The air is smoky and filled with the smell of sizzling chicken. Welcome to Chicken Street. Locals know it as Pho Ly Van Phuc – but I don’t believe it has quite the same ring.
Establishments near the beginning tend to be a little more sophisticated (a back to the chair, and a proper table) but it’s at the end where the fun really happens. The fires have been roasting for hours. The size of the stool you sit on means your knees will hover somewhere around your ears for much of the meal. There is probably fifty people around us all busily chatting, drinking and devouring the plentiful chicken. There is absolutely no frills. A women appears in front of you.We mime a wing – she doesn’t find it nearly as funny as we do. Minutes later our first course appears. Legs and wings skewed on small wooden stick; coated in a mystery glaze that they are generously slopping on by the fires. A young man then unceremoniously picks of the sticks and literally attacks the chicken with a pair of scissors. His hands move with the speed of a man that has cut many a chicken. I’d love to get numbers from him. We are left with a pile of chicken in front of us. The food is excellent but it is the atmosphere that is truly wonderful.
The staff are almost all young and move quickly with great purpose. They are friendly but without some of the over-doing-it you sometimes find when dealing with foreigners. Those manning the grill have the glazed look of young men who have been cooking chicken for far too long in life. Judging by the white bins that are almost constantly filed with the discarded stick; business is booming.
The first visit to the toilet was comical. Imagine the kind of toilet that you would find at an open air street that serves almost solely chicken. Then multiply by ten and your still struggling.It was so wonderfully terrible you wonder whether it has been created by some strange demented post modern artist. A simple dirty little hole, it itself in the darkest most destitute little hole known to man. It was at least an experience. I thought it was hilarious
Vietnam provides many a food conundrum for the foreign visitor. The question of dog is a contentious issue, and not only among non Vietnamese. I occasionally ask my students for their thoughts. The smaller ones are often quite squeamish about it but the boys put on a brave, manly face and claim they love it (I have not eaten it). Chickens look unfortunate to say the least – And in my eyes their feet are just repulsive weird little claws straight from hell. So imagine my astonishment when I realized that the vast majority of those around us were chewing on grilled chickens feet. Claws and everything. The mere thought of this is making my upper lip quiver as I write. There’s being adventurous with food and there’s putting a chickens foot in your mouth and chewing it. I declined.
We sat happily for hours. A new beer was never far away and considering the mounds of chicken they were bringing out; neither was the food. It was probably the most quintessentially Asian experience so far and an must for anybody visiting the city. Whether you put a chickens foot in your mouth is up to you. I wouldn’t recommended it though.