food / travel

China On The Tongue: A New Documentary Discovers Chinese 'Foodie' Pangs

Food-related news in China in recent years has been mostly about toxins and scandals. A new documentary is a pleasant reminder of the richness of Chinese culinary culture.

The timelessness of the dumpling (Stewart)
The timelessness of the dumpling (Stewart)
Liu Tong

BEIJING - Never before in Chinese history has a documentary film aroused so much public enthusiasm. Everybody is talking about a series of films called China On The Tongue, broadcast late at night, depicting various gourmet items across the vast Chinese culinary landscape.

According to Taobao Marketplace, China's biggest web shopping site, just five days after the series began to air, nearly 6 million buyers went to its site in search of local specialties, particularly those mentioned in the documentary. More than 7.2 million deals were concluded. A ham producer from Yunnan Province saw his sales grow 17-fold in five days.

Ironically, one can't help but believe that the documentary's popularity is probably linked to China's endless and horrific food security issues in recent years. In one well-received article, a netizen wrote: "I wonder how many felt so empty-hearted and sighed after watching the film. Blue-vitriol watered chive, formaldehyde sprayed cabbage, Sudan Red colored salty eggs, restaurants using recycled oil from the ditch ... The list is long."

A varied, profound, and ancient food culture that is famous world-wide and which should have made the Chinese proud ends like this: One can only lament.

Food is the most vital thing in people's lives. Yet China's food industry is a typical portrayal of "bad money driving out the good." The market is huge while the cost of faking and cheating is so low for unscrupulous businessmen; and the punishment is too light. Take the milk industry as an example. Although Sanlu, the company that sold the melanin-adulterated infant milk, is now gone, thousands of other dairies took up the slack, continuing to produce milk with illegal additives that can cause cancer or poison children.

And to allow national brands to survive, Chinese authorities are happy to loosen their regulations, which have become even lower than the national standards set 25 years ago.

As the documentary shows, what people consider gourmet are not luxurious items like matsutake, a species of rare mushroom grown naturally in remote virgin forests, but common Chinese dishes like barley, lotus root or tofu. They are what maintain our basic needs.

This explains why people are so excited about China On The Tongue. It is a reminder that there is still a world out there where food is decent and people have dignity.

Read the full story in Chinese

Photo: Stewart

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