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Bon appetite

[ 2014-07-23 10:19] 来源:中国日报网     字号 [] [] []  
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We all love the food we grow up on, but we also seek adventure in the food we have never tasted. A hugely popular TV documentary series puts the spotlight on a culinary tradition that should make China proud. Of all the subjects fit for documentary filmmaking, food is probably not high on the priority list.

There have been a smattering of fictional feature films with food as the main theme, such as Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman - but food in such films is the icing on the cake, while the human drama is the cake, per se.

That's why A Bite of China has been such a surprise hit since first appearing on our TV screens in 2012.

Without anything like a promotional fanfare, the series has attracted a following larger than the biggest drama or comedy shows.

Its main ingredient is the clever interweaving of human stories with the preparation of food. But in this case, the audience mainly sees the human stories as the appetizer, and details about the food as the real beef.

There were even some complaints when human characters took up more screen time than the dishes.

But still, the runaway success of this well-made TV recipe has whipped up a food frenzy in the Middle Kingdom.

Items featured on the show have seen their sales skyrocket within a short time of being aired. In the first season, a rare mushroom made its way from a Tibetan forest into an upmarket coastal city restaurant.

The difficulty in collecting the elusive fungus meant an eye-watering price on the menu. As well as its fantastic taste, the filmmakers probably quite rightly considered the livelihood of the collectors when they highlighted that particular delicacy.

But it still had an unexpected fallout: So many people (the rich, of course) were alerted to it, that demand shot up and the fragile ecosystem where it grows is now threatened.

In Season 2, which has just ended, the show switched its focus to items more affordable to everyone. No longer were rare delicacies the main attraction, and so maybe gastronomic enthusiasm has been dampened slightly.

For many, curiosity remains the main driving force behind high-end Chinese cuisine.

Some seek out rare plants and animals in the name of gaining better health benefits, or delectability.

But I challenge that.

I have been enticed to try a few such rare delicacies in my time, and the truth be told, they are often not as delicious as billed.

On a trip to Hainan, one fish I was sold for 10 times the price of a regular one was not half as tasty as the lesser option.

No, it is the inaccessibility that raises the perceived value of some items.

The thought of eating items only a few can afford is the reason why some species are endangered. In that sense, the makers of A Bite of China have been right to steer away from those rare edibles that represent status symbols in high society.

But maybe the biggest upside of the series is the awakening of love among a wider swath of the Chinese public, simply for the food they consume on a daily basis.

It is not every day that people treat what they eat as part of their culture. But it could certainly be argued that Chinese food is the only part of Chinese tradition that has deeply touched almost every other culture around the globe.

In the US, for instance, even small towns with no Chinese inhabitants have Chinese restaurants.

Chinese food is known to be delicious and affordable - maybe not exactly Michelin-caliber - and for those places which do have a Chinese community, the restaurant can act as a lifeline of many who settle there.

However, for a long time, some have harbored the elitist view that food is somehow low on the list of a country's cultural markers.

In the 1980s, I joined a group of Chinese dignitaries on a tour of North America.

They dined out in so many Chinese restaurants (they were not yet accustomed to Western food, not even fast food) that some feared that many Americans might simply consider Chinese food was all China had to offer.

That offended many Chinese-Americans, who made a good living as restaurateurs. But after watching this show, surely nobody would now dare make such a flippant remark.

Today, people are so genuinely proud of Chinese food that some have moved to the other end of the scale, believing in the superiority of what they eat, to the exclusion of everything else. In an era of little mobility, people ate what they grew, with almost no chance of tasting things from afar.

People grew attached to their own foods, taking them along when they relocated.

This was extolled as a virtue, or a sign of nostalgia, in the series.

I certainly view our food as a key part of our cultural identity, which is etched on us, mainly because of economic necessity.

Nowadays young people in big cities have access to all kinds of food. They may not like all of them, but that smirk of disdain is no longer visible on their face because they probably don't have their home cuisine as the only benchmark.

There is nothing wrong with thinking your hometown's food is the best.

However, one should caution against the flip side of this belief - that unfamiliar foods are simply inferior.

When CNN's website ran an article headlined "Top 10 disgusting foods in the world" about two years ago, many cried foul.

Most of the items highlighted were from Asia, including my personal favorite, pidan: the famous "hundred-year egg" or "thousand-year egg". Duck, chicken or quail eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for up to several months.

I have to admit, I would not have had the guts to taste some of the other choices. But I'm sure their own locals love them. All have to be taken in perspective.

I'm sure most citizens of Atlanta, Georgia, where CNN is headquartered, would have been appalled by some of these foods.

But CNN is not just an Atlanta operation. It has viewers across the world.

Maybe to be accurate, the piece should have added a qualifying clause "from the point of view of middle Americans".

Likewise, Chinese foodies intoxicated by the pride of their own food should avoid rushing to any prejudicial conclusions.

Yes, Chinese cuisine is rich in its regional diversity, but it is not the world's only great food.

The way the Chinese prepare their food has as much flair as art - but so does French food.

Worldwide, Chinese food may not be on a par with French in terms of prestige. Then again, I'm not bothered by prestige.

Cultural confidence lies in the conviction of your own roots and at the same time in the awareness that there are other equally great things to consider in the national identity mix.

There is no conflict between preserving our own cultural heritage and absorbing nutrients from other cultures.

Only when one is extremely weak would one see all things different as a threat.

Food culture evolves with time. Unlike other culture-based products, food is first of all a necessity and, as such, its health values should not be ignored.

But food rises above that. It goes beyond filling the stomach and satisfying hunger, and slips into the realm of culinary art that appeals to all senses.

As the pace of globalization accelerates, there will be less and less pure-bred food.

So, for a younger generation so fixated on Western-origin fast food, this documentary is a gentle reminder of a luxury being offered up every day in our own kitchens, that we all may well have been taking for granted.

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily )
























































(译者 typhoonda 编辑 丹妮)




《舌尖上的中国》与饮食文化 《舌尖上的中国》与饮食文化