Table for One

I Made You Birthday Tacos, 873 Miles Away

A long-distance food story.

July  5, 2018

I can’t for the life of me remember what we ate on our first date at that restaurant in Atlanta three years ago. I just remember walking in late, seeing you by the hostess stand, looking for me. You were wearing a striped sweater and carrying your motorcycle helmet in one hand. I tapped you on the shoulder.

“Scott? I’m Eric.”

When we sat down, the first thing you said to me was, “So you’re writing a cookbook?” And I said that I was. And you said, “Me too, but mine's just a big book that I bound and transfer recipes into like some medieval illuminated manuscript. Sometimes you get carried away with wanting a tome of power, you know?” And I looked at you funny.

Photo by Ty Mecham

After dinner, I’d ride to your apartment on the back of your motorcycle, and over a couple Dark ‘n’ Stormies you'd show me this gorgeously illustrated Book of Shadows that I thought was just a joke because you were weird. I don’t know if you remember, but our first kiss was on those stools in front of your kitchen’s passthrough, where we were drinking and flipping through your tome of power.

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“He & I made it together and it’s our favourite taco recipe. I’ve made a portion of seasoning and taught him how to make flour tortilla from scratch so he can replicate it for himself and his host family for coming exchange year in Germany. Thank you for all of your recipes and the sharing the beautiful backstories to them. ”
— Frankie

So many other things would happen on those stools over the years. Christmas gift exchanges, New Year’s Eve toasts, early mornings with strong coffee in the summer when we were both off. That’s where I’d come sit and you’d step into the kitchen and say, “Want a drink?” Or, “You hungry?” And I'd watch you through the passthrough. Later, it would become hard not to get up and come up behind you to hold you. You'd turn around and kiss me, then shoo me back to my stool.

One time, when we were both piss drunk, you made me midnight breakfast tacos. I sat on that stool and watched you fry up the bacon, crack a couple eggs into the bacon fat, and chop up an old tomato that was sitting at the bottom of your fridge. There was shredded cheese and an unlabeled jar of salsa (which, I would later learn, you bring home every Christmas from your favorite Mexican restaurant in Kansas, where you’re from).

What you didn’t know at the time, as we were eating those tacos, juices dripping down our arms, was that I used to hate tacos. But I didn't tell you that. Because, actually, I liked those tacos, probably because they were mostly bacon fat, probably because you used soft flour tortillas (which get cold less fast than corn), and probably because you made them for me.

What I didn't know at the time was that years later, you and I would still be in touch even though it was futile (long distance). We’d send each other letters and care packages and visit each other on holidays, me to Atlanta and you to New York, where I live now.

Every summer we’d get to spend our birthdays together, July 22 and July 23—just you and me, Cancer and Leo cusps. This is what has to say about our compatibility: “Both Signs like to take charge, but they come at a leadership role from very different directions. No small number of disputes can rise from this difference.” Among this “small number of disputes” was one in particular about tacos.

We were in California—tasting wine, driving down the highway in our big sun hats blasting "Bennie and the Jets," and deciding what to eat for dinner—when you suggested tacos. And I finally told you, with great hesitation and a tremble in my voice: "I hate tacos."

“You hate tacos?” you said. Your eyes got so big. I regretted saying it. “What about that Korean taco joint I took you to on your birthday a couple years ago? Didn’t you like those?”

“Yes. No? No, not really.”

“How can you hate tacos? That’s like saying you hate food, or sandwiches.”

“Well, actually—”

“Come on. No one hates sandwiches.”

You wanted me to explain myself. So I told you that what I don't like about tacos (as opposed to burritos, enchiladas, or even quesadillas, all of which I love to eat) is that only with a taco will you have bare, raw tortilla in certain cross sections of your bite. And nothing enervates me more than raw tortilla. Even when you heat them up, corn or flour (though certainly more with the former), tortillas somehow get ice-cold hard 10 seconds later, and that texture's like cardboard to me, like a piece of unadulterated plastic bread. I can forgive a tostada and even order it at restaurants sometimes, but I can't always get down with the taco.

“Am I making my case here at all? See what I'm getting at?" I asked, looking into your face for a modicum of understanding.

“No. Yes.”

After our conversation, you made it a point to take me to a $1 taco joint you had discovered, to show me how wrong I was about what you called "the world's most perfect food." How hating tacos is like hating air, how they're anything but dry (how could you even think that?), how you have to sop it up with all the different salsas, it's a food group on its own, it's like breathing—see, like this?

And watching you with such passion, licking your fingers and teaching me how to taco, redistributing some of the onion and cilantro with your bare hands from one chorizo taco that was hogging it from the pulled pork taco that needed it, then handing it to me, I decided that maybe you had a point, that maybe tacos truly are the perfect food.

Later that night, you'd do this thing that you do a lot: You'd hug me real hard and say, “Why do you have to live so far?” And I'd cry into my hands because I was leaving for New York the next day. I'd wonder why we always wait till the end to say how sad we are, even though we're feeling it the whole time.

When I got home, I vowed to come up with a taco that both you and I could eat (and like). I blitzed up all my leftover cilantro stems, garlic cloves, jalapeños, salt, sugar, and a generous glug of olive oil, and marinated a couple pounds of cut-up, boneless chicken thighs in this herby liqueur. I roasted the chicken in a hot oven, warmed up a soft flour tortilla in the green fat, topped it off with some leftover watermelon I had magicked into a spicy salsa—all doused in hot sauce—and, as Nigella Lawson says, "applied to face." I stood by my stove that day and ate one taco at a time, alone, made a ritual out of the assembly. That way, too, the tortilla was always warm.

I made these tacos for you. I tested them and wrote up the recipe and everything. They're very good, and if you cook the chicken just right they'll drip down your arm like that time on our birthday in California when you showed me how to eat a taco. I don't know why tacos always remind me of you, but they do.

Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


Randy October 2, 2018
Ugh - this broke my heart. I haven't had very many relationships (okay 3), but my longest one had a lot of wonderful food ties (I just started discovering my love of food then) that I haven't broken in my heart and mind, as he died when he left me. I connected with this a lot and hope you still enjoy tacos as much as I enjoy my homemade ramen and my multigrain bread, as they're better with good memories.
Eric K. November 20, 2018
Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Randy. I’m sorry dor your loss.
Frankie July 27, 2018
I absolutely adored your love letter / recipe to Scott. Hopefully you will both inspire each other for many years to come.. cuz...just saying this recipe is the bomb according my youngest son. He & I made it together and it’s our favourite taco recipe. I’ve made a portion of seasoning and taught him how to make flour tortilla from scratch so he can replicate it for himself and his host family for coming exchange year in Germany.

Thank you for all of your recipes and the sharing the beautiful backstories to them.
Eric K. July 27, 2018
Wow, Frankie, thank you so much for this lovely comment, and for sharing your experience making my tacos with your son! He's lucky he has you to teach him how to make tortillas from scratch (I don't even know how to do that). Bet they're delicious.
Cristina S. July 27, 2018
Eric, this is really lovely; I enjoyed it so, so much. It brought me right back to stolen trips, followed by airport goodbyes, with my (now) husband. Best of all, it made me feel like writing, like the very best pieces of writing do. Thank you for sharing.
Eric K. July 27, 2018
Christina, thank you for reading. I love hearing other peoples' long distance (success) stories.
Njeri July 27, 2018
What a Great Story !! Am going to make these Taco's Tonight. I agree eating Tacos is like Breathing :)
Eric K. July 27, 2018
Thanks so much, Njeri. Let me know how they go!
Rhubarb &. July 27, 2018
That's the sweetest love letter I've ever read.
Eric K. July 27, 2018
Thank you for reading!
Evie July 17, 2018
I’m currently in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend - over 6000 miles! - and this post hit me in all the vulnerable spots. I love sitting on the little tall stool in his kitchen watching him cook for us. And I can do relate to the tears on the night before goodbye. Food is so much more than just being nutrition for your body. Thank you for a beautiful article and a lovely recipe.
Eric K. July 17, 2018
<3 Keep on, Evie.
Yoojin L. July 9, 2018
I love tacos, and I love this story!
I was also in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend for 4 years, and it was the hardest thing ever.
Food is something we love and bond over, and anytime we'd visit each other, we'd spend time in the kitchen or anywhere we went would involve food.
Thank you for sharing, Eric!
Eric K. July 10, 2018
Yoojin, thank you sharing. 4 years is a long time! Clearly there must be a reason we put ourselves through such things.

Tacos, probably.
Monique July 9, 2018
Wow, this is gorgeous.
Eric K. July 10, 2018
Thank you, Monique.
EmilyC July 8, 2018
Such a beautiful essay, Eric. Thanks for sharing it with all of us!
Eric K. July 8, 2018
Thank YOU for reading it!
Karen July 5, 2018
Loved the story. Thanks for sharing. Don't know if I want to add watermelon to my tacos, but I do love tacos.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Thanks for reading and commenting, Karen. As for the salsa, it's not everyone's cup of tea! (But you'd be surprised at what a pinch of salt and hot chiles can do to sweet fruit to turn them -> savory.)
Ttrockwood July 5, 2018
Love this story....!
I’m a recent convert to those 50/50 corn and flour tortillas, they have some of that corn flavor but are more pliable and less prone to breaking.
And i’ll just assume you fogot to mention the avocado on the tacos since obviously all tacos have avocado. ;)
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Oh ho ho, I have a couple avocado stories coming up. Wait till you hear what I think about those. ;)
Thank you so much for reading, Ttrockwood.
Julie July 5, 2018
I’m not crying, you’re crying. Perfect pairing of love and food...because they are after all synonymous. I’m mostly a central and Southern California girl so tacos are a part of my life. I gotta try your recipe. Thank you for such a well written poignant piece.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Julie, I'm always crying:
Ty for the comment; would love to know what a true taco-ista thinks of mine. Keep me updated.
Carlos C. July 5, 2018
This story made me tear up just a bit. I love hearing about couples’ “food fights.” My partner is also a huge Mexican food devotee, and while it’s not always my favorite thing to eat, I love experiencing his passion. I’m also inspired by the idea of creating a recipe for someone to remind you of him/her. For a food lover, that is probably the best gift you can give.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Food is one of the only things worth fighting about...right?
CameronM5 July 5, 2018
I think another thing about tacos is it isn’t a lonely food. No one sits and eats tacos for dinner — rarely anyway. Tacos are a celebration food like most finger foods. We had taco night at home growing up and we all made our own. As a kid it was the time we could all be chefs. If I wanted three handfuls of cheese I could have it. I love tacos to this day especially on some humid waterfront with a margarita or beer always with a few good friends.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Tacos *are* a celebration of living (including us, the living). Thanks for this poignant note, Cameron.
Annada R. July 5, 2018
What a lovely piece, Eric! Food is just one of - important though - ways to express love and you chose to do it beautifully.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Tysm for reading, Annada.
Erin A. July 5, 2018
This is so sweet and thoughtful and definitely hit close to home and now I want tacos (specifically, your birthday tacos). Thank you for sharing this, Eric.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Argument enchiladas and long-distance tacos should meet. I'll introduce them.
Erin A. July 5, 2018
Yes, yes, yes.
Eric K. July 5, 2018
We should probably invite "ham balls" while we're at it...
Erin A. July 6, 2018
How did I not know this existed??
Courtney C. July 5, 2018
This was a beautiful thing to read - a love story told through little moments and learning to love something because its important to the one you love. Thank you!
Eric K. July 5, 2018
Thank you for reading, Courtney. Glad you liked it.