Ode to Sichuan Cai

A Volunteer remembers her favorite Chinese dishes from service.


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.

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