When I was 6 years old, my mother and I made the long journey from our home in Chengdu, China to what would be our new home in the U.S. We were making a permanent move to the US to join my father. He had immigrated one year earlier to begin to build the foundations of a new life for us. It was my very first time on a plane and the first time I had ever been outside of China. I was both scared and excited.
There are very few memories that I remember as clearly as this trip. I can still taste the anticipation and the fear. I remember the exhilarating joy of reuniting with my father after a year apart and the innumerable questions racing through my head on the car ride from the airport. Before this, only a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there of various memories, usually involving food, stick out in my mind. Looking back, I don’t think my young mind fully grasped that we were moving halfway around the world—permanently. I certainly didn’t understand the enormity of this step and the huge sacrifices that my parents had to make in order to get us to this country.
Growing up during the cultural revolution, my parents lived through the full brunt of Maoist hypocrisy. This orgy of political and social upheaval saw my grandfather persecuted for being from a well-off, landed family. And as a scholar and teacher he was doubly doomed, the ultimate “enemy of the people”. For nearly a decade, almost all university education was put on hold and as a result my mother was the first of her siblings to be allowed to go to college by the government. She was lucky enough to have come of university age just in time for the reestablishment of higher education. But even here, individuality was quelled and silenced. Dreams and passions were not to be pursued. No, instead the government assigned you an area of study and then you were assigned a job after graduation. Choices were not
Through all of this, my parents held on with an iron grip to a dream of immigrating to the United States. It was a goal that they had set for themselves at a very young age. Every decision and every careful step that they took as teenagers, then as young adults, and finally as parents were with that goal in mind. In America, they would have choices. And most importantly their daughter would have a chance to choose how to live her life and to pursue the dreams that they never had an opportunity to.
In 1994, we finally took the leap but with this step forward, we left behind everything familiar — family and friends, a language, a home, and just the simple sights and sounds of everyday life. A couple weeks ago, my mother called me with the news that my grandmother had passed away. It had been many years since I last saw her. I know that my mother regrets the ocean that separated us and all of the time that she had missed with her.
As the child of immigrants and an immigrant myself, I have always felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility — a duty and need to fulfill my parents hopes and ambitions for me. And while the pressure has been at times painful, it is this that has made me the person that I am today. I owe my parents an enormous debt of gratitude for the life that I am able to lead today, for all of the freedom that I have.
My story echoes the stories of so many other immigrants. We have been granted a second chance at life and as a result we all feel a deep need to never ever squander the opportunities that we have today. This country was built upon the backs of immigrants. It is because of the generations of people hoping and dreaming that this country is the world power that it is now. We must not forget that. We must not allow the current state of the government make us forget that it is only through the embracing of our differences that we can be stronger.
This post is one of a set of posts by my fellow bloggers in a series called #immigrantfoodstories. Make sure to check out the other stories and recipes below.
..: Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem
..: Lily Diamond, Kale & Caramel
..: Karen Chan, Honestly YUM
..: Emma Galloway, My Darling Lemon Thyme
..: Kimberley Hasselbrink, The Year in Food
..: Bella Karragiannidis, Ful-filled
..: Liz Harris, Floating Kitchen
..: Elizabeth Stark, Brooklyn Supper
..: Caroline Hurley, Taste Love and Nourish
..: Sydney Kramer, The Crepes of Wrath
..: Imen McDonnel, Farmette
..: Aysegul Sanford, Foolproof Living
..: Alana Kysar, Fix Feast Flair
..: Jenny McGruther, Nourished Kitchen
This recipe is one of my favorites that my mom used to make as a child. Unlike many of the most well known Sichuan dishes, it is more mellow in its chili heat. The chilies are still there and even a bit of Sichuan peppercorn, but all this is counterbalanced by the rich savoriness of duck and mushrooms, the delicate bitterness of daikon radish, the near-endless complexity of anise and cinnamon, and the pungent funk of fermented broad bean chili paste. No Sichuan kitchen is ever without this hot sauce. To all this we add a whole bottle of beer, something complex would be best but you can use whatever you have on hand. This mélange of flavors is then cooked and allowed to mature slowly. The smells that will envelop your home are truly the ultimate meaning of comfort food.
S I C H U A N B E E R B R A I S E D D U C K W/ M U S H R O O M S +
D A I K O N // 啤酒鸭
This dish would traditionally be eaten along with several other accompanying dishes and rice. I typically serve this along with 2 or 3 lighter vegetable dishes such as a cucumber salad and a simple single vegetable stir fry with plenty of garlic.
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 4-5 pound duck, broken up into legs and wings (bone-in), breasts
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons pixian broadbean chili paste
1 teaspoon white peppercorn
2 teaspoons sichuan peppercorn
1 cinnamon stick (cassia)
2 star anise
5 dried thai chiles
1 1/2 inch nub pickled ginger or plain raw ginger, sliced
4 pickled red chiles or plain fresh red chiles, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 pounds mixed mushrooms (oyster, shiitake), halved
1 medium daikon, peeled and cut into large chunks on a diagonal
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 bottle of beer (a lager or IPA would work well)
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons ginger pickling liquid or plain rice wine vinegar
cilantro, for garnish
Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. In a small bowl, rehydrate the dried porcini mushrooms with the hot water. Set aside.
Cut the duck meat into large 1 1/2 inch chunks. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the duck, 2 tablespoons light soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon broadbean chili paste, mix well. Set aside to marinate while you prep the other ingredients.
Use a mortar and pestle or the back of a heavy pan to lightly break up the star anise and cinnamon stick. Next add the white peppercorn and sichuan peppercorn, crush roughly. Set aside.
Over medium high heat, heat a wok or a dutch oven for 2-3 minutes. Pour in a layer of grapeseed oil to the pan, turn up the heat to high, sauté the duck for 10-12 minutes until it has browned and the duck fat has begun to render. Use a spatula to remove the duck from the pan, place on a plate, set aside. Add the white peppercorn, Sichuan peppercorn, cinnamon, and star anise to the pan. Destem the dried chiles, break them in half and add them to the oil. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the spices. Add the rest of the broadbean chili paste to the oil, sauté for 3-5 minutes until the paste begins to darken and separates from the oil. Next add in the pickled ginger, pickled chiles, and garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes more until everything has begun to soften. Pour the the rehydrated porcini mushrooms through a mesh sieve, making sure to keep the liquid. Add them along with the fresh mushrooms to the pan, sauté for 5 minutes until browned. Add the daikon, mix, and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Stir in the brown sugar. Return the duck back to the pan, mix everything together, pour in the beer and 1 cup of the porcini mushroom stock, bring the liquid to a rapid boil, cook for 5 minutes until the alcohol has fully evaporated. Add the dark soy sauce, turn the heat down to a low simmer, cover partially and cook for 50 minute, until the duck is tender. Finish with the last 2 tablespoons (or to taste) of light soy sauce and the ginger pickling liquid or vinegar. Remove from the heat, garnish with generous amounts of cilantro. Serve immediately with white rice.
women’s march on washington d.c. // jan. 21. 2017