My fingers are sticky and wet, and I can feel juice slowly trickling from the corner of my mouth to my chin; looking around I notice I’m not the only person who decided to eat with my hands, and I feel a sense of relief; I tend to worry about displaying bad manners when eating in a foreign country.
I’m sitting at a small blue metal table with rust spots scattered on the top, the blue plastic stool I’m sitting on seems sturdy enough and I make a mental note to not move around too much; nobody wants to be the farang (foreigner) who breaks a plastic stool. When the chicken is placed in front of me, there are no utensils in sight, but I notice another table eating chicken with their hands, so I decided to do the same.
I’ve passed this street-side restaurant several times, usually early in the morning when they are heating the grill; which is basically two or three black steel drums that have been sawed in half and filled with charcoal, with metal grates resting on top; a Thai man, whose family runs the restaurant, is placing butterflied chickens -held in place with wooden sticks that have been split in half – onto the grates to be cooked.
Closer to 11:00 a.m. most of the chickens are cooked, the skin a lovely shade of golden brown, and instead of them resting on top of the grill, they are now placed on an angle; the indirect heat keeping the chickens hot, and the meat nice and juicy.
I’m hungry and alone, and I’ve ordered a whole chicken and a bowl of sticky rice. The chickens are young, so they are small and I don’t feel guilty about devouring a whole one by myself.
On my first visit, I barely touch the sticky rice, I just devour the chicken, dipping it in a special sauce that is both sweet and spicy. When I’m done I use way too many small square napkins to wipe the chicken juices from my face and the remnants of the sticky sauce and chicken juice from my fingertips; it was a good meal, and definitely worth the 140 THB that paid; which is roughly five dollars Canadian.
Crispy Chicken (Kai Yang Cherng Doi)
Sitting down at a small square wood table with friends, I relied on others to order for me; the restaurant’s reputation for delicious chicken with crispy skin was well known, and after a week of listening to others tell me that crispy chicken was better than the smokey chicken place – where I devoured an entire chicken by myself – I decided it was time to go.
I sat at the table salivating; crispy chicken and an order of crispy stir-fried pork with crispy sweet basil, chilli, and garlic were in the works and I was suddenly feeling like I had not eaten in days.
Taste-buds dancing with anticipation, I took a quarter of the chicken, as well as a generous scoop of the crispy stir-fried pork, opened my tiny wicker basket of sticky rice, and pulled a small dish of tamarind dipping sauce closer to my plate. As with smokey chicken, I devoured my share of lunch in a matter of minutes; no time for photo-taking or Instagram.
Naturally, this meant I needed to return, but alone, so I could order crispy chicken and a plate of crispy stir-fried pork with crispy sweet basil, chillies, and garlic; and eat all of it myself. Photos were taken, there was no guilt involved, and when I finally dragged myself from the table I promised myself to come back at least two or three more times before I leave Chiang Mai.
When someone tells you that Andy Ricker, the man behind Portland’s famous Pok Pok restaurant, was inspired by a chicken place in Chiang Mai – and you happen to be in Chiang Mai – it’s a crime against good food to not go; it took a couple weeks, and an injured friend to convince me to go; I don’t normally venture to the west side of Chiang Mai’s old city.
Sliding into the front seat of a songthaew, I travelled to into the old city with the intention of grabbing lunch from SP Chicken and taking it back to Nimman; promising myself, and the staff that I would return soon to sit down and enjoy a proper meal. Ordering a whole chicken, spicy Thai style Som Tam, and sticky rice, I wandered to the front of the restaurant to examine their grill: similar to the smokey chicken place, the chickens at SP are cooked with charcoal, however the grill at SP Chicken is vertical and slightly more professional-looking than the steel drum grill from smokey chicken; what can I say, I geek out over grills.
Back in Nimman I pull back the aluminium wrapping covering the chicken, open the sauce baggies (how do Thai people make those perfect little baggies filled with delicious sauces?), and sticky rice, and dig in. The chicken is deliciously juicy, but doesn’t seem to be better or worse than the chicken from the smokey chicken place in Nimman; the difference, from what I can tell, is in the sauce; where the smokey chicken place has a sweet and spicy sauce, the sauce from SP chicken is spicy with a stronger fish sauce aftertaste.
Will eating inside the restaurant at SP Chicken make a difference in the taste and chicken experience? I’ll find out next week.