Better Than Southern Fried Chicken?

wrisley apr22 friedchicken.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

To try the fried chicken that induced Jarrett Wrisley's week-long search, click here.

It wasn't the weather that first pulled me back to Bangkok, or the anything-goes atmosphere, or the milk chocolate, mystic river. It wasn't green curries or red light districts. It was simpler than that: I returned for ridiculous fried chicken.

wrisley apr22 friedchicken vendor.jpg

Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

Eight years ago, I was a hapless backpacker fresh off a flight from China. I checked into a hotel on lower Sukhamvit Road, nearby Nana plaza--an ignominious address. On my first stroll out of the hotel, three-wheeled tuk-tuks roared past, choking smoke, along with buses and taxis and shrill little motorbikes. The concrete overhang of Bangkok's skytrain, which runs overhead, brought all the commotion closer. Imagine Broadway if it cut through a concrete parking garage; everything was immediate.

You could smell the chicken from 50 feet down the street--smell the crunch and the spicy, crackling crust. You could almost taste it with your nose.

On the uneven sidewalks, sandwiched between tee-shirt vendors and streetwalkers and creepy sex tourists, there was food. Food of every shape and scent: sweet coconut cakes gently browning and bubbling, and seafood hotpots atop charcoal braziers; bananas coated in candy and sesame that danced in brown oil, and shreds of sour papaya salads tossed through a spicy bath in great wooden bowls. Clack-clap-clack went the mortars, transforming garlic, papaya, and chilies with fishy alchemy. But it was all too much for my senses, so I ducked down an alley.

And there was a man with a bicycle that had a burner and gas tank wired to the back. A cooler of slippery marinating chicken sat beside him.

You could smell the chicken from 50 feet down the street--smell the crunch and the spicy, crackling crust. You could almost taste it with your nose.

I picked a thigh and a breast, which he cleanly whacked with a cleaver into five pieces each (once the juices have set, I think this is the best way to eat fried chicken--you get a better ratio of crunch and meat) and handed it to me in a plastic bag.

Then I had a moment. It was nothing short of revelatory.

I returned several times to the chicken man over the years, at his post outside the Foodland Supermarket on Sukhamvit Soi Five. When I brought my wife to this neighborhood several years ago, she too felt wobbly from the overwhelming immediacy of it all. But a few bites of this chicken brought her right back.

This year, I moved to Bangkok and forgot all about the chicken man--until the other night, when we had guests in town, and I smelled that smell, and spotted the bike, and even though we'd all just eaten, we shared a few chestnut-colored bits of chicken.

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Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

"That's the best fried chicken I've ever had--it's ridiculous!" said my brother-in-law. I smiled and chewed, as blaring horns and working girls on uneasy heels disappeared in a haze of juicy, deep-fried goodness.

You can read more about my fried chicken misadventures here--it took me nearly a week to find the vendor in question. Here's an excerpt:

I was so eager to get this post up that I wrote it in a flash over Songkran, and then came to a rude realization: the Chicken Man had returned to his village for the holidays. What followed was a stakeout of sorts - I've been back to that unholy stretch of Bangkok three times in the last five days, and last night, at around eleven PM, I finally found him.

And I got his recipe, thanks to my Thai teacher/translator/stakeout companion Jumbo's mastery of flattery (and the fact that we ate seven pieces of his chicken).

Something tells me I should go buy a motorbike, wire a propane tank to one side, a burner and bucket to the other, and start earning.

I've tweaked the recipe a bit, as he gave me a scribbling for a 20kg batch. Mister Pee, as he calls himself, bought this recipe for 2,000 Baht ($56) from a friend in Kanchanaburi Province, eight years ago.

He later sold it to the Royal Benja Hotel down the street for considerably more, and so he gave it to me for free. My translator Jumbo and I did eat seven pieces of chicken before the end of the interview, however.

Recipe: Sukhamvit Soi Five Fried Chicken

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Jarrett Wrisley hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania. For the past seven years, he's been working as a writer in Asia, though he still dreams of greasy cheese steaks. More

Jarrett Wrisley hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania. For the past seven years, he's been working as a writer in Asia, though he still dreams of (and occasionally returns for) greasy cheese steaks. Jarrett's first trip to Asia came as a college student, when he traveled to Beijing to study Mandarin Chinese. He returned to China after graduation, and began writing about Chinese food in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. After a six-month stint in Chengdu, he moved on to Shanghai, where he worked as a food critic and magazine editor for four years before striking out on his own. After six years in China, he recently moved to Bangkok, where yellow-clad protesters immediately shut down the airport where he had just landed. Luckily for him, he couldn't leave—and now intends to stay. Jarrett is presently working on a series of modern Chinese cookbooks with Hong Kong chef Jereme Leung and writing features that focus on food and culture in Asia. He'll be bouncing around the region as much as possible and writing about things he encounters along the way. His blog trains an eye on food but addresses other cultural phenomena, tidbits of travel, and the oddball politics of East Asia.

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