Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shui Xi

Sh?i Xí , or Water Banquet, is a Chinese set of dishes comprising 8 cold and 16 warm dishes cooked in various broths, gravies, or juices, hence its name. It is considered one of the Three Wonders of Luoyang , along with the peony and the Longmen Grottoes.


The Water Banquet is an offshoot of Henan cuisine, and has existed since the and Dynasties. It came into existence because of the climatic conditions around the city of Luoyang - notably the dry climate, mountainous terrain, and lack of fruits - which makes a "soupy" meal an attractive option.

Shui Xi is famous for its soups, thus called "Water Banquet". There are vegetables and meat dishes, cold and warm, and all kinds of flavors. There're totally 24 dishes. First, 8 cold dishes are served as companies for drinks. The rest 16 are warm dishes, served in different sized under-glazed blue bowls. Four of them are "end dishes", served in the end. The rest 12 are divided into 4 groups, and each group contains 3 dishes, with similar flavors. There is a "big dish" in each group, accompanied by two "small dishes" as side dishes. It is called "going to empire court with sons" . The next group of three dishes will be served only when the previous group has been finished, simulating the stream-like processing. The first dish is made of shredded turnip, which mimics swallow's nest flavor, thus called "swallow dish". The fourth dish shall be sweet vegetables or sweet soup. At last four "end dishes" are served. All of them are soupy dishes. The last end dish shall be sour vegetables egg soup, called "farewell dish", indicating all dishes have been served.

These days, it is found that in Tang Dynasty, Yuan Tiangang foresaw Wu Zetian would beome emperor, but he had to keep it secret. Thus, he invented these 24 dishes, imitating the whole life of Wu Zetian. It was initially named "Wu Empress Banquet". The name changed to "Luoyang Banquet" since Song Dynasty. Ordinary people called it "officialdom" . As tourism boomed, people call it "Luoyang Water Banquet".

Legend of Swallow Dish

The most notable first dish in "Luoyang Water Banquet" is "Luoyang Swallow Dish". It is said that when Wu Zetian was in Luoyang, a giant turnip weighing tens of kilograms grew in the field in Dongguan. Farmers thought it was a miracle, and dedicated it to the Empress. Wu, tired of sumptuous feast, was curious about what dishes could be made of turnip. The imperial cooks studies it and decided to steam the shredded turnip mixed with starch, then blend it with delicious soup. The Empress was very impressed by the swallow nest-like flavor, and complimented it a lot, and named it "Swallow Dish". Later, it was learned by masses, and gradually became "Luoyang swallow dish". In October 1973, Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai accompanied Canadian Premier to visit Luoyang. Renowned cooks Wang Changsheng and Li Daxiong carefully made Luoyang swallow dish. The two premiers ordered it twice and complimented it a lot. Because there was a carved peony in the dish, Premier Zhou humorously said, "Peony in Luoyang is best in the world. It even grows in the dish. The dish may be called 'Peony Swallow Dish'." Ever since, the dish was renamed "peony swallow dish" and enjoyed a high reputation both at home and abroad.