More than 20 restaurants located along the highway connecting Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces are famous among culinary buffs.
Nguyen Phi Hong, 43, owner of Huu Lai chicken restaurant, said his eatery was opened by his father Huu Lai 20 years ago. Lai let his chicken roam freely in his garden. When customers arrived, he let them choose which they would like to eat.
This special culinary delight is locally known as ‘Ga chi’ (Chosen chicken). Many other nearby restaurants have adopted this practice. Huu Lai’s restaurant is the oldest and among the most prominent along the route from Phu Yen to Quy Nhon.
The concept was originally birthed in Song Cau Ward of Phu Yen Province. Chickens in Song Cau are famous for their chewy, fragrant texture, opposed to their crumbly industrial counterparts. They typically roam freely, eating rice, bran, vegetables and insects. Chicken restaurants in Quy Nhon only source from Song Cau.
“Free-range chicken, if kept for a long time, would lose weight, and the meat not delicious. Therefore, I don’t rear too many chickens. During the weekends and tourist season, I source more chickens from Phu Yen,” said Hong.
With the process of choosing and preparing a chicken taking around 30-45 minutes, regular customers now often call on the owner to cook their meals in advance of their arrival.
Boiled, steamed, and grilled chicken are all popular. Often brined or fried with fish sauce, or sauteed with lemongrass and chili or bamboo shoots, all dishes come with a set of delectable dipping options.
Lemon pepper salt, green chili salt, red chili salt, sweet and salty sauce are brought to the table before the main dishes are served.
Hai Ly, a tourist from Hanoi, said the chicken is “appealing for the unique way it is cooked and seasoned”.
Huy Hoang, a tour guide from Saigon, said he always suggests this chicken specialty to visitors to Quy Nhon. But most restaurants along the highway are not suited to large passenger coaches due to the lack of parking space.
The chicken restaurants are located in the middle of the garden, with guests congregated in rustic bamboo, concrete or metal-roofed huts spread across the hilly terrain.
Most restaurants open from 7 a.m. to about 9 p.m., serving locals, tourists and deliveries. Chickens cost about VND330,000 ( $14) per kilogram, each weighing about 1.4-1.8 kilograms.