Ode to Sichuan Cai
Sichuan Cai: dishes/food in China
La Jiao: Sichuan peppers
Hua Jiao: Sichuan numbing peppers
Gong Bao Ji Ding: Kung Pao Chicken
Celtuce: a celery-like vegetable
Mapu Doufu: a tofu dish cooked with meat and spicy peppers
Ci Ba: glutinous rice pounded into a paste usually rolled in sesame/peanut powder then smothered in brown sugar syrup. Sometimes it is fried then covered in the syrup
Gan Gou: dry pot--similar to hot pot; usually a meat served with many vegetables after being cooked in very hot peppery oil then put over a small flame at the table
Hot Pot: a big pot of boiling, spicy soup that you use to cook your own meats and vegetables at the table; more oily then Gan Guo
By Alison Scribben - Peace Corps Volunteer, China (2013 - 2015)
Oh, Sichuan Peppers.
When I first arrived, I cried often
your spicy touch would bring a grown man or women to tears
within a bite or two.
Your La Jiao and Hua Jiao make your dishes delicious
but also very painful.
I know I have become integrated with your burning embrace
when I leave Sichuan and
I think to myself, hmm
this could use some la jiao.
Oh, Gong Bao Ji Ding
One of the first dishes we learn to say,
you become a delicious, if expensive, staple quickly.
We learn rapidly which stores make the best
version of you. But sadly,
China changes so quickly that a good store may disappear over break,
never to be seen again.
Your chicken, your celtuce, your peanuts,
and that tangy sauce make you a favorite with all
except the vegetarians.
Oh, Mapu Doufu
I have never eaten this much tofu
before coming to China.
I have had you super oily, very dry, beyond painfully spicy,
very mild, and everything in between.
I even learned how to cook you.
A very simple but tasty dish that I look forward
to making extremely spicy for my father to try.
You are a staple meal for all,
but I must admit
I probably won’t eat this much
tofu ever again.
Oh, Ci Ba
Having only just recently found you,
you will be missed most of all.
Having your fried self, covered in brown sugar syrup
during Gan Gou and Hot Pot were always highlights of the meal.
Who knew that glutinous rice could make such
a delicious, if chewy, dessert.
My local Ci Ba people
will be sad to see me go.
Because I’m pretty sure I always stopped
to pick up a delicious serving
on my bike ride home.
This poem was entered in the Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.