-Centric Dramas On Netflix: Why You Should Watch | CoolJapan

There are many Japanese food programmes that are created to feed the voracious appetites of foodies through gourmet entertainment. However, no one does it better than the food-centric Japanese dramas, Midnight Diner (深夜食堂) and Samurai Gourmet (野武士のグルメ).

These two are not your typical cooking shows that are all the rage now, nor are they food documentaries that glorify food porn. Using simple storytelling, food takes centre stage while teaching viewers how to savour the essence of food. Curious as to how they do it? Ahead, four reasons why you should check out these Japanese food-centric dramas on Netflix.

Man eating Japanese rolls

(Photo from: Stockking via Freepik)

Teaching the simple pleasures of everyday food

We all love a decadent meal filled with expensive ingredients and exotic flavours. However, what truly warms our hearts are good home-cooked meals that are simple yet comforting. Take the case of Midnight Diner for example. The dishes featured are the everyday Japanese foods that one can quite easily find; nothing extravagant or impressive. With each episode, the owner of a late-night Tokyo diner (affectionately called 'Master' by everyone) whips up the customer’s favourite food of choice.

Fried sausages, butter rice, potato salad, omelette rice, and yakisoba are some of the Japanese foods that are beautifully highlighted. This, on top of Master’s one and only item on his menu, which is pork miso soup.

Tonjiru or Butajiru

Tonjiru or Butajiru, a typical Japanese Miso soup with pork and vegetables. (Photo from: yoppy via Flickr)

Each episode ends with a quick demonstration on how easy it is to cook the featured dish. Through these ordinary everyday foods, we are taught how to slow down our pace, to reminisce and to rediscover the simple pleasures of life.

Provocative visual stimulation

True food lovers know that the thrill of food partly lies in the chase. In these dramas, food scenes are shot up-close and in smooth slow-motion. The tantalising wait while the camera zooms in indulgently on food preparation builds up the anticipation, with the final act of eating culminating into an exciting climax.

In Episode 3 of Samurai Gourmet, the main protagonist, 60-year-old retiree Takeshi Kasumi, spends a night at an unassuming Japanese bed-and-breakfast after he misses his train back home. The next morning, he wakes up to a simple yet hearty breakfast of grilled dried mackerel, rice and pickled seaweed.

Time seems to stop as the scene focuses idly on the food that is being served to Kasumi. Oil glistens on the mackerel and fluffy white rice is carefully scooped.

Viewers hold their breath while waiting for Kasumi to take a bite of the fish. After he slowly savours all the side dishes and affirms his satisfaction with a gleeful "umai" ("delicious"), he tenderly takes a piece of the mackerel with his chopsticks and breaks out into a blissful smile that crinkles his eyes.

sun-dried grilled mackerel

Aji no hiraki, sun-dried grilled mackerel

Episode 7 is another exemplary visual temptation. Kasumi chances upon a traditional izakaya (pub) after a doctor’s appointment and orders a large Japanese beer to start off the meal. While he waits with child-like eagerness, we see golden-hued beer sloshing delightfully into the mug and a zoom-up of fizzing bubbles. Kasumi welcomes the beer with a rapturous grin, takes a long gulp and lets out an, "Ahhh, amazing! This is the best!"


The act of eating itself has become an art form. (Photo from: jcomp via Freepik)

Connecting food to memories

Food is more than just a culinary enjoyment, it is about people, human connections, and the memories it evokes. Midnight Diner does a superb job at this.

Set in the dark alleys of Tokyo, the charismatic chef of the late-night diner provides refuge to a slew of diners from all walks of life. Every episode tells the personal story of one diner, revolving around each of their food of preference and the memory that is associated with it. One fine example can be found in Season 3, Episode 6 of Midnight Diner. 

Japanese izakayas

Late-night food found in the streets of Japan (Photo from: binmassam via Pixabay)

Master lovingly hand-makes delicious boiled cabbage rolls as the weather turns colder. Everyone at his diner digs into these delightful steaming-hot rolls happily except for Marilyn, a popular Shinjuku stripper. This enigmatic lady then reveals cabbage rolls remind her of the times her mother abandoned her when she was young.

Fortunately, it ends on a good note. Marilyn realised her mother still loves her through the simple gesture of imparting her personal cabbage roll recipe to Master so that she can always have a taste of home even though her mom is always not around. It is a poignant tale that draws on the empathy of viewers and triggers us to look back at times when we feel rejected, and finally find acceptance.

Japanese-Style Cabbage Rolls

Japanese-Style Cabbage Rolls are usually stuffed with meat and onions, and simmered in a dashi broth.

Engages the imagination

Do you remember the exciting feeling of when you first tried a new dish? The moment of joy becomes a personal connection that stays in your memory for a long time, doesn't it?

Unlike food documentaries that show the host enthusiastically describing a dish down to its smell and taste, these two Japanese food dramas leave room for imagination rather than just spoon-feeding information. With that, we are left to wonder, get curious, and crave to seek it out.

According to an article on Straits Times, Naoto Takenaka, the actor who plays Kasumi, summed it up perfectly. "The person who's eating explains the texture and I don't like that. I think it's too much, you don't want it explained because you want to imagine it and try it yourself," he said in Japanese through a translator.

In the case of Samurai Gourmet, Kasumi’s intense facial expression is all that is enough to send viewers into a food frenzy. No words are needed. The way he gulps down a mug of refreshing cold beer, the look of excitement as he gazes lovingly at the food on his table and that burst of joy when he finally gets to savour the anticipated dish.

We may have no idea what he just tasted but we know we want to try it too.