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Our List of Favorite Japanese “Gurume Doramas” (Gourmet Dramas)

If you enjoy watching cooking shows and are interested in Japanese food and culture, chances are -- you might enjoy watching “gurume doramas”, also known as gourmet TV Dramas. Read about our favorites!

midnight-diner Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

As an avid fan of Shinya Shokudo (the original Midnight Diner), I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Netflix bought the distributing rights for the show, making it a lot more accessible to a wider audience. I was equally happy to discover that the creative direction of the story remained the same. If this is the first time you’ve heard of the show, you’re in for a treat. Set in a hole-in-the-wall diner found in a slim alleyway of Shinjuku district of Tokyo, customers from all walks of life go inside for a meal or a simple dish served by the wise Chef aptly deemed “Master”. The midnight to dawn hours of the diner attracts an interesting crowd, to say the least. Each episode shows an idiosyncratic narrative about the individual customer and his relationship to the Japanese dish ranging from ham cutlet to egg tofu. Nostalgia plays a huge role with food – it is uncommon for customers to request a childhood dish that evoked memories of loss or happiness. Combined with the gorgeous close-up shots of Japanese food being prepared and cooked, meditative pacing of storyline, rewarding character developments, and excellent end-credit music, Shinya Shokudo has been a highly rated show, and rightly so. Recommended Episode: Egg Tofu. Available on Netflix.

samurai-gourmet
Samurai Gourmet

Ideally, when I reach retirement age, I’d like to spend the remainder of my life taking pleasant strolls around a Japanese neighborhood and eat to my heart’s content. Samurai Gourmet is exactly that: 60 year old Kusumi-san is a newly retiree who decides to spend the rest of his time in pursuit of leisure and fine food. Temperamentally conservative with occasional bursts of wild imagination, Kusumi-san encapsulates the committed spirit of the food aficionado. Each episode is about 20 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to capture the small albeit intensely gratifying vignettes of Kusumi-san’s meal time, which varies from having grilled mackerel in the morning to drinking a mid-day beer at a restaurant. The sepia-tinted scenes and slow pacing of the story is contrasted the appearance of his imaginary samurai friend, an anachronistic, raucous character that sometimes only exist to be the deux ex machina of the story. The take-away from each episode? Always eat with gusto. Recommended Episode: Lunch at an Old-Fashioned Café. Available on Netflix.

kodoku-no-gurume

Kodoku no Gurume (“Solitary Gourmet”)

If you couldn’t get enough of Masayuki Kusumi (main actor in Samurai Gourmet), you can find him in this series as the head writer. Kodoku no Gurume, the live-action drama adapted from the manga, features the solitary gourmet foodie is Inogashira-san, an importer for European furniture, with a voracious appetite for whatever’s good in town. From trying out a café’s Napolitan pasta in Kichioji, Musashino City to savoring yakiniku (grilled meat) in an izakaya of Kwawasaki City, each episode delivers a visually stunning exhibition of the featured dish(es). The series is known for artful lighting, understated scoring, creative shot composition and thoughtful editing; the formalist approach to filming Inogashira-san and his meal is almost meditative and leaves me in an almost trance-like state after each episode ends. From wide angle shots of Japan’s varied urban landscape to the interiors of dimly lit restaurants, each episode rewards the viewer with a deliciously vicarious experience of trekking around Japan’s varied neighborhoods and samplings its local cuisine. Recommended Episode: Dan Dan Noodles Without Soup of Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward. Available on KissAsian.

wakako-zake
Wakakozake

Free-spirited 26-year old Wakako daydreams about her next meal during her work and makes her trips for food an exciting expedition at night. It is refreshing to see Wakako independently eat out alone at night with an unabashed attitude. If men can do it, why can’t she? Compared to the aforementioned shows listed above, Wakakozake has less emphasis on the educational aspect of the food and more emphasis on the protagonist’s reaction (though her signature “pshuu” phrase after her sip of sake feels a little out of place and I heard it fits more in the anime). The pairing of sake to every meal is quite insightful and the cinematography definitely makes the drink look like liquid gold sometimes. The peaceful live-action drama contains hardly any drama and it works fine – the point of the show is to allow the viewer to intimately – yet in a voyeuristic distance - join Wakako’s revelation. In the show, we are encouraged to find simple pleasure in food and sake. Recommended Episode: Shrimp Ajillo at a Fancy Restaurant. Available on Crunchyroll.

Do you watch any Japanese gourmet dramas? Let us know which ones are your favorite!

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