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A traditional home-grown, family-style meal is again becoming the must-have menu for celebratory feasts

Indigenous New Territories villagers celebrate weddings, festivals, and other significant events with a meal of pun choi – a unique Hong Kong tradition.

In Cantonese, “pun” is a basin, and “choi” is a vegetable or food. So “pun choi” means a basin full of food.

Whenever there are celebrations, the villagers organise huge open-air banquets. These banquets may host thousands seated at hundreds of round tables, all supplying one pun choi in the middle of each table, to be shared by a dozen or so villagers.

The original rationale for filling a large basin with food is not well-known. Perhaps it was due to necessity because a wash basin was the most enormous container around that could be used to hold all the food. Classic dishes are prepared separately and then layered methodically in the basin one at a time. The layering is meticulous, because there is a rationale for each dish and a reason for where it is layered.

Hardier vegetables such as daikon and taro are placed at the bottom to absorb the sauces and broth.

The most expensive and luxurious dishes, such as roast duck, poached prawns, poached chicken, stewed pork, stewed mushrooms, oysters, shark fin, fish maw, prawn and crab, are arranged beautifully at the top.

Auspicious ingredients are a necessity. So, chicken and pork are a must to signify wealth because only the rich can afford meat. A type of black hair-like vegetable, “fat choy”, is also often featured and placed on the top because it sounds like the word for prosperity in Cantonese.

Traditionally, all the preparation of the basins was done by the villagers themselves. It promoted unity, everyone working together and sharing closely held village-specific recipes and cooking methods amongst the village families. Today, many villages choose to get their pun choi prepared by professionals.