living in the ‘Land of Smiles’

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai – SP Chicken

Via: New York Times

In Chiang Mai, there is food everywhere: rows of vendors selling bowls of noodles or coils of sausage, bustling outdoor markets where inscrutable soups and stews are set out in trays and in plastic to-go bags, and street stalls where treats hidden inside banana leaf packages are grilled over charcoal. “In  the beginning, you have no idea what any of this stuff is,” Mr. Ricker said as we ogled dozens of bowls of chile relishes at a covered market. “And you can’t  ask anyone because you don’t know more than a few words of Thai.”

It was good fortune, then, that early in his adventures, he met Chavalit Van, known as Mr. Lit. Now in his early 60s, Mr. Lit opened SP Chicken in 1977 on the moat road that surrounds the old city. He recently retired, leaving the daily operation of the restaurant to his wife and daughter, but Mr. Ricker almost always spots him out back, entertaining his grandson.

The first thing you see at SP Chicken — and the items that first caught Mr. Ricker’s attention — are the lemongrass- and garlic-stuffed chickens rotating out front on a vertical spit beside a wall of glowing charcoal. “When I finally approached him to figure out how he did it,” said Mr. Ricker, of Mr. Lit’s poultry, “I said something in halting Thai and he responded in near-perfect English.” They struck up a friendship, and later Mr. Lit taught him how he modified the cheap rotisseries you find in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

During a brief but furious Thai rainstorm, we sat beneath the restaurant’s aluminum awning on plastic chairs while the two old friends caught up. As we ate sticky rice, papaya salad and those flavor-packed birds, hacked into pieces and served with a sweet, spicy dipping sauce, they discussed the toils of running restaurants. The food is incredibly good, but it’s not just the flavors at SP Chicken that inspired Mr. Ricker. “I love that he has been making more or less the same food for more than 30 years,” he said.

SP Chicken, 31/1 Sri Phum Road; no phone.



November 11, 2011 - Posted by | restaurants | , , , ,

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