Stir fried pork with peppers is a spicy Sichuan dish from the Sichuan Province of north central China. This dish is famous for its use of spicy chilies that numb the mouth while also metaphorically setting them on fire. Chilies have been used in this province since the late 15th or early 16th centuries after they first arrived via merchants who were travelling along the old Silk Road.
Since Sichuan can be hot and muggy, before the advent of refrigeration food had to be preserved by pickling, smoking, or salting it. The use of peppers helped with masking the flavors that were imparted through these food preservation techniques.
Rural Thailand is much like Sichuan. The weather is hot and humid. As with the Chinese of Sichuan Province, in the days before refrigeration (and electricity) was commonly available in rural areas, the locals used hot peppers to mask the flavors of the preserved meat.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s, my father was stationed in Bangkok, Thailand. As a doctor in the U.S. military who specialized in tropical diseases, he was part of a unit that researched more effective ways to treat malaria. As part of this research, my father established rural hospitals. Since his job required him to supervise these hospitals, he spent a lot of time on back country roads bouncing about in a jeep or a Land Rover while driving from one hospital to another.
When I was seven years old my father decided that we needed to have a father-son binding moment. Instead of taking me fishing or camping (both of which I would also have hated, though I would have liked a boat ride), he took me on one of his visits to a rural hospital.
It was a miserable experience.
The temperature was over 90°F and given how humid it was, it didn’t take long before sweat was dripping down our faces. The air-conditioning in the Land Rover didn’t work. If I rolled down a window, I got a mouthful of choking red dust. If I kept the window up, I continued to swelter in the muggy heat.
The unpaved road caused the vehicle to bounce and rock from side to side. At one point, motion sickness forced my father to park so I could throw up on the side of the road.
For lunch we stopped at a rural food stall similar to the one pictured left. The stall consisted of four vertical wooden posts supporting a tin sheet metal roof. Although the stall featured a single folding table and two metal chairs, several locals were squatted along one side eating Pad-Thai in bowls with chopsticks. After waving me to a seat, my father told me that the stall charged extra for seating.
There were no menus. The cook who was working over a hot charcoal grill only served Pad-Thai. Despite having already spent nearly two years in Thailand, I had never had this dish. Since Pad-Thai looked like chow mein, I was initially excited until I took my first taste and felt my mouth burning from the hot chilies.
The Pad-Thai came with hot tea. Given how hot it was, I didn’t want hot tea. I wanted an iced soda.
“Look around,” grunted my father as he shoveled Pad-Thai into his mouth. “Do you see a refrigerator? Do you see a freezer? Do you see any sodas? If you don’t want tea, there’s some bottled water in the backseat of the car.”
“But I want something COLD,” I whined. The watching locals laughed and spoke to each other in Thai. While I didn’t understand what they were saying it’s likely that they were commenting about how spoiled I was.
In retrospect, I think that the challenge of this road trip was magnified by the fact that I was autistic. I have previously written about the challenges of living with autism. Most of us who are on the autistic spectrum are not enamored with change or disruptions to our daily schedules. Since I didn’t learn that I was autistic until I was 54, my father assumed that I was just being petulant, selfish, and rude. I suppose I was. My autism made everything seem worse.
We never made it to the field hospital. Much to my relief, my father decided to take me home after lunch. Given how far we had already traveled, we had to stay overnight in a hotel because driving in rural Thailand at night would have had us driving in complete darkness on unpaved roads.
The hotel was very basic. The room had four walls and a bed. There was no television. There was no air-conditioning. A rickety overhead fan blew warm air around the room. Since the bed didn’t have a mosquito net, my father had me rub myself down with a smelly mosquito repellant before I put on my pajamas. The repellant and a copious amount of sweating caused the PJs to unpleasantly stick to my body. The smell of the repellant, the unrelenting heat, and my father’s loud snoring kept me awake throughout the night.
I don’t think I was ever more happy to be home than I was after this trip. It would not be until I was 17 and on my way to college that we ever had another father-son road trip; but this will have to be the subject of another story.
I made this Sichuan pork candle using ginger, garlic, pepper steak, and hot sauce candle fragrances. It has a wonderful spicy hot and peppery aroma.
Here’s a closeup of the “fried pork.” Since this dish typically does not have much of a sauce (since it’s cooked away during the stir fry), I did not add the appearance of a sauce to this candle.