There aren’t many corners of the globe where poultry and hot oil isn’t being combined in some glorious, crispy, sizzling manifestation of deliciousness. And Vietnam is no exception. With over 140 KFC outlets now in operation across the country, the good Colonel’s offerings are never more than a website click away. Of course, for the connoisseurs among you, a branch of Popeye’s isn’t too hard to find either. Now I’m not here to judge, but I’ll take eating from a china plate over a bucket any day.
But enough preamble. This is Vietnam, and we are street snackers. The pavement is our dining room — and I’m hungry.
Napkins At The Ready
Tucked inside the ground floor pocket of a crumbling colonial residence, beneath a large illuminated cartoon chicken and flanked by a lineup of crooked patchwork parasols, Com Ga Xoi Mo Su Su is one of Saigon’s favourite spots for fried chicken and rice.
Without menus, the choice is simple — leg (including the thigh) or wing (including the breast). My dining companion and I point to our own legs in unison and our order is placed. And here’s where things get interesting.
Peering inside the kitchen, it’s clear that this is no ordinary chicken shop. A literal translation of xoi mo comes out as ‘flush the fat’. Doesn’t sound too appetising, but hang in there. While most commercial frying methods see either partial or complete submersion in hot oil, another traditional option is to continually pour the bubbling inferno over the meat by hand.
But dinnertime is nigh and the hungry masses are approaching. Cooking each piece of meat to order will take a lot of hands or a lot of time. What to do?
Enter Su Su’s secret weapon: a veritable fried chicken factory of a machine designed and built by the restaurant’s owner. In standby mode, it could be any normal industrial catering device — a shiny aluminium grill perhaps — but flick the red power button and stand back. Somewhere in its core a motor whirs to life and from a raised reservoir a deluge of hot oil rains down tropical-storm fashion, blanketing the wire rack of chicken below before being collected and pumped back to the top. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Inventiveness aside, how does it all taste? I’m quite picky when it comes to chicken skin — it has to be crisp and not too slimy. Su Su’s is just that. Arriving steaming and still sizzling, it’s textbook golden brown in colour and smells divine. The meat inside is juicy without being saturated (a result of the pouring method), and the secret recipe dipping sauce adds a kick of flavour. Tasting like a soy-barbecue-teriyaki hybrid and loaded with fresh garlic, we’re devouring it.
Looking at the plates of other diners, it seems that some portions are bigger than others. Su Su’s chickens clearly vary in plumpness. I make a mental note to ask for a fatter bird next time as my serving is stripped to the bone and gone all too soon.
Com Ga Xoi Mo Su Su is at 55 Tu Xuong, Q3, Ho Chi Minh City. Meals are VND40,000, or VND30,000 for chicken only