“Translation is the art of failure.”
Setting the wayback machine to Flushing, New York, September, 2012, hoping the spatial stabilizers don’t fail lest I get stuck in a wall or something.
Chen Du Tian Fu – I’ve seen it translated as “Chengdu Heavenly Plenty Snacks” and “Heavenly City of Chengdu,” both deriving from Chengdu, capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, famed for its cuisine, culinary culture, and its pandas. Walk a narrow flight of stairs, take a left into the Golden Shopping Mall basement, brushing by stalls serving the earthy, flavorful dishes of Xinjiang, tendir-baking resinous batches of cumin and onion naan in the Uyghur mode. Arrive at a wall mounted menu announcing CHEN DU TIAN FU.
Take a chance on the menu, no matter your language skills or adaptation to Flushing’s myriad of street food from practically every region/province of China.
I’m in the thrall of Number 41 – sauteed pig intestine buried beneath a layer of chimney red, stealth black dried chilies. I’ll die in and/or of that thrall – that’s probably a stronger and than I’d care to admit in a few years. That night, I ordered Number 27: diced Sichuan rabbit with peanuts, done up ma la with heaps of tongue-numbing citrus
peppercorns braised in red chili oil and chilled…
…And I ate it standing, numbed tongue bullshitting with my friend Ahmad in front of the Flushing central Post Office where over four years before, I confessed my love to Kel for the second time – and twenty years before that, crossed the street to enter the glass lobby of the then-Greenpoint Bank, dressed as a Roman legate, ready to perform my duty and unfurl a scroll declaring Herod’s big Christmas reveal in the 1988 Mary’s Nativity School Christmas Pageant.
It was my first and finest theatrical appearance.
Numbers 40 and 43, though: dire tofu and dire chilli.
This is no “bunny grey underpants”, and I’d wager “dire” is a misspelling of “dried” – but if you’ve ever experienced a spice high as one could easily do in the eateries of Flushing, I would be very curious to sample dire chilli. Sine qua numb.
Fail well, friends.
(Featured image courtesy of Flushing Exceptionalism)