Esteemed food writer and humorist Calvin Trillin is getting grilled for a poem in this week’s New Yorker that tackles the issue of … Chinese food, or, more specifically, how complicated it’s become for serious food lovers to keep track of all the different types of Chinese food that are available. Called “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” — maybe not the best title — it begins:
Have they run out of provinces yet?
If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just Cantonese.
(Long ago, we were easy to please.)
But then food from Szechuan came our way,
Making Cantonese strictly passé.
Szechuanese was the song that we sung,
Though the ma po could burn through your tongue.
Then when Shanghainese got in the loop
We slurped dumplings whose insides were soup.
Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao,
Came along with its own style of chow.
So we thought we were finished, and then
A new province arrived: Fukien.
Asian-Americans are understandably tired of being the punchline of every food joke, but Times restaurant critic Pete Wells and others say Trillin should get the benefit of the doubt here:
And yet other critics understand that this is a self-aware parody, but they take issue with the technical aspects of the poem itself. Three Asian-American writers have submitted their own “rhyming poem” about Chinese food: