I Can't Stop Watching These YouTubers Making Historical Foods in Rural China

(Photo: James Wheeler)

(Photo: James Wheeler)

Last night, I fell down a YouTube black hole, and somehow ended up on a pair of Chinese YouTuber’s pages watching video after video. Their handles are Liziqi and Dianxi Xiaoge and they’re both very photogenic young women who are content creators living in the countryside of China, and the videos they create are absolutely mesmerizing.

Liziqi (Photo: Liziqi/YouTube)

Liziqi (Photo: Liziqi/YouTube)

From what I can gather, both of them live in southwestern provinces of China, Liziqi in Sichuan and Dianxi Xiaoge in Yunnan (My grandfather is from Yunnan so I find her dishes particularly interesting). And while I might have just discovered their content, they’re huge internationally. Liziqi has 4.6 million subscribers, and Dianxi Xiaoge has 2.2 million. Basically, they’re kind of a big deal.

Their videos usually feature them going about nature, foraging and gathering for their meals, as their ancestors have before them for thousands of years. Then they go through the process of painstakingly preparing their ingredients, which can take days or even months. This one video by Linziqi about making salted duck egg yolk sauce starts with her placing fertilized duck eggs in the nest of a hen for incubating. A video about a variety of fungus dishes by Dianxi Xiaoge begins with her rising in the morning and hiking up a mountain to collect specimens. Obviously, they are not creating content flying by the seat of their pants.

Dianxi Xiaoge (Photo: Dianxi Xiaoge/YouTube)

Dianxi Xiaoge (Photo: Dianxi Xiaoge/YouTube)

In a completely not creepy way, but there’s a kind of voyeuristic appeal to their videos, as the viewer seems more like an interloper watching them simply living a pastoral life. Neither of them look, nor address the camera directly, yet you can tell that the camera is prioritized in having all of the best angles, closeups, and views of what they are doing. Instead, idyllic instrumentals play in the background accompanied by the sounds of streaming water or the crackle of raw ingredients meeting hot oil.

Even the step-by-step instructions on what is being done is left vague, because these videos are less a how-to than they are a historical record of these traditional dishes and processes. And this historical record isn’t limited to food — Liziqi also has a video where she creates writing brushes, paper, inkstones, and ink sticks from scratch and another one about how ancient makeup was made.

It doesn’t hurt that the pristine natural scenery, which is often used in transition shots, is absolutely breathtaking and both are often accompanied by their adorable dogs who run and play in the fields with nary a leash in sight. The production value of the videos are also extremely high and the editing is tight, which means the camera and software used must be quite expensive, and even while I was watching these videos, I couldn’t help being shaken from the spell occasionally by the juxtaposition of the very modern and the bucolic.

Anyhow, I had no idea these videos existed until now, but now I can’t stop watching. Who wants to see me try to recreate one of their recipes? (It’ll have to be an easy one.)