Bite of China‘s first season aired in China in 2012, and season two came out in 2014. It was an unqualified hit in China, airing multiple times on several different China Central Television channels, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, sharply increasing demand for the regional specialties (paywall) highlighted on the show. But it didn’t make a huge splash with Western foodies, despite a food writer for The Guardian calling it, “the best TV show I’ve ever seen about food.”

The English translation is clunky at best (CCTV apparently didn’t think to ask Sir David Attenborough, the iconic narrator of Planet Earth, if he was available). The visual storytelling does 90% of the work, though.

Maybe the best thing, for me, about watching Bite of China is the subtle tension between the series as a piece of Chinese state propaganda and the authentic awesomeness of it. Tellingly, the series has been posted, in its entirety, on CCTV’s YouTube channel, despite YouTube being banned in China. The state wants the rest of the world to revel in China’s food prowess—and why not?

The first episode starts with a Tibetan mother and daughter searching for mushrooms in mountains that the narrator refers to as being “free from pollution.” It’s a strange sort of window dressing on both Chinese tensions with Tibet and Beijing’s infamously terrible air quality. Ethnic minorities and their traditional food ways are held up throughout as examples of Chinese ingenuity and the vast expanse of the country’s cuisine, including many segments highlighting Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the far west that is home to a large Uigher population with a longstanding conflict with the Chinese government.

The series is obviously an exercise in cultural cheerleading, but every single segment is so fascinating that it doesn’t feel disingenuous. If you like food and enjoy being reminded that the world is really quite large and full of things you don’t know about, you’ll find this series a sheer joy to watch.

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