“A Bite of China”, a hugely successful documentary series by China Central Television from 2012, makes a comeback with a second season this month, and has received rave reviews so far.
The show is so popular that food featured in the first two episodes sold out online within days. For example, the first episode of “A Bite of China II” started with a Tibetan man spending 4 hours to climb a 40-meter tree in the mountains to get honey for his family. A week from when the show was first aired, 3,400 bottles of honey from Tibet have been sold at China’s ecommerce site Tmall. Food that also enjoys a huge spike in sales includes Leishan fish sauce, Huizhou stinky tofu, Shanxi hand-made noodles.
The show’s popularity can be partly attributed to the recent rise of foodaholics in China. Foodaholic, or 吃货(chi huo) in Chinese, is a term that many of China’s middle class proudly label themselves with – eating is their religion. The documentary is literally seen as a menu for their next food quest. One netizen 阿莉埃蒂 spoke from her heart: “As a foodaholic, there is no better place to be than in the mighty Middle Kingdom!”
More importantly, however, the show seems to finally get patriotism promotion right. China’s rich culinary heritage is one of few things that the Chinese people uniformly take pride in. Chinese food and cooking, as many netizens commented, are the biggest reason why they “feel lucky to be a Chinese”.
“Stories about industrial development or economic boom don’t really make me feel good about being a Chinese. After all, the boom is achieved at the expense of the environment and our culture. Pride in economy development feels fake. But nothing makes me more confidently proud of being a Chinese than China’s culinary culture.” One netizen 兔猫蜡笔 commented.
Unlike the first season in which the emphasis was on the history of and the various ways of cooking different regional delicacies, the second reason zooms in on stories behind the food – the episodes start with food, but always end with people, using food as the entry point to tell stories of modern China’s cultural, social and demographic changes.
“’A Bite of China’ has never been merely about food. Dished are cooked by people, who, in turn, are cultivated by different regional geographics and cultures. The documentary celebrates thousands of years of Chinese civilization, more so than Chinese food.” One netizen 瑶琴三尺_梅小少 commented.
Chinese food may be the best angle to promote Chinese culture around the world. On Douban, a popular Chinese online community, hundreds of netizens jumped to share stories of how they have wowed their foreign friends with Chinese cooking.
One netizen 杨豆瓣 shared: “When my sister first arrived in the US, she stayed with a host family. She really didn’t like American food, so this one day, she cooked and invited the host family to join her. After that one dinner, the host family halved her rent in exchange for her home-cooked Chinese food.” Another netizen 呜哈哈噜哈 also told his story: “I once cooked potatoes for my British roommate. He was totally amazed, saying that it was the most delicious potatoes he ever had.”
“A Bite of China”, when looking back, may be the best “soft power” push by the Chinese government. [Click for the first season in English]