If you’re watching The Story of Minglan, you might be able to see a fancy way of dining that involves placing food on a table with running water. Did people really eat that way? Well, rich Asians are going to be crazy.
This style of eating has two potential origins. One is from a popular drinking game dating back to at least 353 AD called 曲水流觞, literally “In the winding stream flows vessels of alcohol”. In this popular drinking game (among fancy people) , you place a cup of alcohol on a floating device in the “river”, and wherever the cup stops, the person has to drink and compose a poem. If you can’t compose a poem you have to drink three extra cups. The most famous recorded of such was such an event in AD 353 held by calligrapher Wang Xizhi where he wrote the famous Lantingji Xu. You can see a depiction of this in The Secret of the THree Kingdoms. This origin is very well-documented, and is actually popular, but it was usually used for drinking games only and not full meals.
Another legend has it that the Streamline Banquet 流水席 was a way for a Buddhist Temple near Mount Tai to provide food to visitors during its annual festival. Because of how many people they had, they would put food on its springs going down. This made the event become a spectacle and more and more people would come and come and donate money just for the food. I really couldn’t find a source for this online since every google search came with the same wording with no historical records, so I’m going to pretend Daylight Entertainment did their research.
source: Chinese Elegant Life by Wang Jian’nan