A Bite of China (Chinese: 舌尖上的中国, "China on the tongue tip") is a Chinese documentary television series on the history of food, eating, and cooking in China directed by Chen Xiaoqing (陈晓卿), narrated by Li Lihong (李立宏) with original music composed by Roc Chen (阿鲲).
It first aired May 14, 2012 on China Central Television and quickly gained high ratings and widespread popularity. The seven-episode documentary series, which began filming in March 2011, introduces the history and story behind foods of various kinds in more than 60 locations in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
The documentary has also been actively encouraged as a means of introducing Chinese food culture to those unfamiliar with local cuisine. Various notable chefs such as Shen Hongfei and Chua Lam were consultants on the project.
The Review of "A Bite of China"
Rice paddies in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Photograph: Xinhua Press/Yu Xiangquan/Corbis
An article on the making of "A Bite of China" published by The Guardian, a British national newspaper revealed that this beautifully made series 'A Bite of China' puts our own food TV in the shade, says Oliver Thring, a freelance journalist. Read the review below.
Every autumn, the Chiangjing river in Hubei, eastern China, begins to drop and the nearby lakes become thick bogs covered in webs of detritus. Men come in little boats, perhaps 100 a day, paddling their way across the sinking river in the dim, blue-grey light before sunrise. They're looking for lotus root, the starchy staple that is a highlight of much Asian cooking, and gives a sweetish solidity to a winter soup.
I'd never given a thought to where lotus root comes from. Getting hold of it turns out to be fantastically difficult, dirty and dangerous. The roots, perhaps a metre or two long, lie deep in the thick, gluey mud of the lake bed. They're fragile, and snap or scratch easily, and there's no machinery to get them out. You wade out into the bog, the mud coming up to your knees, and find a root, work out which direction it's lying in, then dig it out slowly and carefully by hand. At the end of another 14-hour day, the workers compare their aches, torn muscles, sprained ankles and twisted ligaments like soldiers or a rugby team. They hope for particularly nasty winters, which mean that more people make lotus-root soup, and the price of their product rises.
This is just one segment of the best TV show I've ever seen about food. I'd hazard it's the best one ever made. A Bite of China began airing in May on the state broadcaster there. CCTV is better known for its obliging communist propaganda and unwatchable soap operas than for anything this sumptuous and beautiful. Thirty of the country's most respected filmmakers worked for more than a year filming the seven 50-minute episodes. They shot throughout the country, from the frozen lakes of the north-east and the bamboo forests of Liuzhou to the frenetic chaoses of Beijing and Hong Kong.
As always, the people are the most interesting part: an old woman looking for matsutake mushrooms on pathless mountainsides (starts at 0.52), a family making kimchi in the Kingan mountains (1.54), a fisherman catching barracuda for his supper, a Shanghai woman filling her bathtub with live crabs to make drunken crab (31.10), drowning the creatures in wine and storing them in earthenware. But though the programme explains that the lives of many of its subjects are difficult and that the people are poor, it stunningly captures ways of life that are evaporating in modern China.
Each episode adopts a theme: preserving by salt, pickling or wind, staple foods, the "gifts of nature" or "our rural heritage". The filmmakers explore the central idea using examples from across the country. Perspective shifts from the macro – helicopter shots of neon cities or canopied mountains rearing out of lakes – to the micro – a single bamboo shoot pushing through the earth.
But what I love most about the programme is that it never patronises its subjects or viewers. It takes for granted the fact that what it has to show is worth watching, and devotes itself instead to making the final cut look as ravishing as possible. It's not, strictly speaking, a cookery programme, though we see a lot of people cooking and there's a recipe book tie-in (currently available only in Chinese). Instead it's educational in a more traditional, Reithian sense. It's perhaps the food TV equivalent of The Ascent of Man or Lord Clark's Civilisation or the best of Attenborough.
British food TV has had its moments, but has never attempted anything like this. And it's impossible, having watched a couple of episodes of A Bite of China, not to feel a little humbled or even ashamed when you turn to your own country's food TV output and find Sophie Dahl and the Hairy Bikers.
Now let's watch the series here and see the history of Chinese cuisine in China which stretches back for thousands of years and has changed from period to period and in each region according to climate, imperial fashions, and local preferences and you couldn't agree more that Chinese cuisine is one of the "Three Grand Cuisines" in the world.