A floral feast that fuses the fine tastes of China’s ancient capital, Luoyang

“Receiving friends with my cheap wine/ With turnip soup in hand, its taste rivals the venison (茅柴酒与人情好,萝卜羹和野味长),” the literatus Chen Zhu (陈著) thus praised, of all things, the pungent turnip in the 13th century.

Cheap but nutrient-rich, the turnip was an all-purpose vegetable enjoyed by commoners and nobles alike. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought to balance the qi in the stomach and aid digestion.

Even the commonest root vegetable, though, can be made to look and taste good with help from a skilled chef: mudan yancai (牡丹燕菜), or “peony and swallow dish,” is a nourishing soup made of steamed turnip arranged around a blooming peony flower made of egg or tofu skin. As the opening dish to the Luoyang Water Banquet, a famous spread of 24 mainly soup-based dishes from one of the ancient capitals of the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), mudan yancai is considered a perfect fusion of color, aroma, and taste.

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author Aaron Hsueh

Aaron Hsueh is a Chinese editor at China News Service and a former intern at The World of Chinese. He graduated from the University of International Business and Economics in July of 2021. Being a travel and culture enthusiast and a sports fanatic, he writes mainly on Chinese culture and language.

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