Rare Lu­nar New Year fare makes it to big screen

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By XUFAN xufan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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