Once Upon A Bite 《风味人间》 is directed by the same director who produced the first two seasons of A Bite of China. But this time, he set his sight further. This documentary includes food from not just China, but also France, Spain, Morocco, Greenland, and basically anywhere that has good food.
China has a wide range of climates and weathers. Different geographical conditions gave rise to different lifestyles.
People obtain energy from food sources, which vary dramatically from region to region.
As the weather turns cold, a Xinjiang resident takes care of his flock of sheep on a summer farm deep in the Atlai Mountains.
He will choose the strongest ones for a journey.
His 4-year-old grandson has been entrusted with the heavy responsibility of selecting a lamb, for their guest who would arrive later.
Free-ranged Atlai big-tailed sheep (so named because of their big, round butt tail, like a Corgi’s)
has a thick layer of fat,
and their meat is extremely tender.
A simple stove, easy to set up in the wild.
The farm is in the southern part of the Atlai Mountains.
The Kazakhs know how to maintain a delicate balance between their sheep and the wild grass they graze on.
Meat from lambs under a year old is so tender it melts in your mouth.
It’s also very fatty.
Boiled with just water, the lamb will still be a delicious summer dish.
手抓肉 boiled lamb
You cut the meat with a knife, and eat it with your hand, hence its Chinese name “lamb grabbed by hand”.
After a sumptuous meal, the farmer and his grandson say goodbye to the farm and move to the autumn farm.
Men and sheep set off on the journey together at night under a starry sky.
I wonder if there’s a sheepdog somewhere . . .
It’s about 90 km on a straight line from the summer farm to the autumn farm, and takes seven days on foot.
大盘肉 a pig plate of mutton from Atlai big-tailed sheep
South bank of Ulungur River, Xinjiang, China
Three months later, the real challenge begins.
Due to the snow, the farmer arrived at the winter farm forty days later than expected.
Why does this sheep look so happy . . .
There’re about 150 pregnant ewes in the flock.
The only source of water is snow.
There’s only a limited amount of grass for grazing.
In the harsh winter, horse meat is an important source of food for the Kazakhs.
Water melted from snow
Getting horse meat ready for curing.
Horsemeat rubbed in salt
I’m guessing each slab of meat weighs at least 3 to 5 kg?
caught a cat burglar.
Horse meat is rich in protein and low in fat.
Caught another thief stealing onions.
马肉库尔达克 stir-fried fresh horse meat, with onions
The herdsmen only get to eat this dish once a year.
Meat is stripped from horse ribs.
Meat from horse ribs contains equal portions of fat and lean.
It’s then stuffed into horse intestines.
It’s a delicacy mostly reserved for guests or important meals.
At night, temperature drops drastically to -20 degrees Celsius.
Horse meat gets frozen almost instantly, sealing in its freshness and flavour.
Is that a falcon wearing a helmet??
The next day, horsemeat and sausages are smoked and dehydrated.
The surface of the meat slowly turns into a darker, more delicious, shade of red.
This sausage is about three times as thick as the spicy sausages in my hometown.
The horsemeat sausages have to be hung up and air-dried for a month.
Then it’s time to dig in!
熏马肉马肠 cured horsemeat and horsemeat sausages
New Barag Left Banner, Inner Mongolia, China
Most of the sheep kept on the farm in winter are grown ones.
In Hulunbuir, residents cook grown-up wether (castrated ram) using a complicated method.
They grill the mutton on pebbles.
Which are placed in a tightly-sealed milk bucket.
The mutton pieces are grilled with their skin intact.
They come out juicy and have that woody taste unique to barbecued meat.
奶桶肉 “milk bucket” grilled mutton
The best portion is the brisket.
Cutting through the brisket is like cutting through butter.
Look at all that white, milky, juicy, tempting fat. (It’s got to be ten thousand calories from just one bite, but I think it’s worth it.)
Nanping Village, Anhui Province, China
A low-speed hog chase takes place in a narrow alley.
Sadly, the hog is no match for the wits of the two humans on its tail.
The hind leg of the hog is ideal for making cured ham.
Salt rubbed all over the ham.
(Dig the backwards blue cap.)
The amount of salt is crucial.
Too little, the meat will go bad. Too much, the raw meat doesn’t turn into cured ham as easily (why?).
The lowest local temperature is about zero degree Celsius.
Salt takes its time in saturating deep into the meat.
Ham-curing depends heavily on the local climate. Production of ham in China used to be limited to places around the Yangtze River and Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau.
After about a month, the legs of ham are ready to be taken out for air drying.
They are caressed by the gentle winter sun.
The local winter air is often humid. The hams have to be taken out for air drying a few times.
A year later, the ham is now ready for Chinese New Year.
It can be simply steamed, to retain most of its flavours.
蒸火腿 steamed ham
火腿蒸笋衣 steamed ham with bamboo shoots
But for professional chefs, different parts of the ham require different ways of preparation.
The tip of the rump is used for soup with just a dollop of oil.
The next part (I’ve heard of this being referred to as the “fore cushion”, or “countermace”. I don’t know. Defer to the experts.) is steamed with common cattail.
The shank end can be steamed in whole or sliced.
The portion between the rump and the shank end is often considered the best part.
Cut it into thin slices.
Add rock sugar and honey.
Steam for 4 hours. (Good food comes to those who wait.)
Ham is often used as a secret weapon by Chinese chefs.
清蒸鲥鱼Steamed shad (tenualosa reevesii) with ham slices
荠菜豆腐羹 Tofu soup with ham bits and shepherd’s purse
大煮干丝 tofu slices in chicken stock
to prepare this famous dish, first cut tofu into hair-thin slices,
then submerge them in soup stock made with ham and hen.
Ham is cut into thin strands in order to quickly absorb flavours in the soup.
Far away from China, a Spanish resident in the town of Jabugo is also keeping an eye on the weather to maintain the temperature in the cellar.
There’re several hundred hams in the cellar.
Unlike Chinese homemade hams, Spanish hams are cured and stored indoors.
The town of Jabugo produces tens of thousands of hams every year.
Ham factories are everywhere. The locals often store hams in wine cellars.
There’s a set of standard operating procedure: from the surface of ham with oil, to adjusting their positions, to turning the hams over, and even controlling the degree at which the windows should be opened.
Workers at the cellar work hard.
Their invisible colleagues, microorganisms, work harder. They break down proteins and fat, releasing free amino acids and aroma compounds.
The ham is ready.
So are the guests.
Florencio Sanchidrián, the great cortador de jamones.
If that’s not a look of pure bliss, I don’t know what is.
I can almost taste the mouth-watering ham vicariously.
西班牙火腿 Spanish ham
To Be Continued . . .
It’s okay, soon, all that food will be ours!
Maybe too soon . . .