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Giving the audience an opportunity to sneak a peek at the specifics of the Chinese food culture, the documentary opens with a Chinese man moving bamboo baskets filled with freshly made food to the terrace.
Being a documentary and an introduction to the food culture of the Chinese people, the movie does not have much of a plot. The camera follows Yao, the man appearing at the start of the movie, as well as his family, i.e., his wife and children, who assist him in the process of making tofu, the food that can be considered the trademark of China.
Yao has been selling tofu for around three decades, and he has always had a variety of loyal customers. Even though the way from Yao’s home to the center of the town, where he sells tofu in his stall, is quite big, it is not the distance that makes his job increasingly complicated as time passes. Technology seems to be taking its toll over the simplicity of homemade food, and Yao may finally find himself out of business one day.
The history of tofu, which Yao’s family is so widely known for cooking, has quite a fascinating history. There is, in fact, a legend about tofu originating from a specific town in China, the fact, which the town’s residents are very proud of. Hu Shuo Bing, the character introduced into the story after the narrator leaves the Yao family, shows the process of selling tofu at one of China’s markets.
After the narrator discloses the secret of cooking tofu, which involves combining milk and soybeans, another bunch of characters is introduced to the audience. The owners of the cows that produce milk for tofu, they also play a crucial part in the narration. It appears that the production of tofu can be seen as the culinary representation of harmony, which the entire Chinese culture is based on.
Definitions of Culture
Speaking of which, the movie offers a range of definitions of culture, viewing the latter from various perspectives. First and most obvious, culture can be considered the way of treating natural resources, which is accepted among a certain group of people traditionally. From a narrower perspective, culture can be defined as the principle, in accordance with which a specific mechanism, be it society or a tofu shop, works.
Finally, the interpretation of the role of various elements of nature in the world and the place that a person (i.e., member of the society) takes in it, as well as the principles, in accordance with which the elements and an individual interacting a harmonious way, can be considered the ultimate definition of culture provided in the movie.
Role of Food
As it has been stressed above, the movie emphasizes the role of food as one of the ingredients to the universal harmony to a considerable degree, therefore, establishing the philosophy of cooking. Moreover, the author considers food not only an essential part of a body’s daily functioning but also part and parcel of peoples culture, therefore, filling the process of cooking with philosophical essence and drawing parallels between the concept of harmony and the process of producing food (Chang, 2008).
Despite the fact that the people and families shown in the documentary seemingly bear no actual resemblance to or similarity with each other, they, nevertheless, are linked into a single entity by the process of producing tofu, very simple and rather cheap food that, nevertheless, has a unifying quality for the members of the Chinese society. It is not tofu, though, that brings the Chinese people together, but the idea of food as the means of sharing both food and emotions.
For instance, the scene, when one of the characters gives fresh milk curd, a local delicacy, to his grandfather (ChinaHDTV001, 2014, 00:19:14), is a very genuine and touching moment of two family members displaying their care and love, food playing a major part in the process.
Despite the description of the Chinese families and their traditions, especially the cooking ones take most of the movie, the film also gives a rather deep insight into the phenomenon of cultural diversity.
Apart shedding a lot of light on the specifics of life in China, the state that exists in its own reality and does not have many cultural ties with the Western states, the movie shows the diversity within China, i.e., the urban life, the countryside, life in the mountains, the culture of food viewed through the lens of young Chinese people, the old ones, etc.
In addition to switching between different locations in China, therefore, producing an effect of being immersed into a multicultural environment, the movie renders a range of issues related to the Chinese history, particularly, the Chinese history of cooking.
As a result, the viewers are capable of transcending time boundaries together with the narrator and learn about the roots of the Chinese culture. A movie that takes a relatively simple and unsophisticated subject of food and turns it into a major culture study, A bite of China was clearly worth seeing.
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Chang, K. C. (2008). Food in Chinese culture. Asia Society. Web.
ChinaHDTV001. (2012). A bite of China English S1E3 inspiration for change 1080P. YouTube. Web.