A musical based on pan-toh (辦桌), a distinctive roadside banquet tradition unique to Taiwan, will tour Michigan this October. Featuring the Taipei-based National Chinese Orchestra (NCO, 臺灣國樂團) and Shintrun Taiwanese Opera Troupe (薪傳歌仔戲團) the performances will combine outdoor feasting customs with Taiwan's wedding culture.
Pan-toh, or roadside banquets, are held for a variety of special occasions, from wedding and funerals to housewarmings, teacher appreciation events, temple celebrations, and local elections. Friends, families, and neighbors are invited to join in and take part in the celebrations. There are a number of taboos and rules that need to be followed, with the choice and order of dishes and seating arrangements all strictly set out.
Pan-toh culture can be traced back to Qing-era Taiwan, when wealthy people would invite chefs to cook marvelous meals for them at home. This began to evolve into its more familiar form during the Japanese colonial era, when skilled cooks in villages would get together to prepare feasts for the community. These home chefs would also provide the tables, chairs, cutlery, and tableware, and community members would help themselves to the food.
Against the backdrop of an ensemble of traditional wind and percussion instruments, "Formosa Roadside Wedding Banquet" is a lively and storied production that aims to vividly present extraordinary tales as told by executive chefs catering to such roadside banquets.
The unique Taiwanese feast shall be replicated by integrating daily appliances including woks, bowls, gourd ladles, pots, stoves, and firewood with the striking sounds and unique reverberations of traditional percussion instruments to convey the joyful atmosphere of food-centric Taiwanese wedding rituals.
To delineate a chef's complicated emotions over his daughter's marriage as he caters for the wedding guests, members of the Shintrun Taiwanese Opera Troupe will also take up the roles of matchmaker, bride, groom, and executive chef, as well as portray a merry cast of friends and family members.
Apart from introducing the mesmerizing sounds of roadside banquets to American audiences, the National Chinese Orchestra of Taiwan will also hold a special concert titled "Splendid Taiwan" at the University of Michigan on Oct. 7.