Dear Honey Chicken,
Hi. I miss you. Do you miss me? I dream about your buttery texture within that crunchy outer shell. Your sweet honey sauce coating each morsel. My memory has faded, I am ashamed to say. Was the dressing more sweet or sour? Can you tell me? No, of course not. But don’t worry—one day I will return to Cambodia and order you again.
The first day I tasted you was magic. The roadside restaurant, creatively called “my cafe” or something like that, where the servers didn’t notice us come in, then scrambled to stutteringly start fans above our chosen table after we awkwardly sat down.
The menu seven thousand pages long, with every meat and vegetable variation imaginable for each dish, since the “kitchen” was a pot over an open flame in the back alley.
But in spite of the menu’s impressive length, we found you.
I will admit that I was perturbed by how your chicken morsels could be so perfectly round and uniformly an inch in diameter when the only chickens to be seen running the streets were scrawny, bony birds. But I find that when it comes to matters of the origin of third world meat, it is best to think of other things.
I don’t remember the bamboo partition walls, the wiring for the overhead fans in a perilous crisscross of cords, the motos beeping past tuk tuks on the street outside the open front of the restaurant. Red dirt coating my feet. Fruit-selling carts blaring the universal tone either of propaganda or evangelizing over tinny portable speakers. I don’t remember any of that, not at all.
I do recall the existential questions, like “How is this so good?” or “What do they do to make a perfect scoop of rice like that?” My mind and my stomach grew in turns.
Remember that time when I made my boyfriend order two full entrees because I wanted “just a bite” and we both knew what THAT meant. The waiter smirked at me behind his back as he walked away, as though to say, “There are better options out there than just this greedy American.” But no, it was me. I was being the greedy American.
It had all started because I wanted to try another dish. I know, I know, it seems absurd, and I hope you can forgive me, dearest Honey Chicken. I ate all of my traditional Cambodian soup and still ate most of your signature sticky orange deliciousness.
It was a race with my boyfriend, bite for bite, neither of us willing to pause, to let the other gain ground as far as chicken morsels were concerned. Cambodia tastes of honey and soy sauce in my memory, a dance of pluck and bite and repeat.
I miss you.
All my undying love,