SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- The murder capital of the world really, really loves fried chicken. This makes sense, actually, since if you risk taking a bullet every day, who gives a damn about armadas of saturated fat lazily tacking through your veins? Yesterday, just as Honduras was starting its first World Cup match, I landed in San Pedro Sula, which is honest to goodness the actual murder capital of the world. The plan was to watch the game at the morgue and write about what that was like. Our security guards, who ESPN assured me would be armed, met us outside customs and drove us into town. The place feels ominous, not menacing, if that makes any sense.
It was during this first ride that I noticed the chicken thing.
We passed a Church's, a Popeyes, a KFC shaped like a big glass bucket of chicken, another Popeyes, all manner of other chains, from Chicken Republic to Pollo Campero to our security guards' favorite: Power Chicken.
They insisted Power Chicken reigned supreme.
I made a mental note.
We spent time at the morgue reporting a story that will run in a few days. Then we checked in the hotel and asked our security detail to pick us back up around 7. Now I don't know what they cost an hour, but I am fairly certain that never before in the history of the Walt Disney Corporation have private armed guards taken part in a chicken battle.
I like breaking journalistic barriers.
They backed Power Chicken, and I backed Popeyes, hometown pride on the line.
There was only one way to settle it.
We went to both.
The Honduran Corner
The first thing you see inside the door of Power Chicken is a metal gym locker with a sign requesting that all patrons check their firearms. The second thing you see is the grill running along the back of the place. Power Chicken is, in fact, grilled. This gave me immense confidence, since grilled is to fried as the Big 10 -- or 11, or 9, or whatever number of teams currently play in that "conference" -- is to the SEC. The third thing you see are the bottles of their house-made hot sauce for sale, which erased any confidence the grill had given me, since anyone who sells their hot sauce knows for sure it's next level legit.
I got grilled chicken, chicken fried rice and mashed potatoes. I layered the rice with marinated jalapenos, and then got a side of the hot sauce. (I also bought a bottle. More on that later.) Pointing to my plate, the guards said this was the most typical Honduran meal they could imagine, the kind of thing their mom would cook for them. Then they told stories while we ate, about how many kidnappings go down in the city, most of which are targeted. I had on a Mizzou pullover, so I fit right in. I'm sure I'll have been kidnapped by the time you read this. (War correspondents killed in combat can, in their last moments, take some small comfort knowing they willingly risked their lives to tell a story vital to civilization. I'd exit this world knowing that gluttony killed me, which I guess is just about right.)
In regards to the food, the chicken is perfect, juicy, with a charred but not burned crispy skin, and the hot sauce is worth the trip alone. Made of habaneros, carrots, garlic, salt and vinegar, it is both nuclear and flavorful, the elusive holy grail of hot sauces. In fact, the person who writes me the best 500-word essay in the next six hours about why they deserve the hot sauce will get it shipped to them tomorrow from the murder capital of the world. I will also run the winning essay on this blog. If anyone writes a villanelle, they automatically win.
If I hate them all, I'm keeping the sauce.
The Southern Corner
First let me say, I love Popeyes.
If I ever get diagnosed with a terminal illness, the first three things I'll do are as follows: 1) buy a carton of Camel Filters and light them off one another, since I haven't smoked in more than eight years and still long for the soft pack in the front pocket of an oxford cloth shirt, and an aside, I don't understand people who can have a cigarette when they are drinking, since I don't want one, I want 50 ... 2) eat Reese's Peanut Butter Cups until I make myself sick ... and 3) eat Popeyes for every meal. I adore it. That needs to be said.
We parked and went inside. The guards took up positions while we ordered, scanning the room, looking for threats. The place looked remarkably like the Popeyes in Oxford, Mississippi, except that a big mural explained all the other countries that combined to form Louisiana culture. A nice touch, I thought. I ordered three pieces of spicy and a side of red beans and took them to the table.
After the first bite, I knew.
This hurts me, and I'd like to apologize to all my friends and family, specifically my dear friend John Currence, a world-class chef with whom I share my love of Popeyes. Sorry, Johnny Snack.
San Pedro Sula is the winner of the first inaugural Murder Capital Chicken Battle.
The security guards started celebrating almost immediately.
"Power Chicken knocked you out!" one crowed.
Email me your hot sauce ode: firstname.lastname@example.org.