Luoyang Water Banquet
Shui Xi or Water Banquet is a Chinese set of dishes comprising 8 cold and 16 warm dishes cooked in various broths, gravies, or juices. It is considered one of the Three Wonders of Luoyang (an ancient city in the Henan province), along with the peony and the Longmen Grottoes.
Why it’s called water banquet? First, obviously it’s because all the dishes are soupy. The other reason is the serving procedure. All the dishes are served when the previous one is finished and removed. It’s a stream-like process, as smooth as flowing water.
The Water Banquet is an offshoot of Henan cuisine, and has existed since the Sui and Tang 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.
In a Water Banquet, there are vegetables and meat dishes, cold and warm, and all kinds of flavors, 24 dishes in total. 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. The last end dish shall be sour vegetables egg soup, called "farewell dish", indicating all dishes have been served.
There are many time-honored restaurants serving Shui Xi. Zhenbutong is one of them.