Rare Lunar New Year fare makes it to big screen
Anyone curious to know about lesser-known Chinese New Year dishes could find the answers in an upcoming culinary documentary.
A Bite of China: Celebrating the Chinese New Year, a feature-length film, will hit the theaters across the mainland on Jan 7.
Just like a gourmet expedition, the movie showcases diverse, colorful dishes cooked only in the days surrounding China’s Lunar New Year, the time for family reunions.
An old tradition holds that nianyefan (the Chinese New Year eve family dinner) is the most significant meal of the year. Residents in rural or remote areas, where they still follow the tradition that is disappearing in big cities, usually start preparations for the meal around a month in advance.
“It is a grand ceremony to celebrate the harvest of the year. The dinner sees the best ingredients cooked in the most complex fashion,” says a quote from the book also called A Bite of China: Celebrating the Chinese New Year, released as a spin-off of the movie.
Fans of the hit TV series A Bite of China — one of the domestic shows most well-known to Western viewers — will be glad to know that the crew that made the TV series is also the one behind the big screen production.
The film’s director, Chen Lei, tells China Daily that the crewput in four times the effort they would typically do in a TV show to make the film.
From the mountains in Chongqing to a historical village in Hong Kong, the two-team crew trekked to 35 areas across the country in a hunt for more than 60 delicacies.
But due to limited screen time, only 43 dishes from 24 areas are represented in the 85-minute feature.
The total unedited footage comprises 10,000 minutes.
The job of tracking the delicacies also led to surprise finds.
As Chen and his team were looking for a dish in Southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, they accidentally found a mouth-watering dish of pork in a local restaurant.
“The flavor was amazing. We’ve done lots of online research but we had never heard of the dish called songpikou (pork mixed with taro),” says Chen.
The restaurant owner introduced them to the cook, a local farmer around60yearsold, whousuallytakes at least six hours to cook the dish.
The process includes boiling the streaky pork, poking holes in the meat, frying the meat and then mixing it with fried taro before steaming everything for 40 minutes.
Alongside the food, thehumanstories in the film are also interesting.
A Guangdong martial arts practitioner uses the festival banquet as a social networking platform to introduce his son to veterans of the art; a Taiwan woman returns to her hometown from Beijing to rediscover the flavors she has been missing.
But despite the sentimentality and nostalgia in the film, Chen says the movie’s tone is joyful.
Explaining his philosophy behind making the film, the 36-year-old director says: “I always regard the vanishing of a culture or the disappearance of dishes as an unavoidable, normal trend in a rapidly changing society.
“But people in the future will at least have a chances to see these things recorded clearly on film, which makes our job more significant than only defining it (the movie) as a commercial documentary.”
Meanwhile, despite its significance, the film does not expect to become a huge commercial success.
And the example given is that of French director Jacques Perrin’s Ocean.
The world’s highest-grossing documentary feature earned only 25 million yuan ($3.8 million) after a onemonth Chinese mainland release in 2011, a figure easily accessed by a domestic blockbuster on its first day.
Chen Xiaoqing, the chief director, says: ABite of China isnotthekindof commercial title “born for money”.
“I will never do a movie just aiming for the box office, and I rarely care about the reviews,” he says.
But Li Yansong, president of iQiyi Motion Pictures, sayssomeTVseries have led to “amazing” click numbers on the site, and believes its popularity will influence the moviegoers.