Located in the west of Henan Province in central China, Luoyang occupies quite an important geographic location. It is in the middle reaches of the Yellow River and is encircled by mountains and plains. Known as the oriental start of the "silk road", it had wide political, economic, cultural exchanges with countries of Europe, North Africa and Asia.
To its east and west are the Hu Lao Pass and Han Gu Pass which were essential domestic transportation junctions in ancient times. To its north, Mengjin County was an important ferry crossing of the Yellow River. Thus, Luoyang was selected as the capital city by 13 dynasties starting from the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC) in the 21st century BC. In the period following the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), and particularly during the Sui (581-618 AD) and Tang (618- 907 AD) dynasties, the city experienced a period of growth and prosperity and was ranked as one of the international metropolitans of the time. The most prosperous period of Luoyang was in the Sui and Tang dynasties with a population of more than one million.
Its long history endows Luoyang with a profound sense of culture. The generation and development of traditional Chinese cultures: Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism are closely related with Luoyang; the Book of Changes and the Eight Diagrams were generated here; Laotze wrote the Daoism here; Confucius once asked the ceremony here; the Historical Book of Han Dynasty and Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government were complied here; Zhang Heng invented Armillary Sphere and Seismograph here; and the great poets Du Fu and Li Bai left their ever-lasting poems here.
Three Wonders of Luoyang
Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang peony and water banquet are considered as the three wonders of Luoyang.
Longmen Grottoes (Dragon Gate Grottoes)
The city of Luoyang enjoys a pre-eminent reputation as a cradle of Chinese civilization. For over 4,000 years, it served as the capital city of thirteen different Chinese kingdoms including the first, the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC), Luoyang is endowed with countless historical sites and cultural treasures.
Longmen Grottoes is viewed as one of the famous historical sites situated in the southern outskirts of the city. Having survived for about 1,400 years, the over 2,100 grottoes have tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and more than forty Buddhist pagodas as well as a large number of stone stables. These grottoes, together with the Yungang Grottoes in Datong and the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, are the three major cave clusters in China.
The Luoyang peony is China's traditional and well-known flower. It always represents elegance and poise. With various varieties and marvelous colors, the Luoyang peony enjoys the honor of "King of the Flower Kingdom" and "Luoyang Peony Ranking the First under Heaven".
Generally speaking, a peony is known to be fragrant and features large blossoms, making it an excellent choice to decorate and enhance any event. Luoyang has a long history of planting peony. Peony growing began to prevail in the region of the Sui Dynasty over one thousand years ago. Luoyang peony is well-known for its big flowers and many varieties. Luoyang National Peony Garden is the home to more than 1,000 varieties of peonies and main gene of peony in the world, and the Luoyang International Peony Festival has become a culture symbol of the city. Each year, from late spring to mid-March when the peonies are in full blossom, thousands of visitors swarm to the city to enjoy the stunningly beautiful flowers.
Shui Xi, or Water Banquet, is a set of dishes in Luoyang. With carefully selected materials, strict cooking procedures, diverse dishes and unique flavors, it is one of the famous existent Chinese banquets and boasts a history of over one thousand years.
It is said that in Sui and Tang Dynasties, in order to obtain sponsorship from the aristocracy, Buddhist monks and nuns were devoted to the development of exquisite vegetarian dishes to entertain aristocratic donors. Bored with delicacies of various meats, the aristocratic donors found the vegetarian dishes refreshing. Then the recipes of the vegetarian dishes were brought to the imperial palace. After improvement and alteration, the vegetarian dishes were put on the tables of the court and the official circles together with other delicacies. Later, the common people who like to parade their wealth brought the vegetarian dishes to banquets for the common people. This is how the Water Banquet came into being.
There are two reasons for the name “Water Banquet”. One is that all the dishes are soupy. The other reason lies in the serving procedure. The dishes are served and then removed in order from the beginning to the end. The dishes are served only when the previous one is finished and removed, simulating the stream-like processing. The procedure is as smooth as flowing water.
There are in total 24 dishes, namely 8 cold dishes, 4 big dishes, 8 smaller dishes, and 4 end dishes. First, 8 cold dishes, which includes 4 vegetable dishes and 4 meat dishes, are served as accompaniments to drinks. Then the 4 big dishes and 8 smaller dishes are served. These 12 dishes are divided into 4 groups, and each group contains 3 dishes. There is a big dish in each group, followed by two smaller dishes as side dishes. This is called "going to imperial court with sons". The fourth big dish is sweet vegetable and sweet soup, followed by rice or noodles. At last, four "end dishes" are served. The last end dish is the farewell soup, indicating all dishes have been served. The dishes are always served exactly in this order.
The saying “predestined emperor and fake swallow's nest” implies that the Water Banquet includes fake meat dishes cooked with vegetables. The famous “Luoyang Nest”, “Fake Sea Cucumber” and so on are made of turnip, vermicelli and other ordinary materials which take stunning shape after being processed and cooked by cooks with their superb skills.
At the banquet, people who love cold food will find desirable cold dishes; sour and spicy dish lovers will find themselves sweating; and the sweet-toothed will love the fourth group of dishes. The Water Banquet is featured by soups. With vegetable and soup in turn, guests will feel comfortable. When the egg soup “the Farewell Soup” is served, guests who are familiar with local custom know all dishes have been served and the banquet has come to its end, and they will leave the table contentedly.
As someone said, the soup of the Water Banquet is just like a piece of music. It tastes slight at first, then a little hot, a little spicy, and sweet, and sour. One can just describe it as “cool”.
With unique flavors, superb skills, vivid appearances, enchanting legends and rich culture, the Water Banquet became renowned all over China and it is reputed as a treasure of the ancient capital Luoyang.