Tuesday, March 9, 2010
BBQ Chicken Street, Vietnam
I love it when cities have streets that are entirely dedicated to one thing. I like it even more when that one thing is food. There was duck soup street in Gwangju, Korea and bug and snack food street in Beijing and full-on food theme parks in Japan.
So when my pals Jenn and Joe told me about BBQ Chicken Street in Hanoi, Vietnam, I knew that was the place for me.
These pictures aren't very good, but perhaps give a sense of how dark it was. Not only have I not gotten better at using my camera but I've apparently gotten worse, and a very dark, smoky alley filled with chicken carcasses didn't improve my skills any. The place definitely isn't interested in lighting--and based on the various comments about hygiene in the New Hanoian that's probably for the best.
Ly Van Phuc is the street's real name, but the plethora of BBQ chicken dealers, spilling out from every restaurant into complex street seating arrangements, accounts for the more descriptive 'Chicken Street' moniker.
Here's how it works at Chicken Street. You sit down, and wonder what's going on for a while. There's a menu bolted to the wall somewhere, but you probably won't see it, and have to rely on Jenn's pidgin Vietnamese to order. "I don't know how to say wings!" she shrieks. Cue to start flapping your arms.
The scene at Chicken Street is pretty intense. There are dozens of dimly lit tables spilling from the sidewalk into the street. You'd call them tables if you were a four-year-old, anyway, because that's who they are sized for. Imagine a decent sized footrest. The accompanying stools are about four-to-six inches off the ground. This isn't the sort of ground that you particularly want to be six inches from--in addition to the usual grime and scurrying rats, there are piles of chicken bones. We don't need no garbage cans here (and to be fair, they do come sweep the bones up under your table before the next patron sits down).
After Jenn orders a few wings, a few legs, a few sweet potatoes, a few pieces of bread, bottles of bia Ha Noi--we sat back and waited. Eventually, it all showed up--the beer after much prodding which arrived warm with a dirty glass of ice to pour it into--and then, plate after plate of chicken and grilled bread that had been brushed with honey. For our first round of bread we weren't able to wait for the woman with this scissors--we didn't know about her, you see. But after watching us tear into our food a kind woman at the next table told us to wait, and the scissor woman would come and cut everything into more manageable pieces for us. Who knew that a chicken wing was three servings?
We all had bowls to squirt chili sauce in, and the chicken and honey-drenched grilled bread, once dipped in chili was heavenly.
"See how you feel tomorrow," Joe said ominously. But miraculously, I felt great.