Smoke lingers, embers glow and the sweet smell of chargrilled chicken wafts through the air on a tiny street in downtown Hanoi. It would be a pretty ordinary street-food scene in Asia were it not for the fact that this street specializes in one food and food alone: bbq chicken.
While you cannot get shrimp, pho or vegetable skewers here, you can get chicken feet, chicken heart, chicken legs, chicken wings, chicken gizzards, and chicken skin. Anything you can find on the plucky fowl, you can get here. In fact, you should get it here. At a push you can get also get a tray of superb caramelized sweet potato or some baked honey bread, but we are here to talk about the chicken served here, in all it smoky glory.
It will comes as no surprise that when you cook only one thing, you get pretty goddamn good at it, and so it is on Hanoi’s famous BBQ Chicken Street. Nobody is quite sure how the street came into being, and its origins are the stuff of myth and legend. Some say it used to be on a completely different street altogether and has only been at is current location on Ly Van Phuc, between Hoan Kiem and Ba Dinh, since the early nineties. It all depends on who you ask.
“I have been selling here for 27 years,” says Viet Ha, a middle-aged bbq chicken business owner who claims she was one of the first to sell chicken on the street. “In the past I sold the bbq chicken in Trinh Hoai Duc Street, but the whole chicken street there just decided to move here, because mostly we live near here so it is easier to sell near our houses. “
“There are a lot of foreigners who come here and eat. Sometimes they are a bit drunk and naughty, but they just eat and enjoy the outdoor atmosphere, they don’t cause any trouble.”
Prices here vary from 10,000 VND for a delightful roasted chicken foot up to about 60,000 VND for an entire breast or leg, a recent trip by Chào saw the entire bill come to about 650,000 VND, which paid for four people to eat until their heart was content as well as several beers for all.
The chicken street is invariably full, with locals and westerners drinking ice-cold local beers, chattering away and sharing the many stools outside the different shops that largely sell the same thing. “Sir, sir. Sit down please!” the vendors call out, trying to entice you to their stall. It is hard to know which one to pick as they almost all sell the same dish and at a similar price. In the end it is probably best to just go with one’s instinct.
“This place is the best one, no question,” says a long-term expat who, funnily enough, has a restaurant that specializes in in, yes, chicken and craft cider.
With so many different stalls all selling the same product, one assumes that there must be a giant chicken farm just outside Hanoi that sources the entire street, but Viet Ha is quick to correct us. “No, no,” she says. “We import from different sources. Here we mostly just sell chicken, but I also have the pork ribs to make it more diverse.” The food on this street is excellent, the charcoal-taste going through all the meat, but it is comic to hear anyone one describe the food here as diverse. We avoid ordering the pork, somehow it does not feel like the right thing to do on Chicken Street.
Open late, and with large, lively crowds drinking dozens of beer by the bottle, things can get a little boisterous at times but no one causes any hassle. “We are open until 3 a.m. There are a lot of foreigners who come here and eat. Sometimes they are a bit drunk and naughty, but they just eat and enjoy the outdoor atmosphere, they don’t cause any trouble,” Ha says.
The atmosphere, neon lights and superb grub make Chicken Street one of Hanoi’s most famous streets to hang out and eat late into the night and take in some local life. For anyone visiting Hanoi, it an attraction that is not to be missed. Unless you don’t like chicken of course. In that case, maybe this is not the place for you.
Lý Văn Phức
5 p.m. 3 a.m.