In a year when travel was as good as a taboo word, on-screen excursions and paperback passages led us through cities, villages, mountains and seasons far beyond our reach. Food shows, mystery movies set in strange towns or novels from the opposite hemisphere, steady spoonfuls of vicarious living got us through the year. Now you dig in.
Street Food Asia (2019)
Fat slabs of meat are torched on a griddle at an izakaya in Osaka; tourists seated on red stools slurp on pho in Ho Chi Minh City; chilli crabs are dunked in hot oil at a hawker centre in Singapore—Street Food makes for a compelling watch. But it’s not your regular food show binge. The nine part documentary celebrates vivacious food and extraordinary journeys of the food makers across nine Asian cities. The tales are humbling, and the meals, appetising. Those left craving for another slice of this docu-series can dig into its Latin American rendition.
— Pooja Naik
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes (2017)
Watching The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes is a double-edged sword. You see some mind-boggling architecture in some breathtaking landscapes, and if you’re anything like me, become consumed by fantasies of living your best life—sometime in the deep future. The extraordinariness of it all is likely both your inspiration and your undoing. Will you have the roaring red canvas of the Arizona desert to manifest your dream mansion on? What are the odds of you procuring the tailfin of Boeing for a house with an industrial edge? However removed your current reality might seem from the places and people on the show that airs on Netflix, it will still takes you for a generous spin around the world. Travel ticket-free with hosts Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin to the emerald forests of New Zealand, to coastal Norway, sun-coloured Spanish farmhouses, and subterranean retreats in Greece. And crank up Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” once you’re done binging.
— Sohini Das Gupta
Down to Earth with Zac Efron (2020)
From sinking into turquoise geothermal spas Iceland, traversing the Mediterranean island of Sardinia and eating through the A-Z of local delicacies in Puerto Rico—Down to Earth with Zac Efron took us on a wild and virtual bucket-list ride through the world, when it released earlier this year. While the premise of the eight-part series is the hunt for solutions promoting sustainable living, hosts Efron and wellness expert Darin Olien’s wonder at discovering the hidden secrets of each city or country—cooking classes in rustic villages in Sardinia, samplings grubs in Iquitos’ rainforests, visiting potato centres in Lima—makes it an instant hit with those dreaming up their next itineraries.
— Sanjana Ray
Queer Eye (2018)
Through the five seasons of Queer Eye, a reality show which airs on Netflix, the Fab Five (as the hosts are called) have brought the audience incredible joy. The heartwarming makeover stories, very often involving of people of colour and those from the LGBTQ+ community, come loaded with feel-good moments that can get one through the day. Through the show, the audience explores parts of America which aren’t necessarily Hollywood favourites: little towns and villages in Georgia, Kansas and Missouri, pockets of Philadelphia, that help them understand the nuances in a range of disparate American lives. With Tan France’s impeccable sense of fashion, Jonathan van Ness’s heart-on-the-sleeve styling, Karamo Brown’s cultural fixes, Bobby Berk’s stunning interior vision, and Antoni Porowski’s ability to whip up delicious food, binging on this show makes bearing the pandemic easier.
— Lubna Amir
The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives (2020)
They aren’t The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but this motley bunch of ‘Bollywood wives’ sure know how to live it up on the swankier shores of the world. Travel to Paris for a “high-society” debutante ball, or to the uber-luxurious Doha for a girl’s trip. The girls know their luxe too well: Business class travel, a duplex hotel suite, personalised shopping trips in a Rolls Royce, and desert adventures are the usual order. But more than anything, the show—with several scenes filmed across Mumbai’s restaurants—will make locals yearn for pre-pandemic times, when stepping out for a dinner with friends wasn’t so complicated.
— Lubna Amir
Mystery Train (1989)
While most trains whoosh past the erstwhile throne of Elvis Presley, a couple, hip, 20-something Japanese kids get off in Memphis, Tennessee to pay a pilgrimage to the King of rock ‘n’ roll. They aimlessly walk around a city that’s ghostly, boarded up, and yet steeped in a grimy cool that shimmers off the asphalt like gasoline fumes. The greaser boyfriend with a penchant for Carl Perkins seems too cool for school, flicking his Zippo with a snap that’s half James Dean, half Rajinikanth. The girlfriend likes to wear a thick coat of cherry red lipstick—that matches her suitcase—when she repaints her partner’s face with her frequent kisses. This is the story of a realm that’s not quite dead or alive, embodied in a dingy hotel that trades in TV screens for lonely portraits of Elvis: for a night it holds our Japanese friends, a desperate trio with a six-shooter, and a woman tasked with picking up the body of her dead husband. From the inch-perfect dialogue to the beat-up pool halls and package stores, Director Jim Jarmusch shows us a Memphis without makeup, and she is all the more beautiful for it.
— Julian Manning
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
This Mexican odyssey, the tale of two late teens travelling across Mexico in a station wagon with a beautiful woman a decade older than them, might sound like an ill-thought-out fantasy by Director Alfonso Cuarón: it is anything but. There is nary a cinephile in this world that won’t feel a glorious gut-punch of emotion when they watch this cinematic saga. The film manages to stitch the classism of Mexico—from the capital’s grand estates to the countryside’s squalid shacks—into a narrative that honestly and unapologetically explores the vagaries and truths of coming of age, friendship, love, lust, impending death, and, of course, the mesmerising nation of Mexico.
— Julian Manning
Dear Hong Kong: An Elegy for A City (2017)
Don’t expect Xu Xi’s memoir to zip along Hong Kong, for this book slowly unravels her decision to leave the city she calls home. She traces her life on the island that’s been the love of her life, “albeit an oftentimes tiresome and petulant lover,” revealing a Hong Kong tourists rarely get to know. The ‘chicken skin paper’ used to cover textbooks reminds Xi of her favourite deep fried chicken skin; there are memories of beach trips to the New Territories; and details of Chinese family life that give you a sofa seat into Xi’s love-hate relationship with the fragrant harbour. Goodbyes are never easy, and Xi’s writing is a beautiful meditation on a love affair that was supposed to last forever but didn’t.
— Kareena Gianani
Rock Critic Murders (1989)
In this mystery novel, a beleaguered bassist and part-time sleuth by the name of Martin Fender takes us through the underbelly of Austin, Texas as he investigates the murders that continue to greet him at every turn. Guns, missing cocaine, and stolen vehicles mark the pages of the book, as the reader gets intertwined in the pulse of the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’. The author, Jesse Sublett, a punk rocker turned writer who’s a local legend, knows that music and crime flow through the spirit of the city faster than the Colorado River on a rainy day, and captures its cadence spectacularly.
— Julian Manning
Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe (2009)
A coffee table book on food with glorious photographs proved to be just the anecdote for my travel pangs in the year of no-travel. Edited by National Geographic Society, the 320-page hardcover offers a broad and browse-ready lowdown on everything edible—juicy steaks in Buenos Aires, spicy Creole treats in New Orleans, vintage French wineries, or Tokyo’s most sublime sushi. Scattered throughout are top ten lists on street markets, foodie’s bike tours, food & drink festivals and even recipes you can reproduce. Don’t go in expecting to delve deep. This is the book for delicious day-dreaming, for a big, lusty mouthful of pho in Vietnam one minute, and a sticky slurp of maple syrup in Vermont the next.
— Sohini Das Gupta