grilled chicken with five-spice and turmeric


Is there a chicken street in your town? I wish mine has one.

In a way, the Hanoians are an organised bunch (sure the traffic is chaotic, but.. in an organised way). In the old days, they used to organise vendors by types of products they sell, round them up along one street or alley, then name the street by the products that can be found there. And so we have Hang Luoc (Comb Street), Hang Thiec (Tin Street), Hang Manh (Curtains Street), Hang Bac (Silver Street), Hang Dao (Silk Street), etc. Ingenious really. Nowadays they don’t sell combs in Comb Street anymore, but rather flower arrangements for weddings and funeral paraphernalia.. which is only logical when you have four weddings and a funeral to attend (ha! ha! me so funny..).

So, it is only appropriate that grilled chicken street vendors hang around in the Blessed Glass Valve Street (why, of course!) — better known as Lý Văn Phúc in Vietnamese. It is off the beaten tourist track and can be quite difficult to find. But when you do, boy are you in for a treat. When you’re there, confidently ignore the vendors who offer proper adult-sized chairs and head straight to the end of the alley to the ones with the more reassuring baby-sized stools. Point to the chicken pieces you want (thighs, wings, feet, etc.) and order some grilled honey bread on the side. Go and (try to) sit on your stool and enjoy the whiff of grilled goodness coming your way with a tall glass of Hanoi beer.

grilled chicken

Grilled Chicken with Five-Spice and Turmeric – Gà Nướng Ngũ Vị Hương

Adapted from Luke Nguyen, Songs of Sapa, p. 70

serves 2

  • 300g boneless, skin-on, chicken thighs, cut into 3×5 cm pieces (chicken nuggets size)

For the Marinade:

  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder (Chinese five-spice powder usually comprises of star anise, cloves, fennel seeds, cinnamon and Szechuan pepper. But for reasons I cannot fathom, all five-spice powders I managed to find replace the Szechuan pepper with cumin.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • pinch of hot paprika (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon coconut milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon Szechuan chilli oil (optional – I used 1/2 veg oil, 1/2 Szechuan chilli oil to compensate for the lack of Szechuan pepper in my five-spice powder. You can omit this and use 1 tbsp of veg oil if your five-spice already has Szechuan pepper in it.)


First, MAKE THE MARINADE. In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Mix well, then add the chicken pieces, stirring to coat. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 1 hour (if you’re in a rush), or overnight for more flavour-packed chicken.

When YOU’RE READY TO COOK, set a grill outside if the weather permits, or just heat a grilling pan over high heat in your kitchen if you can’t be bothered. Place the chicken pieces skin-side down on the hot grill. Careful, it might spatter! Brown for 2 minutes on each side. If it browns too quickly, lower the heat. When done, transfer to a plate and set aside. You’re now left with bits of diced onion and a bit of sauce in your marinade bowl. Dump it on the grill and cook it for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the onion bits have browned and absorbed some of the sauce. Scatter them on top of the chicken pieces and serve immediately with steaming hot white jasmine rice.


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