Chinese Gourmet Delight
By WEI MEIQING
THE CCTV food documentary series A Bite of China so titillated Chinese diners’ taste buds that its ratings soared way above those of established late night drama series and movies. Images of mouthwatering dishes from around China and tantalizing descriptions of their ingredients have made this seven-part series a tasty topic for gourmands on Weibo (Chinese Twitter), one of whom commented, “The sight of these delicacies made me so hungry I was tempted to lick the screen.”
A jiaozi (dumpling) banquet catering to 10,000 diners in Beijing.
Nation of Gourmands
Although not broadcast at prime time the show nonetheless poached swathes of entertainment TV viewers. Rather than watch family saga soap operas or costume dramas these food lovers chose instead to be driven wild with gastronomic desire by shots of everyday dishes such as Xinjiang Nang (a crusty pancake-like bread), Tofu and rice noodles as well as exotic specialties like fungi fried in shortening, fish dishes, oil-simmered bamboo shoots... the list of Chinese epicurean treats goes on and on.
Late night TV is normally the province of historical dramas about complex imperial court intrigues among empresses, concubines and power-mongering eunuchs. After the airing of the first part, the low-profile documentary A Bite of China achieved consistently top ratings in that time slot.
Unlike cooking shows, where the focus is on the skills of the chef host, A Bite of China takes in the selection and gathering of ingredients, contrasts in the foods and culinary customs of China’s northern and southern regions, and changes over time in cooking methods. Its essential theme is the reverent enjoyment Chinese people take in both eating and cooking. Viewers have expressed appreciation online for the program’s celebration of China’s profound food culture and its multifarious cuisines, seeing it as confirmation of their innate patriotism. Comments include:
“The sound of the crisp chopping of pork filling for Shaanxi buns alone made me ravenous.”
“I’m on a diet, and watching A Bite of China is a test of willpower that amounts to masochism.”
“The sight of bambooshoots being dug out, hams hanging from rafters, fishing nets glittering with their heaving catch, white steamed buns fresh out of the steamer, the ready smile of hawkers of yellow millet buns, and dough being slammed to stretch it into noodles all remind me of my beloved southern roots and bring me to the verge of tears.”
Viewers speak of the sensation they share of both brimming saliva glands and tear ducts when they watch the program, because it goes beyond cooking techniques and eating mores to explore the cultural and social context of food that maintains familial bonds and those among inhabitants of specific regions.
Ren Changzhen, the program’s executive director, is a strong believer in the close relationship between agriculture, nature and food culture. “The series takes the viewing audience out of their everyday world to different environments throughout the country, such as villages and cave dwellings, forests, and coastal areas. This is one of the reasons why it is so popular.”