This guide covers the best food and cookery TV on Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and the BFI player, as a sequel to the best food and cookery films and TV shows on Netflix.
While Netflix’s best food shows largely feature contemporary programmes, the best food shows on Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer are the vintage documentaries and cookery shows of the 1970s — 1990s. Below is a selection of shows, many of which reminisce and romanticise a bygone era, plus a number of contemporary documentaries and feature films that feature food from around the world.
It’s worth noting that like Netflix, Amazon Prime’s content listed here only covers the UK.
The best food shows on Amazon Prime
Compared to Netflix’s careful curation, Amazon is the Wild West. There are over 220 pages of food and drink content, including unknown housewives sharing family recipes, a cookery show based on children’s drawings, histories of airline food, and other such hidden ‘gems’ that should perhaps remain hidden. This section recommends only the brilliant stuff — frustratingly, however, many documentary series include only a limited number of seasons and episodes, leaving the viewer hungry for more. Fans of Masterchef note that Masterchef Australia — widely regarded as the best iteration — is available here.
It’s hard to frame this ground-breaking, multi-award winning documentary series now in terms of the late beloved culinary giant’s legacy. Far from being a glossy lifestyle-brochure travelogue, it doesn’t shy away from the hard realities of lives in non-touristy places such as Myanmar, Beirut, and Congo — from bumpy 19-hour train journeys, to police raids, to the constant knife-edge feeling that the cool, smart presenter could get arrested or lose his life at any moment. It made food political in a way that no food TV (except his own shows) had ever done before. What might get lost while admiring his fierce intelligence, incisive questioning, and incredible energy is just how extraordinarily well-written the series is. There are many TV presenters you might enjoy watching, but only one you wish you’d travelled with.
Only seven out of 12 seasons are available — but there’s also No Reservations, The Layover, and lesser-known Anthony Bourdain Explains Everything to get your Bourdain fix to last at least a few weeks.
Tortilla Soup (2001)
This feel-good movie is the Hispanic version of Ang Lee’s Taiwanese classic Eat Drink Man Woman. Hector Elizondo stars as a former chef with three grown-up daughters, who’s lost his sense of taste and smell. Somehow this doesn’t stop him from whipping up highly elaborate meals every day that look stunning. The food preparation and menu design are by Food Network chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger who specialise in contemporary Mexican cuisine. The message is of living life to the full and going for your dreams… as long as you have family around you, a well-stocked larder, and a habit of making every major announcement at the dinner table. It’s cheesy, charming, melodramatic, and entirely predictable — except for a little twist you might not see coming.
Cuban Food Stories (2018)
This Kickstarter-financed documentary, from the executive producers of Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, presents an in-depth and multi-perspective look at Cuban food. Filmmaker Asori Soto grew up in Cuba in the 1990s, where more than 50 years of isolation and extreme poverty had left people subsisting on little more than bread with salt, and water with sugar. He left in 2008, but returned to make the film a decade later when Cuba started opening up after the embargo lifted, only to find that the country’s culinary heritage had almost been wiped out. This beautifully shot documentary tells the individual stories of fishermen, chefs, a cookery teacher, a farmer, a street food vendor, an innkeeper, a restaurateur, and a coffee grower, all trying to bring back forgotten ingredients and traditional dishes. The filmmakers travelled to every province, sometimes by raft, horseback or swimming, to reach even the most secluded corners. Cuban food is currently at a significant point: finding its roots and starting to evolve, but still relatively “unspoiled” because of lack of international fast food chains.
This stunning Indian food history series, whose name translates as “kings, kitchens, and their various stories,” is also one of the best food shows on Netflix — but unlike Netflix, Amazon Prime has both seasons available. The second is important: while season one only had 11 episodes, season two is much longer with 24. The series gives an insight into India’s royal kitchens in several cities and states, tracing the origin of signature dishes. The grandeur on display is mind-boggling: for instance, in the tale of a Hyderabadi nizam with “the world’s largest dining table that seated 101 people”, he simply had to point at an item in a large painting of “26 food groups” for his chef to cook the dish of his choice — no menu needed.
With respected food historians and other experts, narration in high-level Hindi (the subtitles are fine, but don’t quite capture the poetry of the language used) and gorgeous cinematography, it’s a must-watch for lovers of Indian food. Raja Rasoi Aur Andaaz Anokha, a home-cooking spin-off with Indian celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, is also worth watching.
This obscure vintage ‘food film’ (but with no food whatsoever) is essentially a series of kung fu fights held together by a paper-thin storyline. It’s so outrageously bonkers, hilariously bad and atrociously dubbed, it had to be included here.
The story, as it is, is about an imperial master chef who teaches his grandson to take revenge on a rival who killed his family using the ‘secret’ martial art of ‘cooking kung fu’ – so secret, in fact, that it doesn’t seem to exist outside the realm of kung fu movies and YouTube videos.
The dubious dubbing sounds like a cross between English public schoolboys of the era crossed with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, and the cast of the 1970s Japanese cult classic, Monkey. The culinary element comes from classic Chinese dishes such as fried rice and drunken chicken given, erm, ‘expression’ by vaguely matching kung fu moves; plus, thrilling dialogue like “my kung fu will make mincemeat out of you!”
Bear with the first half because the second half does get better when the madcap story takes a more serious turn, and balletic training and fight sequences can be enjoyed for their surprising elegance and impressive technique. [In the chaotic spirit of the film, this trailer is in German, because it’s the only one available online.]
What is Israeli cuisine? Is it in fact Palestinian cuisine – with dishes “stolen”, borrowed or adapted? To what extent is it shaped by immigrants from Turkey, Morocco, Russia, Bulgaria, and the Jewish diaspora from 150 countries around the world? Is Israel actually too young to have a culinary culture in the first place? What are the key flavours and regional differences?
These are some of the questions explored by award-winning Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov in this feature-length documentary, as he travels across the country meeting chefs, home cooks, bakers, cheese makers, wine makers, foragers and farmers. He touches on — though doesn’t entirely delve into — how food and restaurants have been influenced by the conflict and the peace process, and explores the cuisine’s recent history.
There’s a strong emphasis on unique local ingredients; and the dynamism that’s made Israel a food destination in recently years is poignantly explained by one of the interviewees who says, “there’s no tomorrow in Israel, people cannot plan even for one year, people feel that if they don’t do it right now and exist in that moment, it will not be.”
Award-winning Greek-American cookery writer, teacher and chef Diane Kochilas has written a number of excellent cookbooks. Here she travels to different regions and islands of Greece looking at how ingredients are produced; then using them in her recipe demonstrations.
In an episode on Kalamata olives, she follows the entire process from picking to sorting; and cooks simple dishes such as olives sauteed with oranges, and olives with cuttlefish and wild greens. She’s a breezy, engaging presenter with enthusiastic banter, often sharing nuggets of information like “olive pits are cleaned, dried and sold as an alternative to wood pellets for home heating.” Only two out of three seasons are available, each with thirteen episodes.
This Mexican cooking show fronted by acclaimed Mexican-American chef, cookery writer and TV personality Pati Jinich has been so popular it’s spawned nine series (though only seasons 3 to 8 are available here), plus a best-selling cookbook.
Jinich is a perky, instructive host who comes from a family of chefs; here, demonstrating easy, working mom-style family recipes, such as meat and potato stew with salsa verde, red rice with prawns and vegetables, and a luscious-looking orange flan. Family members make an appearance in several of the episodes, and it’s all very relaxed and homely.
The best food shows on BBC iPlayer
By far the best things to watch on BBC iPlayer are the vintage cookery shows. Give the contemporary programmes a miss — they pale in comparison, with the notable exception of seminal documentary Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets — and sit down with properly folded napkins and dinnerware to tuck into the retro offerings of Delia Smith, Fanny Cradock, Keith Floyd, Ken Hom, and Madhur Jaffrey.
Simply Nigella (2015)
Nigella: At My Table (2017)
Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat (2020)
As anyone who follows Nigella on Twitter knows — and more than 2.6 million do — she’s a bright spark on dull days. When all is doom and gloom, swinging between politics and the pandemic, she lifts people up with Nutella pancakes and soothes them with Marmite spaghetti on the days when cupboards are bare.
Adding Nigella’s old TV shows on the iPlayer after the first lockdown was a canny move on the part of the BBC: if anyone can lift the spirit of the nation, she can. Her popular Simply Nigella and At My Table are now joined by Cook, Eat, Repeat, based on her wonderful new book with the same title.
Stylistically all three shows are similar: a smiling, flirtatious Nigella cooking eclectic comfort food in a plant-filled apartment with a pink-red chilli shelf backlit with fairy lights, and enviable kitchen equipment like a leopard-print knife and retro glass pasta pan. She’s exuberant, joyous and celebratory, yet practical and relatable.
In one episode, she assures us: “life can be complicated, cooking doesn’t have to be”; in another, she refers to the kitchen as “a sanctuary and a pleasure palace.” While making avocado toast she enthuses: “this is one of my favourite bits – the sound that I get when I scrape the last bit of avocado.” So there you have it: cooking as therapy and a life lesson — if the viewer can notice, let alone appreciate, something as mundane as the sound of avocado flesh being scraped from its skin, things will probably be alright.
Fanny Cradock is a hoot. This short, one-off black and white episode from 1970 of the formidable, immaculately dressed presenter showing off her well-organised kitchen shows her whipping up increasingly unlikely cheese dishes. These include fondue frites, cold omelette verte with spinach and chicken, quick “faux fondue” made from Lancashire cheese, and a wine-marinated camembert dip with pretzels. Cradock looks slightly demented, constantly getting messy and cleaning up after herself; and the food doesn’t look appetising — it’s truly riveting TV. Fanny Cradock Cooks For Christmas, with five 14-minute episodes, offers up dishes straight out of the 70s Dinner Party Twitter account.
Delia Smith is also school mam-ish in this 1978 series – but her soothing and reassuring voice and sharp business-like bob are a far cry from Fanny Cradock. Across ten episodes, she explains the fundamentals of cooking with eggs, bread, pastry, fish, roasting and pot-roasting meat, sauces, spices, winter vegetables, pulses, and puddings. The series was a phenomenon at the time, and is still very relevant to this day. There are short films and graphics showing how ingredients are produced and how they should be chosen, and advice on the best kitchen equipment for the task at hand. Its success made Delia a household name.
Ken Hom taught Britain to cook Chinese food with the first of his TV appearances in 1984. Over eight episodes, a youthful, confident and charismatic Hom shows how to cook fish, snacks, rice, meat, noodles, and vegetables. The focus is on technique; and his presentation is neat and tidy. One episode is dedicated to making Peking duck, and another is on stir-frying techniques. There are short films to explain Chinese street food and the dim sum eating tradition that would have been a novelty at the time; and cautious introductions to ingredients such as light soy sauce, sesame oil, and Sichuan peppercorns. A book that accompanied the series was also very popular.
Anybody thinking it was Jamie Oliver who made it cool for British lads to cook is too young — and anybody that doesn’t know that Jamie Oliver was once cool is even younger. Keith Floyd inspired a generation of 1980s and ‘90s men to get in the kitchen, and with this seven-episode series it’s easy to see why.
The bon viveur kicks off with the line “making TV programmes is not all beer and skittles, sometimes it’s about champagne and roses.” Later he says — trademark glass of wine in hand — “what I really like doing is wittering, chatting, drinking.” In contrast to his troubled personal life and tragic death, Floyd on camera is charismatic, witty, a loveable rogue, the cool uncle with the colourful escapades. He’s well-spoken and irreverent, speaking directly to the cameraman, telling someone off for interrupting, rebuking the BBC for the small budget, and generally being candid about the chaos of filming.
He emphasises the importance of buying good ingredients — an idea that was so novel at the time that he’s constantly ticking off the British public for their poor shopping and eating habits. As he cooks his way around Provence, Perigord, Burgundy, Alsace, Pays Basque, and Brittany to a rock and roll soundtrack, it’s clear that this is the kind of food that’s still relevant, as well as a lesson in fiercely embracing life and enjoying every fleeting moment.
The most striking thing about this six-episode series from 1995 is how contemporary it feels. In technical terms, yes, the look has aged; but the travelogue format — which involves a celebrity chef seeking out regional ingredients and cooking in beautiful locations — is exactly how it’s done today. The only difference is that these days it’s often a white male celebrity chef who goes abroad, swots up on the basics of the local cuisine, and then cooks it for the people who taught him; here’s a rare chance to learn from a calm, bona fide Indian food expert.
Ahead of its time for emphasising the regionality of Indian food in Britain — an idea that caught on widely much later — Jaffrey runs through the cuisines of Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Punjab, and Gujarat. She’s particularly good at demonstrating technique and explaining the use of spices. The series highlights a truism: that classic dishes are timeless and never go out of fashion; it’s only the ones with “modern twists” that eventually become hideously dated.