Li Jieping, an enthusiast of Chongqing xiaomian, has spent the last two years tasting at 130 to 140 Chongqing noodle restaurants in Southwest China's Chongqing municipality.
"Many people took me as a mad person after hearing about my story," Li says. "Actually, they are right. I am mad about Chongqing xiaomian."
Xiaomian literally means small noodles. But in Chongqing, xiao does not refer to small or tiny, rather it's an endearment, indicates locals' love for the noodle that cooked with as many as 13 to 15 kinds of condiments.
Left: Local residents eat xiaomian at a street-side noodle restaurant in Chongqing. Right: Chongqing xiaomian is cooked with as many as 13 to 15 kinds of condiments. Photos provided to China Daily
The noodles become the subject of a 48-minute documentary called Hey! Xiaomian, broadcast on Nov 21 on CCTV-9, the documentary channel of China Central Television.
Following the popular food documentary A Bite of China, it is another food documentary by CCTV introducing characteristic regional foods that inspire great passion.
The director of the documentary, Chong-qing-born Zeng Lei, says he was deeply touched and motivated by this food mania.
"It is not easy to explain why Chongqing people love their xiaomian so much," Zeng says. "And it is this very reason that I wanted to film the documentary."
At the beginning of the story, Li is intrigued by the 'Top 50 Noodles' list made by a local newspaper and people in Chongqing. As a noodle fanatic himself, he decided to taste all of the noodles on the list.
After sampling each noodle restaurant, Li wrote comments and posted them online. Finally, Li invented his unique "5-steps" tasting method for local xiaomian, which have been reported by local newspapers in Chongqing.
Noodle fans like Li Jieping can be found everywhere in this vibrant metropolis.
When the film crew of A Bite of China came to explore the local cuisine in Chong-qing about two years ago, he pointed them to the xiaomian, as well as the famous Chong-qing hotpot.
"As southerners, Chongqing people do not have a tradition for flour-made food. However, there are so many noodle restaurants in the streets and alleyways in Chongqing," says Zeng, "and this is the most intriguing part, so I want to know what makes Chongqing xiaomian so indispensable for Chongqing people."
Apart from the cooking procedure, Zeng also wanted to explore the stories behind the food.
The down-to-earth name of the documentary Hey! Xiaomian reflects how locals order noodles in a casual and relaxed way in restaurants.
"Moreover, the name also indicates Chongqing people's characteristics, such as being straightforward, hospitable, outgoing and having a passion for life," says Zeng.
The film team started shooting six months ago, visiting dozens of noodle restaurants in the area, and seven noodle restaurants were selected to tell how one bowl of Chongqing xiaomian was made, step by step.
Grandmother's Noodle was among them.
Selected as No 1 Noodle by a local newspaper in 2009, Grandmother's Noodle was an ordinary Chongqing noodle restaurant located deep in an alley in an urban area, with little popularity.
But since the newspaper's recognition, the restaurant has enjoyed booming business.
Four years after the selection, the noodle restaurant has launched more than 300 eateries all over the country.
"Hopefully, the documentary will let those who do not know much about Chongqing xiaomian before, understand it and try it in Chongqing," says Qin Yun, director of the company, "and what's more, to know Chong-qing people better".
(China Daily 11/29/2013 page22)