In addition to the previously-mentioned book shoot, I’d also been commissioned to do some photos of kai yaang, Thai-style grilled chicken, for a US food mag. So rather than return directly to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I took the long route and stopped by two of Thailand’s most famous destinations for the dish: Khao Suan Kwang and Wichianburi, both in Thailand’s northeast.
Khao Suan Kwang is a tiny town in Khon Kaen, located about 40km outside of the provincial capital. The streets (well, street) of the town are literally lined with vendors selling grilled chicken — I was told that there were as many as 130, and this could very well be true. The chickens — a specific breed that’s small with relatively little meat but fatty, flavourful skin — are splayed in a specific way on long bamboo frames — feet and head and all (shown at the top of this post) — and are slowly grilled on a thick metal grill over an enamel basin of coals.
At the busier restaurants, the chickens are grilled in stages over coals of varying heat, and I was told that grilling a chicken can take as long as 4o minutes. Another unique local aspect is that upon serving, Khao Suan Kwang-style grilled chicken is dusted with white pepper; one of the more famous restaurants uses coarsely ground peppercorns. I tried the wares of two vendors here (as the chickens are only sold whole here, this means I ate nearly two entire chickens), and the flavours ranged from meaty and almost baconlike to slightly herbal.
Probably equally as famous is the grilled chicken from Wichianburi, a rural district in Phetchabun.
This style of grilled chicken is sold from the roadside all over Thailand and can be identified by its specific cooking method, which sees the chicken splayed on a small, triangle-shaped bamboo frame that elevates the chicken at an angle over slightly flaming coals. If you eat the dish in Wichianburi, a specific breed of chicken is used. The local marinade — and indeed the dipping sauce – is generally slightly sweet, and the unique cooking method also produced a smokier chicken, something I really enjoyed.
I’d post stronger images, but I’m not sure which ones the magazine will choose; I’ll be sure to let you know when it comes out in print.
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