59 Tú Xương, Section 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
This man, right here. He’s my new hero. He makes delicious chicken with a contraption that he made in his house. He’s a mechanical tinkerer of the best kind: he engineers food related devices that make amazing food. He invented a deep frier that takes oil and sprays it onto the chicken, like a delicious, molten rain of frying goodness. He also invented a special rice fryer/cooker that looks like a bread dough kneader with a wickedly hot plate built into it. Let’s not forget that he also figured out how to make the chicken taste amazing.
When you come in, you basically have two options: leg or wing. You can pantomime what you want, or if you’re lucky and the owner is there (who speaks English quite well, no matter how much he protests the opposite) you can just order from him. When he told us about the options, we were thinking fried chicken wings and legs like you’d get at most other fried chicken places, so we ordered three wings and two legs. Turns out that a wing means one wing and half of a breast while a leg means one leg and half of the back of the chicken. Basically, you’re getting 1/4 of a chicken for either portion. They’re not super huge chickens as you might get in the US, but neither are they the cornish-game-hen-sized chickens you might get in Japan. For 40,000 dong, you get a wing, side of rice, amazing dipping sauce (more on that in a bit), tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil. For 33,000 you get a leg and all the aforementioned fixin’s. If you don’t want rice or if you want to be glutinous like us, you can get your desired part of the chicken sans rice for 7,000 dong less. We would have been happy probably with two wings and a leg, but we were also happy to eat everything they brought us. Beers run you back a paltry 14,000 dong each (and they’re big 650ml beers too). The only other thing served there is some seaweed soup which was just ok.
After placing your order for the chicken, they take some of the marinaded chicken pieces and place them under a torrent of grease heated to 175° C. 5 minutes later, your fresh, fried-to-order chicken is delivered to you. The skin is amazingly crispy and the meat cooked perfectly and super juicy. This isn’t just plain fried chicken though, that’d be great but perhaps a bit too basic for Vietnam where everything needs loads of flavors (hence why it’s now is one of my favorite cuisines). I’m not sure exactly what the chicken is marinaded in, but I caught hints of cinnamon and star anise amongst other earthy herby flavors in the skin. Served on the side is a wonderful sauce, slightly sweet (my gauge of what is sweet and not may be off after spending five months in South East Asia, where everything is super sweet), slightly garlicky, and obviously spiked with a healthy dose of chicken drippings.
Everyone around us was eating their chicken with a fork and spoon, but we didn’t. We went caveman style and broke the chicken pieces apart with our hands. It felt amazing to rip apart the chicken and we ended up as two incredibly greasy americans surrounded by amazingly put together Vietnamese people. Luckily, they let me into their kitchen to wash my hands and beard.
Like nearly every other good restaurant in Vietnam, the tables are out on the sidewalk. Chairs are the normal tiny plastic stools that we’ve come to associate with tasty food. Napkins and bones are thrown onto the floor. Pretty much par for the course in Vietnam. While we were there, a steady stream of young Vietnamese came and went, keeping the place pretty busy. I ended up having a great conversation with the owner, trying to convince him to bring his chicken frying expertise to the states. Got my fingers crossed that he’ll be able to some day.
One thing to keep in mind is that they seem to close down at 9pm. At least that’s when they were packing up when we went here.