This chicken salad has it all

The thing I miss the most about Sweet Tomatoes is sitting across from Becky at a stall near the salad bar (so we can refill our plates ASAP); keeping up with the monotony of our lives among young people (for example, my last breakup, her last sworn enemy); And he completely exhausted his salad round buffet of Chicken Won Salad. A paper number with crispy fried won strips and crunchy vegetables, the chicken salad was topped with a sweet and savory tasting sauce of Asian ingredients, like soy sauce and sesame oil, but that came from nowhere but Asia. The salad, which first appeared in Garden Fresh in 1993 and was eventually renamed Wonton Happiness, will be, for me, the culmination of lunch, a feeling I will haunt for the rest of my life.

Salad possesses the kind of delicious, manufactured quality that often comes from one culture’s interpretation (or wild guesswork) of what another culture’s food might look like, which is neither real nor fake in its origin, and remains an illusion throughout its life and within. the death. That’s because this salad—and its salad, historically called “Chinese chicken salad,” “Asian chicken salad,” and, at its worst, “Oriental chicken salad”—doesn’t really refer to any idea other than the flavors from East Asian countries might be. Thai Crunch salad at California Pizza Kitchen and Chinese Chicken Salad at Cheesecake Factory come to mind, as does Chinois Chicken Salad at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in Santa Monica. These types of dishes may not be original to anything but their creators, but they can still become food-memory touchstones for those who eat them. That’s either good or bad, depending on how you feel about the culture shift, but when it comes to chicken salad by the ton, I’m thankful for its ingrained role in my life and in Becky’s as the salad that has it all.

In 2019, I was in the room with Becky at a vacation rental in Seattle when I found out that her father, Uncle Young, had died suddenly. Not enough people talk about the massive anorexia that occurs when you lose someone you love. When we got to the airport, it had been almost 24 hours since we heard the news, and Becky had eaten nothing. I forced her to have a glass of red wine and fries, and thankfully she did. As we made our way to the gate for our flight back to Atlanta, she turned toward me and asked, “Do you think it’s better to lose someone suddenly or just let them go slowly?” I said what I thought she wanted to hear, and we got on the plane.

Uncle Young had turned 65 this month. I regret I’ve never cooked for him, but he’s been cooking for us cousins ​​all the time. Among his specialties were trout with peppers and lemon and bacon-wrapped filet mignon with A.1. Boiled kielbasa with tostitos sauce, beer and grilled chicken wings saturated with jalapeno, cilantro and sake. Despite his carnivorous inclinations, it is likely that he would agree with this salad. The supporting character that makes the crunchy tons shine is the peach preserves sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and chili powder. The sauce’s high liquid-to-oil ratio means your salad vegetables can stay crunchy and keep longer (the oil in the vinegar, not the vinegar, that spoils the lettuce), which means you can make this the night before the gathering.

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