“The producers are responsible for looking for food, and we are responsible for drooling.”
This was the claim that went viral after the release of a CCTV food documentary entitled “A Bite of China” (《舌尖上的中国》) captured the stomachs of millions, triggering a wave of collective nostalgia for the flavors of hometown cooking.
In seven episodes, the documentary traces local specialties and distinctive food cultures from all over the country, from China’s fertile Jiangnan region to the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Connoisseurs can explore remote villages and bustling metropolises, many “complaining” that the food shot in the documentary looks so mouth-watering that they can’t resist the temptation to “lick” (舔 tiǎn) the TV screen.
“Who is the most miserable person in the world?” netizens asked. “A foodie on a diet. But when the foodie on a diet encounters a documentary called ‘A Bite of China’, he becomes the most miserable person in the universe.”
But the documentary is not just about whipping up an appetite. For many, it recalls cozy childhood memories of homemade meals.
“‘A Bite of China’ tells a story about the deep emotional attachments of thousands of ordinary Chinese people—from south to north and from west to east—to hometown traditions and affection between family members. Everyone can find themselves in the story and recall childhood memories filled with the color, aroma and taste (of the food),” one commenter on Sina Weibo writes.
It seems this theme is especially hard-hitting with those living abroad or working in China’s big cities away from their families, bringing into sharp relief one of the most prominent issues in Chinese culture––homesickness.
“The documentary makes my saliva and tears run down together,” a Chinese student studying in the UK said in an interview.
Homemade food and nostalgia aside, the documentary takes a glimpse at the down-to-earth daily life of ordinary people and their loyalty to the ways they make a living. The show’s farmer who steams and sells buns made of millet his whole life and chef who cooks clay pot rice for 10 years showcases the honest yet repetitive work they do each day, following the traditions passed down from their ancestors.
“A Bite of China” comes at a time of growing concern for food safety after the exposure of a series of scandals in recent years, which has made many Chinese nostalgic for the era of “non-toxic” food. In light of the idea of devoting effort and time to preparing food, some question the now common practice of making quick profits by adding artificial additives to make the food look more appealing.
“‘A Bite of China’ isn’t going to become a big hit for no reason, especially given that it is extremely difficult to find reassuring and safe hometown specialties nowadays,” another netizen writes.
The nostalgic wave continues as web posters from various parts of China come up with lists of hometown dishes they miss most. Some creative college graduates have even blogged about what their own versions of the food documentary would be, tracing “the flavor of youth” and “the life of foodies” in their campus cafeterias in “A Bite of Tsinghua” (舌尖上的清华) and “A Bite of Fudan” (舌尖上的复旦).
Watch an episode from a “Bite of China” titled “the story of staple foods” below: