Dear Australian Man Behind the Counter at the Barbecue Joint,
I know you think I am crude. The only times you’ve seen me, I have been wearing leggings. Today my disheveled look —but I wore pearls!—was juxtaposed with that of this gorgeous British woman in the “queue” with long, thick hair that cascaded over her hunting jacket that must have cost a fortune, and a nose that ski-sloped into a button below cheeks highlighted with just the right amount with rouge. She probably wouldn’t know good barbecue if it locked her in a smoker in Memphis, Tennessee!
I know you think I am a fatty. Last time I was here I ordered a half-pound of pulled pork. Today it was a half-slab of ribs. Last time it was OK because I was losing weight due to food-poisoning-induced bulimia, and this barbecue was the only food I could find that I knew my stomach wouldn’t reject. In China, I have learned the true meaning of “praying to the porcelain god.” It’s called praying because in between puking, you cry out things like, “Help!” and, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “MOOOOOMMM!”
Today I had an excuse, too: another malady of not being vigilant in my adventures. (I suppose I should be more vigilant in my adventures, but what’s the point of having them if you can’t throw caution to the wind?) While I was traipsing down the street, engaging in my daily game of mortal combat, pushing through people who would otherwise knock into me—people who blew smoke right in my face and stopped dead in their tracks for no reason at all, and didn’t apologize, and didn’t obey common etiquette like waiting for someone to get off the train before pushing their way in—I thought that next time, I would at least do my hair.
But then I realized that you should be the self-conscious one. You’re stationed behind the counter of the only bastion of North Carolina in Hong Kong, and you couldn’t stand your ground on the battle lines in the barbecue wars.
I can’t really blame you because you’re not even American, let alone southern. But you can’t just go around distributing mustard sauce and tomato-based sauce and vinegar sauce! It’s not right! You have to pick one!
And you should know that, to me, barbecue is like one hand on my shoulder while the other pulls my hair back as my body lurches face-first into the porcelain bowl. It feels like starting a good book or a stranger helping me collect the groceries I’ve managed to strew all over the street or someone calling me “Darlin’” instead of my name.
Where I come from, good barbecue is the prize for rolling over Blue Ridge hills with old friends in the fall when the leaves are painting sunsets into a clear blue day, and the vestiges of summer let you sit outside to smell the pig cooking through the breeze. You can see for miles and miles. You can watch the late-afternoon sun crack a yolk of purple and blues over the mountains.
So thank you for that. I really do appreciate your restaurant, and the fact that you work there, and the notion that only in a city like Hong Kong would I be able to find a Carolina-style barbecue joint next to dim sum next to a French bistro. But as long as your food reminds me of home, as long as it takes two showers to get the smell out of my fingertips, I will probably keep coming to you looking like a mess, looking like I need a little bit of the south to get me through the day. Let’s face it: if I looked good, I would probably be somewhere else.
P.S. Yup, I ate the whole half-slab in one sitting.