Luoyang in Henan province was China’s capital for nine dynasties, spanning more than 1,000 years. Its soup banquet has been popular for just as long. The banquet comprises 24 dishes – eight cold and 16 hot – served successively throughout a meal, like running water. It is consequently known as a shuixi (literally water banquet.)
Luoyang’s location, surrounded by mountains on all sides, brought about its distinct cuisine. Limited access and arable land in earlier times resulted in a dearth of fresh fruits and vegetables. Soups of all descriptions consequently became the local culinary specialty.
Tang Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) put Luoyang dishes on the national menu. After one visit, she and her royal retinue were deeply impressed with Luoyang soups, because they contrasted favorably with those they dined upon in the imperial court in Chang’an (today’s Xi’an). Having obtained recipes, upon their return the Empress and her court officials saw to it that these soup dishes were prepared daily and served to guests and visiting dignitaries.
Before long the dishes became popular in everyday households.
Other than the eight cold dishes of chicken, beef, preserved duck egg, lotus and vegetables, Luoyang’s main hot dishes are local specialties combining meat and vegetables, generally served with soups made from chicken, duck, fish, or pork, plus fresh vegetables and mushrooms.
The banquet starts with the Peony Bird’s Nest, which actually has no contributions from the swift, instead consisting of shredded radish, soup stock and an egg fashioned to resemble a peony.
Made with simple and obtainable rather than exotic ingredients, Luoyang soup dishes are both tasty and nutritious.