The chicken wing is a beloved delicacy in virtually every culture, a blank canvas prized for its versatility to convey a world of flavors — from Buffalo zing to Sichuan sting — in a handheld poultry snack. But who knew those bony little flappers could also be stuffed? Cambodians, it turns out, are especially adept at removing the fine bones from inside the blade of a wing without breaking the skin and then stuffing it with vivid lemongrass sausage. These delicious curiosities are a staple on the sidewalk grills of Cambodia Town in deep South Philly as well as the weekend stands that pop up in FDR Park. And they're nothing short of wondrous.
I had no idea the humble chicken wing had such grand potential until my recent visit to Boba & Co., the cheery red food truck whose annual arrival at the corner of Sixth and Moyamensing is one of the neighborhood's rites of spring. Most people might not even know that Boba makes savory food, considering its menu of 30-plus exotic cold drinks. (Feeling adventurous? Try "Return of the King," made with stinky durian fruit — an acquired taste — or the fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice.) The truck's name itself is a reference to the dark tapioca pearls of bubble tea. But chef Sarin Sieng's small street food grill menu is full of worthy delights, from the coarse-ground Lao sausage links to shell-on shrimp skewers glazed in spicy hot coconut sauce, not to mention the roasted ears of "Cambo corn" splashed in creamy sweet coconut milk. Her chicken wings, though, were easily the star attraction.
Called "Golden Phoenix" on the menu, they look at first glance like a pair of drumsticks because they're so plump. But when I grabbed that wingtip handle and took a bite, a pillowy stuffing of flavorful pork sausage awaited inside, its crumbles of meat bound with glass noodle threads, shredded wood ear mushrooms, and a vibrant yellow Cambodian savor — a turmeric marinade vivid with lemongrass and ginger and a measured flicker of chili spice. The time-consuming and tricky handwork alone involved in deboning the wings is well worth $7 for two. But the evocative flavors that have lingered in my imagination since — and the dawning notion that a chicken wing has far more possibilities than I ever dreamed – is priceless.
– Craig LaBan