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Cuisine documentary offers food for thought

By Sun Li (China Daily)

08:20, May 21, 2012

A scene from an episode of A Bite of China on staple foods.

A program about Chinese cuisines will offer insights into the geographical, historical and cultural dimensions of what the country's people eat.

Helmed by award-winning documentary maker Chen Xiaoqing, the seven-part high-definition documentary A Bite of China is the first self-produced nonfiction series about food by CCTV-9, the documentary channel. It will air on May 23 and was first shown by CCTV-1 on Monday.

Television is filled with food these days, especially introductions by top-notch chefs and close looks at the complicated and refined cooking processes of haute cuisine, Chen says.

"We have some appetite-boosting shots of food-making, but how to create dishes is only one aspect of food culture," Chen says.

"The program tries to bring something new by presenting more cultural elements related to dishes, such as eating habits and the ethics of eating."

Each episode lasts 50 minutes. Themes range from ingredients to preserved food.

One episode, for example, centers on the staple foods.

It recounts China's history of paddy cultivation to explain why rice is the mainstay of the southern Chinese diet, while wheat flour is the foundation of the northern diet. But it goes further to break down every staple food into its various styles, such as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region's naan (flat bread) and Jiangsu province's Huangqiao sesame cakes, both of which fall under the wheat category.

"As a saying goes, 'you are what you eat'," Chen says. "Food is always connected with people. Behind the documentary's eye-popping and mouthwatering images are personal stories that reflect people's living situations and attitudes. That's another component that makes it distinctive."

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