“You’ve come to the right place!” The woman at the counter says. But she’s on the wrong side of the counter. And she’s not wearing an apron. Or a uniform. In fact, she almost certainly does not work here. These facts do nothing to impede her de facto marketing.
“This is the best place you could have come to!” She says and she does a full Vanna White. She gestures at the empty tables, the carefully decorated walls, the embarrassed looking woman behind the counter and unequivocal proof that she is totally and completely correct and that I have no reason to doubt her: the meat case on the restaurant counter, which is jamming with mouthwatering perfection. Slabs of pork, full ducks turning lazily on their hooks, glistening in the artificial glow of a heat lamp.
“You need to eat here!” says the woman who does not work here , speaking with the fervor and desperation of someone who has seen the light and has to share it with a non-believer.
The woman behind the counter, with the apron, smiles apologetically and passes me a menu.
Might as well be a pamphlet. A sermon. Some Scripture.
As I write this, May May Hong Kong BBQ is only two months old. A brand new addition to the business park on the southwest end of 320th. Tucked around the corner, almost directly beneath the Japanese buffet, facing the opposite direction. The business is brand new, but the components that make it up are anything but inexperienced. The recipes have been passed down in the family for decades and the people working the cleavers have the quiet, professional edge of seasoned restaurant veterans. Seasoned veterans who specialize in Cantonese BBQ.
“ A friend of mine who moved here from Hong Kong told me about this place,” the woman who doesn’t work here says. “My friend said this place was amazing, and she was right.”
From the back of the restaurant I hear the thunderous metronome of a cleaver parting meat.
“I don’t have to go all the way to the international district anymore,” she says over the banging, with a sparkle in her eyes.
I am dividing my attention between her and the menu and she makes my life less complicated. She says, “ Get the BBQ’d pork and duck over rice.”
I do that.
While I wait, someone brings the woman’s food out to her. Four styrofoam containers in a plastic bag. She is gripped with ecstasy. Glowing with it. She takes the bag carefully from the nervous looking woman behind the counter. She pays with cash and nearly forgets that I exist, little old me, like a puzzle she was working on before she found out she won the lottery. But as she hits the door, she turns to say, “Please eat here.” Her voice dripping with sincerity. “If you eat here, this place will stay open and then I can keep eating here.”
Then, in a rush of street sounds, she is gone.
The woman behind the counter smiles at me again, her eyes full of patience and understanding. I am about to ask her about the restaurant’s unofficial mascot, but then my food is in my hands and the smell of it eeking out of the edges of the styrofoam is intoxicating. I say too many thank yous and I take my food out to my car with the full intention of driving to work, sitting down at my desk and eating it quietly like a reasonable adult. But in the confines of my car, the smell immediately has me punch drunk. I crack the lid. Pork, run through with the just right amount of buttery fat. The skin on it looks like a crystal formation. The duck is the color of madrona bark, glistening. There is a beautiful stalk of bok choy with a cursory sear on it, slathered in a mild sauce and a bed of rice beneath it all.
I don’t remember deciding to eat anything. I know that I must have made that decision, I just don’t remember an actual progression of thought between “I will eat this at a table like a grown-up” and NOMNOMNOMNOMNOMNOM.
The skin of the pork crackles between my teeth, salty and wild like a Chicharron. The meat beneath it is rich and tender. Then I am picking duck meat out from between the spaces in the bones, a totally different flavor, different texture than the pork, which makes it refreshing. The skin is buttery like turkey skin but crispy like chicken skin. The bok choy is fantastic. The rice works as a palate cleanser and a space filler. When it’s all over, there is a glassiness in my eyes and on my fingers, which got waaaay more involved than I thought they would have and I am satiated. And late for work, which is fine, because I don’t think I work there anymore.
I think I’ve found my new purpose.
Come on down to May May Hong Kong BBQ on 320th. You’ll find me on the wrong side of the counter with a woman who doesn’t work there. We’ll be the ones begging you to try this place. Pleading with you to spend your money here.
Because if you eat here, then this place will stay open and we can keep eating here.
Kellen Burden is a local novelist and lunch enthusiast. More of his work can be found at www.goatfederation.com.