A break from speaking Chinese and watching a documentary on food?! Sign me up.
We watched an episode of a new CCTV series called A Bite of China, and I was immediately blown away. This is the Planet Earth of food documentaries. The cinematography is amazing. I have seen many of the things in this documentary, and know they are cooked in dirty little hovel kitchens, with rusty tools and unwashed hands. Yet, when I watched it on the show I found myself literally drooling, wishing I could try some. The steam buns were like tiny little yellow mountains, the soy bean paste, which I know I don’t like, looked smooth and velvety and even the donkey grinding the rice into nian gao looked soft and clean.
It is a 7-episode series and it showcases more than just the food. It creates a story around each one. For instance, in episode 2 (about the staple foods in China) it shows a rural family (living in one of those cave houses) making these special yellow steamed bun things. It shows not only how they make it, but it follows the man as he goes into the city to sell it, showing what his life is like.
It’s absolutely fascinating and I’m not the only one to think so. It has screened in Cannes Film Festival to much critical success and it has blown up in China. CCTV said it has attracted 30% more viewers than normal, and it has been viewed 20 million times online. Every time I went into a DVD store in Kunming people were looking at it and buying it.
Unfortunately there is no official English version yet (though CCTV says it is working on it and will broadcast it on its international channel soon) but I found one intrepid person nine who is translating the episodes him (or her) self. You can find the first two episodes below (each is about 50 minutes, so watch when you have the time.)
When we imagine food cultures, I think we tend to think of France and Italy as the leaders. Countries that revolve around delicious cuisine, eating large family meals with fresh ingredients drinking vino from a vineyard down the street. But the longer I live in China, the more I realize that China is truly a food culture, with food playing such an important part not only in daily life, but throughout history. I’ve never lived in a place where love, respect and fun was so directly linked to the food you eat.
Enjoy Bite of China, and please, try not to drool on your computer.