In the land of grilled chicken

Isaan-style grilled chicken in Khao Suan Kwang, Khon Kaen; only one of an alleged 132 other vendors in this tiny town. 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.

Isaan-style grilled chicken, in Isaan. #mylunchwasbetterthanyours

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.

Wichianburi's famous grilled chicken, Phetchabun. #mylunchwasbetterthanyours #gonnaneedsomevegetablessoon

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.

View Thai Eats in a larger map