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how Taiwanese food was invented

Winter Contest Runner-Up

CAS for Database

Emily Hsu

Edison, New Jersey, USA

John P. Stevens High School


how Taiwanese food was invented

braised pork. splayed        over rice. this is        me,

when i return home from another day sacrificed to the fork.

a girl in second grade used to        kick me        under the table.

splayed at a forked path between         her own business        and mine,

her legs brownnosed the table’s, imploring        make way

all distances        to kick me        in the steam of light.

but the desks were arranged in groups like         soup dumplings.

小籠包 steaming at each other’s presence.        baby skin

dragoning at the pores.        no way of turning around

no flipping the pan

I said I’ll tell on you,        and she stopped.        deadpan,

burnt on one side, she shriveled at confrontation.

nowadays, kids don’t sit face to face—

faced forward,        a girl blasted her feet through me, the way

i would attack a 蔥油餅. all flimsy, scallions like         open pockets,

the pancake’s        aroma begging like red envelopes:

open on one end, sealed on the other,

inviting me like home        or 火鍋, or hotpot,

or a steaming, laughing,        esteeming         bowl of love.

but behind me, she thought        jackpot.

and i should’ve said no, i’ll turn around to face you, flip the pan

but i didn’t. i spared her a burn. oh, i shrivel at confrontation.

instead, i smelled foul whiffs of unchastity.

her two feet and my bum were now 刈包,

waning from hipbone to        hipbone, martyred to shoe soles,

some fat bread,        sandwiched by the ballsy, unbred force

of odium, boastful sex, and fatherlessness.


it kills me to bring this back home.         it kills the land too—

a bully’s bread is invasive. it is not Taiwanese.

it is opulent        grand like a Chinese cuisine:

succulent, naked, petulant,        pining for scentless bloom.

soul beaten by sole, i thought about how Taiwan had been kicked too—

kicked so deep in the stomach it regurgitated a culture.

dishes small, ugly, forgotten. on the eleventh hour,        it threw itself

past waters. put itself out there,        words succinct, savory, ambrosial,

desperate.        food forever sweet, living unbeknownst to the opposite,

be it        sour, salty, spicy,     bitter, blasphemy, bile.

existence floating, ungrounded.        jettisoned

this was their way of saying         “i’m here.”        forever a disputed, disposed postulate.

because they didn’t have anyone above to say they would        tell on them

to. because who was above them,        they didn't know.

who tells you who is above you        it’s a weird thing.

who tells me whom to tell, who        tells me        why i shouldn’t

tell        who tells me to be afraid—who tells?        so i show

like in “show-and-tells”        my best 牛肉麵: plump noodles like rivers

carried by the things around it: bok choy, beef, yummy stew. 鹹酥雞,

or fried chicken        sizzling like the night markets in Taiwan,

full of cries for home when in home, or         for a known future without it.

滷肉飯, which i order all the time,        in every crevice of this country

to show my tourists, this is where i want to be.        i leave hints of how

food is meant to be ripped apart.        shoes are meant to be worn.

i leave leftovers in every Taiwanese restaurant, begging for someone to see.

i write poems “showing, not telling.”        you can see from

the gaps in my writing.                        i am ___ a silent victim.


dead meat        taken by the fork, i masticate 鳳梨酥, pretending i’ve

wild-caught these pineapple tarts        to finally        be the offender.

wait: i’ll find a lover who can eat 仙草 with me, carve out of grass jelly like

selling souls and secrets worth        kicking under the table        face-to-face.

braised pork. splayed        over rice. this is ___ me.

wishing my words will       save me, somehow

i come home, and my family is whom i tell myself to tell.        so we

talk,                and i write,                and they give me food.


[The author's] inner turmoil surrounding how to share [their] own culture was evident throughout this piece, and I think [they] did an amazing job at expressing [their] frustration while also bringing attention to the beauty of being Taiwanese. In particular, I loved the specific descriptions [incorporated] throughout this piece. Moments like “braised pork,” “red envelopes,” and “the night markets in Taiwan” [help] the reader understand why [the author's] culture is important to [them], and [evoke] a sense of longing and wistfulness.


Emily Hsu is a Taiwanese-American artist and writer living in New Jersey. Her artworks have been recognized by the Congressional Art Competition, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, The Adroit Journal, COUNTERCLOCK Journal, Endangered Species, among others. She is an alumna of the Kenyon Young Writers’ Workshop and Interlochen Performance Poetry. Her “Falling Up” is now displayed in the US Capitol’s Cannon Tunnel in Washington D.C. Her “Thirst” has been forever collected by the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Pennsylvania.

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