As the fourth most populous province in China, Sichuan has 81 million people.
With this many people, and a slow lifestyle, a popular pastime has emerged. It’s called 凑热闹, which roughly translates into rubbernecking. Whenever something happens, whether it’s on the road or in the water, an instant peanut gallery forms.
Some bring professional equipment to capture the moment on camera.
Some will lend a helping hand if there’s a need.
And then there’re also cold-hearted members of the audience who’ll just stand by and watch.
Whether it’s prickly cactus, or a steep slope, nothing can stop the curiosity of a Sichuanese.
凑热闹 doesn’t just refer to watching. A lot of times it’s about participation.
After all, a game of mahjong requires four participants.
With four people, any place can be turned into a games room, like a boat, or a KTV lounge.
So when it comes to eating, of course the same principle applies—the more the merrier.
At a wedding banquet, first a lion dance to warm up the audience.
Then a traditional palanquin to attract more eyeballs.
Relatives and friends help set up tables on the sidewalk.
Food, food, and more food.
Nine Big Bowls doesn’t refer to any particular nine bowls of food. It’s just a name for all kinds of banquets: weddings, births, anniversaries . . .
Such banquets are much more fun in the village.
True open-air kitchen.
Preparations for the banquet usually start the day before. Chefs and their team of helpers work overnight to ensure that the freshest ingredients are turned into steaming hot dishes for the banquet.
Sometimes they also enlist the help of novice chefs.
Whether it’s in front of residential blocks in town, or in the narrow alley of a village, the customs remain more or less the same.
News of a banquet spreads quickly, and villagers come as fast as their vehicles can carry them.
It’s usually Nine Big Bowls instead of ten, because Ten Bowls in Chinese sounds the same as Trough, as in, the trough where pigs feed.
Steamed assorted vegetables
It’s also not eight, because eight refers to a type of table called 八仙桌—Eight Immortals Table, which was reserved for beggars. In the past, the host of a banquet would set aside one table, with dishes for beggars who would come.
Steamed duck, steamed goose, steamed pork knuckle
Steamed pork ribs
Soup, stew, stir-fry
Pork, duck, goose, fish
Seaweed, carrots, assorted vegetables
Once the food is ready, the banquet can begin.
But first, the stars of the day—the bride and the groom, make an appearance.
Sometimes they also hire a band.
Since the host went to so much trouble to prepare the banquet, guests do their best to show up, regardless of weather: gale, hail, or snow.
With so much food, sometimes there’ll be uninvited guests who refuse to leave.