Hanoi’s Grilled Chicken Street, or more officially Ly Van Phuc Street, is known to be the home of some amazing charred bird. Since Vietnamese chicken and I just do not get along, skepticism mounted and pessimism reigned as I decided with utmost hesitation to give this block of sidewalk grills a try. Numerous online articles raved about what a tasty treat this gà nướng is, so of course how can anyone pass it up?
I enlisted my friend Michel to head over with me on motorbikes, and as always driving in Hanoi is hardly the faint of heart’s domain. One way streets, impossibly narrow alleys and a street system lacking any semblance of law and order form a backdrop for thousands of maniac drivers who apparently do not subscribe to any road rules. The very few traffic lights that do stand watch over chaotic intersections form no function other than to show passersby their bulbs work. Indeed, the round disks cycle unnoticed through green, yellow, and red.
A few trips by motorbike have given me some empathy for our blue haired friends’ driving travails back home. I now understand completely why grandmas drive their Buicks and Cadillacs in the frustrating manner they do. Like them I map out the easiest way beforehand. I want to avoid left turns. I signal a mile ahead hoping people might notice. I stay slow and let the honking and reckless masses pass me like bats out of hell. Isn’t this how grandma and grandpa maneuver through Boca Raton on their way to the early bird special at Denny’s and then a fun packed evening of bingo?
Using my horrible hand drawn map resembling more an explosion of ink squiggles, we actually found the street and chose a restaurant right at the top of the block. Each food joint looks the same right down to the signboards, grills, and heaps of chicken parts not normally palatable to the average westerner. The friendly woman manning the flames pointed to a mound of chicken feet which I dared not order. She sensed our trepidation and then flapped both arms like pajama covered wings. OK, I get it. We will order by charades, so I pointed to my thigh. She understood quite well and within minutes a mound of fat, juicy, perfectly cooked chicken legs was staring us down.
This chicken could never be accused of being the normal Vietnamese mess of tough meats superglued to fat. This platter of thighs would be at home on any American grill and the marinade sent me off on a sensational taste journey. I detected honey, soy sauce and chili peppers and the glowing coals seared the flavors deep into the crispy skin. Yes, I actually ate some chicken skin, and found myself rudely gnawing the charred bits of sauce and meat off the bones. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this, but you get the picture.
A side dish very reminiscent of the cucumber vinaigrette I grew up on was the perfect sweet and sour crunchy contrast to the tender bird. This meal goes to show we should never say never about things in life. I have found chicken perfection in Hanoi just when I had given up all hope.