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?