Reshteh in Ash
When mother made ash-e-reshteh in a pot as deep as can be
She would soak the kashk days in advance
She would rinse and dry the fresh parsley, cilantro, and dill
After the aroma overwhelmed the air
She cooked a colorful rainbow of legumes separately
She would boil water until it was ready to consume the reshteh
Onions fried at the last moment to please both palates and aesthetics
Soon the smell of ash is was to dominate
Each spoonful was destined to contain each ingredient
In perfect harmony
And after swallowing the liquid soup
A pleasant surprise remained when encountering the texture of the reshteh
Not too rough, but not like silk
A sensation perfectly in between
That brought warmth to our beings
And pride to her heart
What piece did you choose to imitate?
I chose to imitate Noodles in Broth by Hong Junju.
Why did you choose this piece?
I chose to imitate Noodles in Broth because the poem immediately stood out to me through my first reading of it. On the surface, the poem appeared to be rather simply written. However, I greatly admired how the simplicity in the author’s recitation of the steps required to prepare the noodles seemed to simultaneously convey that Chinese food in fact is not simple to make. In contrast to the way the poem was constructed, it appeared as if the skill and articulation of the chef seemed to truly mask the complication of the food. Furthermore, the poem transitioned within the final stages to include the sensation brought upon the consumers of the “noodles in broth,” which was that of serenity and joy. What ultimately caused me to want to recreate this poem was the appreciate I felt towards Junju for demonstrating how an act so complicated could transfer such natural emotions to its surroundings. Simple pleasures, like those brought upon by food, are in fact the most gratifying to be felt.
What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?
When writing my own poem, the first step I took was to observe the details the author chose to focus on. Through several reads, I noticed that the author spent the majority of the poem using quite vivid imagery and complicated descriptions to convey the act of the chef preparing and cooking the “noodles in broth,” with phrases such as “With a light feather he would brush the flour.” However, he juxtaposed the intricacy of the first eight lines by transitioning his style in the last four lines to a very straightforward portrayal of the emotions that the bowl of soup brought upon the consumers, such as the mention that “The body would relax.” Although I added some of my own elements to my poem, such as the aroma of the “ash-e-reshteh,” I definitely tried to mimic Junju’s writing by focusing most on the contrast between the cooking of the dish and the emotions felt afterwards. Ultimately, I realized that cooking Chinese food is truly an art, and the fact that a chef or any community member would spend hours preparing something so intricate for others puts food in the center as the top force in bringing Chinese families and friends together.
What did you learn about your own culture while writing?
While writing my own version of Junju’s Noodles in Broth, I realized that when an Iranian mother, or any Iranian for that matter, is to cook a meal, they truly transform themselves into chefs. No matter what their actual occupation in life is, their only role for the period spent cooking is to create a dish that will not only nourish the body, but will also transfer joy and conviviality to the lives of the consumers. I wanted to ensure that my “Reshteh in Ash” had the capability of demonstrating this exact value of family and friendship appreciation so engrained within the culture of Iranians.
Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?
I believe what truly caused Noodles in Broth to stand out among other poems was in fact the cultural DNA that penetrated through every line. Any reader could understand that the direct cause of the relaxation in the body and the “Smile [that] would come to the lips” of the author was the sensation that the noodles brought. Whether the pleasure was exuded because of the taste and warmth of the noodles, because of the appreciation and love towards the chef, or simply a combination of both, it is clear that food is a driving force of conviviality in this culture. I recognized these same emotions in my own experiences I have felt when encountering homemade food, specifically in Iranian dishes as complicated as “ash-e-reshteh,” so I believed it would only be fit to create my own version of Noodles in Broth. Such sensations can definitely be experienced in any food-orientated culture, specifically Chinese and Iranian cultures in this case.
There also seems to be some sort of ambiguity prevalent within Junju’s very last line, that states that “A smile would come to the lips, and the body would relax.” One may assume that it is mouth and the body of the consumer of the noodles that would smile and relax, as I initially did. However, through repeated readings, the performer of these pleasurable actions seemed to be less clear, as it is indeed possible that it is the chef who is smiling after observing the enjoyment that his meal caused. This ambiguity thus serves the purpose of demonstrating that there is pleasure on both the side of the chef and those the chef cooks for, furthering the idea that food is a driving force in creating harmony in social situation in such cultures. I realized that this ambiguity is present within Iranian culture as well, but for the sake of my poem, I chose to explicitly state that positive emotions were felt on both the side of the chef and the consumer.