New Chinese food documentary captures overseas audiences’ attention after Netflix debut
‘Flavorful Origins’
Published: Mar 21, 2019 06:48 PM

Promotional material for Flavorful Origins Photo: Courtesy of Tencent Penguin Pictures Documentary Studio

No matter where you go, it's easy to see that China is well-known for its yummy and diverse dishes. Chinese restaurants can be found in almost every corner in the world. However, there are many dishes and types of cuisine that people outside of China may not be familiar with. Chinese director and producer Chen Xiaoqing is looking to change that with his new mouth-watering foodie docu-series, which is now streaming on Netflix. 

Translated into 26 languages and streaming in over 190 countries and regions, the first season of Flavorful Origins has captured the attention of a great number of overseas viewers by showing simple but attractive dishes and how they are made. The season of 20 10-minute episodes digs into the local culinary culture of the Chaoshan area in South China's Guangdong Province. 

"I have to say, fine food is really a universal language," Zhu Lexian, general manager of Tencent Penguin Pictures Documentary Studio, the studio behind the mini-documentary, told the Global Times in an email interview, recalling how the show was acquired by Netflix.

According to Zhu, this is the first time that Netflix, which is known for its long-form video content, has acquired a short-form documentary series. 

"After watching three sample episodes, they [Netflix] made the decision to bring it to their platform. It is part of their first ventures into short video content as well as the first time they have acquired a food documentary from China," he said.   

So far, the show has grabbed headlines in various overseas food columns and websites including, and the Los Angeles Times. The food editor for the Los Angeles Times remarked on a few foods or dishes featured in the series that were particularly eye-catching from marinated raw seafood to thinly sliced raw fish, which the editor also learned "was later exported to Japan, becoming what we now know as sashimi."

As one of the most well-known documentary directors in China, Chen has dominated screens with his series A Bite of China series and the more recent Once Upon a Bite. Different from Once Upon a Bite, which focuses more on the big picture of how the world shares food culture and history, the shorter and more focused Flavorful Origins looks at specific ingredients and traces back their origins. 

For the first season, Chen's first stop was Chaoshan, which has a long food tradition and boasts many unique flavors that are centuries old. 

"Not well-known among even the Chinese audience, Chaoshan has its own charm, from the food culture to the local people who create it," Zhu noted. 

"China is so vast that there are a number of similar places that are worth documenting. In the following seasons, we will also visit Yunnan, Sichuan and more," he added. 

Watching the first season, viewers learn about the Teochew people, a group that not only lives in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, but also has also migrated to Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaysia and even North America and Europe. For generations, they have been working hard, relying on their own philosophy of life as well as maintaining their own unique culinary culture. 

Benefiting from favorable government policies, the Chinese documentary industry has been growing steadily over the years with continuous contributions from various studios. With more and more hit programs like Flavorful Origins, Chinese streaming giants like Tencent Video, iQiyi and Youku and traditional TV broadcasters have been increasingly focusing on the genre.  

Airing original Chinese content on overseas platforms has been an important mission for Chinese studios. In 2018, Chinese streaming platform Youku and the Discovery Channel aired China-US coproduction How China Made It, which was well-received by audiences overseas.