Friday 29 June 2012

A Bite of China 舌尖上的中国

When I was in China recently, my Beijing colleagues were raving about a TV series called A Bite of China (舌尖上的中国). It turns out that this show is causing quite a stir in China, and when I returned to the UK, I tracked it down on YouTube.

As my Mandarin is distinctly ropey (OK, non existent), I was relieved to find some episodes had been subtitled, and so far I've watched the first two. They've both been brilliant, with production values and cinematography more reminiscent of a David Attenborough documentary as opposed to bog-standard food television. And the fact that there's no swaggering egotistical presenter (yes, I do mean you, Mr Ramsay, sorry, Chef Ramsay) means that this narrated show allows the food to take centre stage.

The episode featured in this post is about staple foods, and there's some stunning footage showing how different kinds of bread, dumplings and noodles are made. But A Bite of China isn't just about the food; it's also about the stories of the people and the traditions behind the food. Guys like Mr Wang, who makes beautiful steamed yellow buns the old fashioned way, then cycles for an hour and a half from his home in rural Shanxi to the nearest city to sell them.

Compared to some of the vacuous crap that passes for food programming on British television, this profound Chinese documentary is in a different class. Even if you don't understand a word of Mandarin and just watch the pictures, you will learn more about Chinese food in a single episode of A Bite of China than an entire series of Gok Cooks Chinese.

A Bite of China deserves a wider audience, and wouldn't it be great if a British TV channel had the imagination to acquire this series and adapt it with an English narration?


  1. Haha - the intro is so over-dramatic - Brilliant.

  2. brilliant! I'm studying Mandarin (with very poor results) and I'm always on the lookout for videos with subtitles etc. (our teacher gave us soap operas but I HATE them, maybe I can motivate myself with food). Thanks for sharing.

    PS. have you even seen the "Cooking with Dog2 series on YouTube? it's hilarious, and no swaggering chef ;)

  3. Thanks for introducing me to this - what a beautiful series! Will have to check out some other episodes.

  4. Kay - you're lucky you can watch it in its original Mandarin form.

    Frank - see what can be done when you don't piss away all the cash on a big name presenter!

    intothefworld - thanks for the YouTube tip, I'll keep an eye out for it.

    yeebot - not sure of your proficiency in Mandarin, but, so far, only three episodes have been subtitled in English.

  5. I love taiwanese/chinese cooking shows on youtube, it's my new fav dinnertime entertainment esp when there's nothing on 4od/ bbc iplayer at the mo. def checking this out. I'll try to track my watch history and share a few links with you if possible too.

    p.s. I got A in mandarin (:

  6. Have watched 4 1/2 minutes so far - beautiful. Love the footage of all the different kinds of buns and dumplings being rolled and shaped. Will watch the rest this evening.

    Very reserved of you to focus more on the positives of Chinese food tv than the negatives of British food tv!

  7. Interestingly a friend of mine posted this on my facebook wall a couple of days ago... been watching it over dinner since, and somehow I feel more hungry after my meals :)

  8. Shu Han - looking forward to receiving the links.

    Vicky - my initial draft had more of a dig at British food TV, but the thing is I'd rather celebrate A Bite of China than dwell too much on the negatives of food programming in this country.

    Wingz - it makes me hungry, too.

  9. Great find Mr Noodles. Have been thinking of you as have been doing some serious pho, ramen and udon eating in Melbourne recently!

    1. cara - so much food TV can be poor. That said, you guys in Oz have it good for food TV, too. Been watching a lot of Luke Nguyen recently.

  10. I need to stop watching this before I go to bed, I'm too hungry to sleep. I'm going to dream about being in Sian eating a Chinese hamburger