Fried chicken isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thai cuisine. But it’s only when we look beyond the ordinary that we find something special. And it’s here at Gai Tord Jae Kee (Polo Fried Chicken) in downtown Bangkok that the humble chicken dish has earned itself a spot on the restaurant’s name and signage.
“The restaurant started off just selling larb, somtum, and then fried chicken,” said the restaurant’s second-generation owner Pongsiri Supketsopa, who joined the family business in 1979, and now runs the restaurant with two of her three children.
The restaurant is now in its third generation now, and it’s the attention to details – a philosophy epitomised by the Thai concept of lamiat – that has seen patronage of the family-run eatery continue into third-generation customers.
Back in the day – when a whole chicken was thirty-something baht – Supketsopa would personally deliver the restaurant’s famed fried chicken and sticky rice on foot to the offices between Ploenchit and Rama 4 roads. Today, a constant stream of delivery motorbikes – including the restaurant’s own – spread the culinary joys of Soi Polo across the city.
“Our food is easy to eat,” said Supketsopa, “and because we aren’t located in a shopping centre, everyone can afford to eat here.” And eat they do.
The morning and lunch trade is dominated by the office crowd, but in the evenings, groups of friends descend here to enjoy the wholesome, inclusive food that’s just right for everyone.
Gai Tod (fried chicken)
Every day at 5 a.m., the first batch of 20 to 30 chickens are fried up in anticipation of the morning rush. The chicken here isn’t the battered kinds of a bearded colonel’s fame – these fresh birds are deep-fried whole with nary a speck of flour on them. The restaurant’s slow deep-frying process ensures the chicken is cooked all the way through and the majority of fat is deep-fried out to result in non-greasy chicken meat that is tender and moist.
Adding to the reputation of the chicken is the generous heap of fried garlic bits, which adds inimitable aroma, flavour, and crispy texture to the chicken. When eating with friends, you’ll need to be a bit fast on the draw to get your fair share of garlic. A frothy cold beverage is the perfect complement to the complex garlic flavours alongside an otherwise simple – but well done – chicken dish.
Somtum Thai (papaya salad with dried prawns)
A Thai chicken dish is not complete without somtum, and here, they go through some 120 kilogrammes of green papaya every day to make fresh papaya salads which include variations such as salted crab and salted eggs. For the classic choice, you can’t go wrong with somtum Thai, with its fresh and sizeable dried shrimps and crunchy green papaya.
“When we first started,” says Supketsopa, “eating somtum was not as commonplace as it is now.” Through observation and dedication, the southern Thai-Chinese family was able to devise a balance of flavours and textures (one that does not include roasted peanuts) that is delightful to wash down with a glass of cold frosty drink.
Kor Moo Yang (grilled pork neck)
“The key to having moist grilled pork neck”, says Supketsopa, “is sourcing good cuts of meat which command a premium price. The meat is charcoal-grilled on high heat to seal in the flavours and give the edges a slight woody aroma. The bite of a carbonated cold beverage cuts through the fat of the meat beautifully.”
This dish is usually served with jaew – a spicy dipping sauce – but here, through trial-and-error, they’ve come up with their own complementary sauce which adds sweet, sour, salty and spicy notes to the otherwise subtle flavours of the meat.
Larb Moo (minced pork mixed with Thai spicy sauce)
This minced meat salad is one of the restaurant’s original culinary trinity alongside fried chicken and papaya salad. Variations include chicken, duck, squid, minced catfish and glass noodles, but again, when in doubt, you can’t wrong with the original minced pork recipe.
As with the other dishes here, the spice levels maintain a Goldilocks level which excites but does not overwhelm the palate. The chunky minced meat makes for a decent chew, and the aroma of khao krua – roasted rice ground right at the restaurant – gives the dish its recognisable depth.
Namtok Nua (sliced grilled beef mixed with Thai spicy sauce)
Namtok is similar in taste to larb, but instead of minced meat, the main ingredient in this case is slices of beef (diners also have a choice of grilled pork or sliced fried chicken). To add a bit more fat ratio to the meat content to achieve a softer consistency, slices of grilled pork neck are added to the beef sirloin strips and tossed with remaining ingredients including shallots, lime juice, fish sauce, and just enough chilli to give it the right amount of kick.
Good food can be unpretentious and budget-friendly (the above dishes range from THB50 to THB80 except for the fried chicken which is THB260 for the whole chicken).
And as we know, good food is even better enjoyed in the company of good friends, shared over warm sticky rice and a table full of northeastern Thai delights.
To make a reservation at Polo Fried Chicken, call +66 (0) 2 655 8489.
This article is brought to you by Chang.
To learn more about Chang’s spirit of lamiat, a philosophy underpinned by a deep and authentic appreciation in the small details that produce perfection, visit www.changbeer.com/lamiat.