December 14, 2014
A man cannot be too serious about his eating for food is the force that binds society together.
If you want to see what China – and Chinese food – was like before wealth and pollution irrevocably changed it, you could not do better than the series called “A Taste of China,” which was shot in 1984, in a now vanished land.
The series begins with Masters of the Wok. At the start of the film we watch two master chefs and their minions prepare an elaborate banquet at the Shandong State Guest House in north China. Among the many dishes are the hand-pulled dragon whisker noodles above.
But for me the highlight of the film is a visit to a peasant village, where we watch women make a dozen or so different kinds of bread and noodles using primitive tools. It took me right back to the Chinese village where I spent time in 1980, a village which is now utterly transformed. The film moves on to Chengdu, and a visit to the market as well as the fledgling Sichuan cooking academy.
The series is wonderful little piece of history. The other half hour installments are The Family Table, Food for Body and Spirit and Water Farmers. This last chronicles the lives of Shaoxing farmers, focusing on "the traditional harmonious relationship the Chinese people have with their environment." Watching it just makes you sad.
The DVDs, sadly, aren’t cheap. But if you know someone who is really passionate about Chinese food, this would make a wonderful gift.
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