The gnashing of teeth and licking of fingers. The dripping of juice and the wide-eyed, desperate chugging of water. Crispy skin, buttery fat, salty meat. It is lunchtime and my father and I are folded into May May Hong Kong BBQ in Federal Way and right now, for these few moments, we belong. With our sleeves rolled up and our fingers glistening with fat, we are without race or age. There is no room in us for bias or judgment. We just are. We just are here.
The skin of this pork is crackly and explosive, the meat of the duck is rich and tender. The juices run down through them into the white rice, seasoning it gently. Between meats we nibble at the edges of our bok choy, cleansing our pallet. We eat like monsters and yet there is a reverence to it that has not gone unnoticed to the regulars that mean-mugged us when we pushed through the door. Our desperate love for this food that they love desperately has made us one of them faster than any diplomat or emissary could ever hope for.
Take notes, Peace Corps. Build all the schools you want, but until you make a sex noise at lunch and get a duck bone stuck in the hair on the back of your head, you’ll never truly be immersed. And you most certainly will not be offered secret dessert.
“Have you tried the waffle?” The owner asks, taking our decimated plates off the table.
I shake my head, no. A piece of bok choy falls out of my eyebrow. She is impressed. “You have to try the waffle.” She says and she leaves us at our table, stuporous with delight, glowing chubbily. It is winter outside the wall of windows that divides us from the gloom. Clouds swirl, cagey and wild behind the cascades. Rain slashes down on Pac Highway, falling sideways on a bitter wind. In here, though, it is warm and it is quiet and soon there will be waffles.
May May Hong Kong is hidden on the back side of a business park off Pac Highway. I’m sure that there are all kinds of other wonderful things in that parking lot, but I’ve yet to see another one with a roast duck on a hook by the register, so I’ve never made it past May May Hong Kong. The owner is friendly, the service is fast, the patrons are suspicious of me (as well they should be), and the food is obnoxiously good. Even the waffles.
The owner drops a plate between us. On it, sits steaming bubbly confection. No powdered sugar, no chocolate syrup, no berries. No waffle, for that matter, by my western definition of the word. Just a crisp, golden hunk of hot dough with pockets of heat and air like bubble wrap in an alternate fresh-baked-universe.
Later, some internet research will inform me that the standard “Hong Kong Egg Waffle” is rumored to have come about in the 1950’s. A restaurant owner was delivered a package of eggs that had been crushed in transit and rather than toss them out, they whipped them into flour, milk, and sugar and poured the whole concoction into a waffle press. The egg waffle was a street food classic ever since.
My father and I tear ours apart with cautious glee, as one does with frightening new baked goods.
Crunch like a waffle. Sweet and doughy, all on its own with no flash and sparkle of toppings. We ooh and aah and tear the thing into more pieces and ooh and aah. There’s a twenty-second period of time in which I snap my fingers trying to conjure a comparison that his hovering just outside my reaching and then the owner drops our check on the table with two fortune cookies atop it and I say,
“ Fortune cookies! It tastes like a fortune cookie!”
Like a soft, warm fortune cookie with pockets of steaming dough and a crisp on the outside. Like history and ingenuity in a paper wrapper. Like rain crackling against the windows of a restaurant in which we have been accepted with silent nods and secret dessert.
Here’s another article I wrote about this place for the Federal Way Mirror: