《人生一串》 A Skewer of Life, also known as A String of Life, is a documentary about food. Specifically, about barbecue.
It features about 30 barbecue stands, chosen from a list of 500, from 32 cities.
It has a 9 out of 10 rating on Douban, the Chinese version of IMDB.
In comparison, A Bite of China season 3, aired during the same year, has a rating of 3.7.
The first episode, 无肉不欢, is dedicated entirely to meat lovers.
After darkness falls, people go on the hunt for food.
Most of them end up here: a barbecue stand.
It’s separated from the sidewalk by a low flowerbed.
The signboard on the left says Zhuangxiang Specialty Barbecue, and lists fish, oyster, and beef along other stir-fried dishes.
The signboard on the right advertises pig’s trotters, beef, and dog meat.
This barbecue stand is located right next to a road.
Barbecue is not just for the night crawlers.
串 means “skewer”.
Meat is the soul of barbecue.
In this barbecue store, the owner advertises: mutton, chicken skin, pork belly, ribs, squid, gristle, oyster, scallops, pork brain, fish, and assorted vegetables.
Xichang, Sichuan Province
Xichang is home to the Yi people.
They invented the barbecue style of cooking over a brazier with long skewers.
Barbecue is a common choice for dinner.
Starting from 5 pm every day, the barbecue stands would be crowded.
This is the owner of Xiao’er Barbecue. His name is Xiao’er.
Xiao’er means Number Two. He’s the second oldest child in his family.
Customers don’t care that filming is underway. They shout out to Xiao’er for more meat.
Xiao’er shouts back that they have to wait. He’ll drink with them later.
It’s called “long-skewer” barbecue for a reason.
One of the bestsellers here is this barbecued pork.
Its flavour does not come from spices or MSG.
The pork comes from pigs raised deep in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture.
The pigs here are called 跑山猪, which translates into “pigs that run around the mountain.”
They live on mountains with an altitude of over 2,000 metres.
The local Yi people know how to process these young pigs.
They light a fire with pinecones and dry common bracken for scalding.
The scents of pinecones and bracken are thus absorbed by the pork.
The pig is then cut into big pieces with its skin still attached to the meat.
Add xiaomi chilli.
Add minced garlic and salt.
And then rapeseed oil.
The pork is marinated for about half an hour.
Then skewered on long bamboo sticks.
They are grilled with the skin still intact.
They should be cooked until they turn a colour of golden brown.
凉山小猪肉 Liangshan piglet pork grilled on a long skewer
The layer of fat is grilled to add to the rich oily taste.
The lean meat is chewy, and tastes better rolled in chilli powder, soybean, and sesame.
In this city, barbecue has evolved from a night time snack into a proper meal.
The crowd doesn’t disperse until 3 am.
Zhaotong, Yunnan Province
In this barbecue store, a customer yells out an order for fifty skewers of meat.
Another asks for a hundred.
Such order sizes are common in Zhaotong.
Unlike the big and long skewers of pork in Xichang, the skewers here are shorter.
The bestseller is beef.
How many skewers can one eat?
A girl says maybe forty to fifty.
A guy says over a hundred.
His name is Ma Si, owner of this barbecue store.
His two sons help out in the store.
In the beginning, cattle which were too old for farm work were slaughtered. Since their meat was tough and harder to chew, it was cut into small pieces. Now more tender beef from younger cattle is used, but the tradition of cutting it into smaller pieces remains.
Typically, the beef comes from cows about 3 years old.
The staff here process about fifteen to sixteen thousand skewers per day. Many of them wear Band-Aids on their fingers.
Before the dinner rush starts, Ma Si and his sons undergo preparations: the charcoal burner, the oil, and the barbecue.
Tens of thousands of skewers of beef.
They also need to prepare the master stock.
There are over a hundred barbecue stores in the city. Their difference in tastes comes from the stock used.
Skewers are sold by the handful. No one orders a single skewer.
The skewers of beef are dipped in the master stock.
Then quickly grilled over strong flames, fanned by an air blower.
They are grilled to medium well and sprinkled with chilli powder.
昭通牛肉小串 Zhaotong beef barbecue on small skewers
To be continued . . .
My reaction when someone tells me too much meat is not healthy: