that soup

I remember when I first saw it.

Orange-red. Bubbling with kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, coconut milk, and huge prawns. The first word that came to mind then, as it does now, was: glorious.

It was in a cheap, galvanized-looking steel pot, over a wood fire, in a tiny kitchen, on a relative’s estate on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. I’d had similar soups before, but there was something about this one. Maybe it was something about the freshness of the prawns, or the heat of a wood fire, or maybe there’s something in the dust carried in the wind in Cambodia that makes things more delicious.

I suppose a part of it could have been the fact that I was in Cambodia at all, the land that I’d grown up knowing about, the land where my parents were born, the land that I had seen in photos and videos, the land that I’d dreamt of visiting since I was ten years old.

All I know for certain is that I loved everything about it. The vibrant color of it. The flavor of the thick, rich broth. Sitting on mats, ripping the heads off of the prawns and sucking the innards out of them, then peeling the shells off their bodies with my fingers to get at the firm meat.

It spoiled me forever.