Digital pickled veggies

Mealtime in China Is Incomplete Without This Key Ingredient…

Chinese youth are indulging in ‘digital pickled veggies,’ internet slang for short videos that they can watch while eating during their precious lunch breaks

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Hayley Zhao
3:47 PM HKT, Fri October 21, 2022 2 mins read

Lao Gan Ma and pickled sides are Chinese people’s solution to bland food. Just a spoonful of sauce or pickled radishes over rice can make a meal taste a million times better. But how are Chinese youth coping with overall lackluster dining experiences?

Between unexpected lockdowns and busy work schedules, many young people in China don’t have the luxury of enjoying insightful conversations with friends and family at the dinner table. Instead, they find themselves eating alone.

Rather than dining with loved ones, Chinese youth are kept company during these 20- to 30-minute windows by TV shows or short videos, which they stream on their phone, tablet, or television. In internet slang, such content has been dubbed ‘digital pickled vegetables’ (电子榨菜, dian zi zha cai).

digital pickled veggies

The term ‘digital pickled vegetables’ started trending among young people in China recently, as many find that it’s impossible to enjoy a good meal without streaming something interesting, funny, or relaxing.

Some popular picks include classic Chinese dramas and sitcoms like Empresses in the Palace (后宫甄嬛传) and My Own Swordsman (武林外传). American sitcoms such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother are also favored for their witty jokes and simple storylines. You don’t need to know anything about either to get a good laugh from a random episode.

Some Weibo users have even joked that as a result of watching these TV shows so many times, they have all the lines memorized.

“The true meaning of food is the happiness it brings after a long wait. A bowl of hot tofu rice cake, fried chicken fingers, and my digital pickled vegetables, ‘Empresses in the Palace,’ after a tiring workday. Life couldn’t get any better,” shared a Weibo user.

Highly perused digital pickled vegetables also consist of short clips and mini-series posted on platforms like Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) and Kuaishou (similar to Douyin, but with a reputation for producing down-to-earth content).

These include explainer videos with titles like, ‘Watch The Shawshank Redemption in 5 minutes’ and ‘What happened in the book Love in the Time of Cholera? Let me tell you in this 3-minute video.’ Videos under the hashtag ‘movie explainers’ (#影视解说#) have amassed over 589 billion views at the time of writing.

Low-budget, independently made mini-series that began surfacing on the aforementioned platforms about two years ago have also become a huge hit.

The short two-minute episodes usually feature a combination of cliche yet highly addictive storylines and sub-par acting. Many viewers find them cringy at first, yet can’t tear their eyes away, filled with questions like: Will she be fired after dating her boss? Can he survive cancer? Does his wife know he’s cheating? Can she retrieve the money her ex-husband stole from her?

The answers to such burning questions can be revealed in the duration of a single meal.

low-budget Chinese mini-series

Some low-budget mini-series that act as digital pickled veggies. Screenshots via Kuaishou

The plots of such series have improved and broadened over the years, proving that the mini-series model is here to stay. In fact, Kuaishou launched more than 50 mini-series throughout the summer, and approximately half of them have been viewed 100 million times.

digital pickled veggies chinese meals

Some of the most popular mini-series on Kuaishou over the summer. Image via Weibo

Some have questioned the value of such videos, pointing out that some explainers spoil good films and books and that no-brainer mini-series aren’t informational. On the other hand, we see nothing wrong with some harmless fun to accompany a solitary meal after a long day of work.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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