So delicious is Vietnamese street food that we are all prepared to take the eternal gastric gamble that eating on the street represents. However, as we prepare to tuck into a flame-grilled feast at the appropriately nicknamed Chicken Street (Ly Van Phuc, Dong Da) I can’t help but recall two news stories I read a few years ago.
Back in 2013, police in Guangxi confiscated 20 tonnes of frozen chicken feet which dated back to 1967, while only a year after that Chinese authorities seized 30,000 tonnes of chicken feet soaking in hydrogen peroxide; a chemical which can make the feet seem whiter and cleaner.
Half of Vietnam’s northern border is shared with Guangxi, so trade in produce continues to be extremely prevalent. I eyeball the charred chicken foot in my hand and wonder; how many rolls will I need for my next bathroom drama. But food is a pleasure I will endure a measure of risk for, and the smell of an entire street of restaurants barbequing chicken is too overpowering to resist.
KFC deserve some credit for pioneering the greatest unit of measurement of all time. I don’t want a plate of chicken feet, nor a bowl of fries. I want a bucket of chicken. I want a vat of fried sweet potatoes, and I want a gazebo of honey-glazed bread. The scale of the operation in Chicken Street is astonishing. Multiple copycat restaurants with huge buckets of pre-marinated chicken ready to grill. Beside the buckets of chicken, hundreds of baguettes await their fiery fate. It’s efficient, if a little worrisome from a hygiene perspective.
The chicken here is a masterclass in simplicity. As I’m tearing into the crispy skin of a chicken thigh to get to the succulent meat beneath, I’ve already got my eye on the chicken feet and wings on the table. When discussing fried or grilled chicken, the general consensus seems to be that the skin is the best part. So it’s no surprise that chicken feet remain so popular among Vietnamese and foreigners alike, as there is almost no meat on them at all. Just skin, marinated, charred and piping hot, enthusiastically gnawed off of the bone by Vietnamese teens out in droves.
As a carb-fiend, my favourite part of the meal are the extras. A baguette, painted with honey, flattened and then grilled over fire is dangerously moreish. Equally calorific are the honey-grilled sweet potatoes, of which one portion is never enough. A splash of chilli sauce, a plate of pickled cucumbers and an iced fresh beer round off the meal perfectly. If you can overlook the dour setting and questionable hygiene standards, arguably the greatest barbeque in Hanoi awaits you.
Chicken Street can be found in Ly Van Phuc, Dong Da, Hanoi. We ate at Quan Viet Ha, where 18 dishes with three drinks cost VND370,000.