Chickita is farm-to-table, Asian inspired, ﬂame-grilled chicken
Rising incomes and savvy, educated consumers have helped revolutionize the food industry around the world and Vietnam is a good case in point. Fast food, sugary and processed snacks are fun and yes, fast, but cultural awareness of nutrition is on the rise. Healthy eating trends are seeing consumers demand chemicalfree or all natural food, and to make lifestyle choices around how they define their health.
Chickita understands these preferences well. Created and founded by Asif Mehrudeen, Chickita’s story is this commitment to health and wellbeing, and not just to diners, but to the chickens themselves. Using the Benja technique (pioneered in Thailand) the chickens are raised on brown rice, purified water, with room to roam around on a purpose-built farm in Binh Phuoc for Chickita—and Chickita only—chickens.
The Michelin Guide notes that the use of chemicals and genetically modified crops in agriculture has become commonplace: cheap, convenient and requires minimal attention. It contrasts Benja-raised chickens as requiring greater care and attention in order to be considered 100% natural, but the end result says Michelin is better tasting, healthier meat.
With a second location in District 1 just opened and sitting down to lunch with Jake Thai, head of marketing for AHM Lifestyles (the creative team behind Chickita and helmed by Asif) to celebrate the Ho Tung Mau location opening, Jake further explains the story behind Chickita and the Benja process.
“Chickita is the first to take Asian standards to develop food,” Jake says. He paraphrases Asif’s vision: a successful concept is the one that carries the heart, passion and soul in all its food and services. To that end Asif has spent the last 15 years in Southeast Asia and says he’s so passionate about this food he knew he’d create his own “flame grilled chicken story.” He was determined to create a lifestyle destination true to keeping food simple, fresh and healthy. Corn-fed chicken typically becomes mushy and dry when cooked. Rice-fed chicken holds its form and stays juicier. Ultimately the birds are GMO-free, cage-free, antibiotic-free, raised with zero chemicals and hormones. Chickita says this makes for happier chickens in a happier environment.
Which is why it’s important to get this backstory on how these chickens are raised in order to understand the Chickita story and its pursuit of Asian standards and flavors. Jakes says the flame grilling gives a natural smoky flavor to the chicken and it’s Chickita’s unique strength. And digging in to our plate of chicken, he’s right: the chicken is moist, tasty and well, almost succulent. The skin is gloriously smoky and seared perfectly. Jake grins at me, as mouth full, I happily nod my head.
The meat is delicious on its own or paired with one of Chickita’s eight signature sauces. The Original Sauces use Asian ingredients like black pepper, garlic, lemongrass and, of course, chilli. Diners can sample Original (mild), Sexy (medium), Flaming (hot) and Dynamite (extremely hot). The Funky lineup has Old Saigon (black pepper garlic), Green Dragon (green chilli), Red Dragon (hot chilli), Sweet Baby (sweet chilli ginger) and Tropical (mango citrus). The chilli is sourced directly from farms in An Giang and Tien Giang. The sauces were carefully developed and crafted by Asif to complement flame grilled chicken. As the sauces are handmade, Chickita can also control the entire process of cooking and bottling. Jake and I agree our favorite sauce is Old Saigon.
Our lunch also includes the fish cake salad, hot crab dip and crispy wontons. Our chicken was the whole chicken combo, but the menu also has quarter and half chickens, as well as single portions. Our sides include kernel corn, coleslaw, special Chickita rice and sweet potato fries. Diners can also choose from chicken wraps and chicken burgers. Asian influences abound in the chicken wonton soup and curried tofu tacos. Dessert continues the commitment to sourcing the best local ingredients with Mekong fresh fruit, found in the restaurant’s play on ice cream sticks featuring mango dipped in chocolate and banana rolled in Ben Tre coconuts.
While we continue to munch, Jake says Europe has Nando’s (Portuguesestyle peri-peri chicken via South Africa) and we’re all familiar with the American fast food chicken joints like KFC or Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. “But we’re not shiny, not Western,” Jake says. “We just do flame grilled chicken inspired by Asian flavors.” The chicken is never frozen and delivered daily from their farm.
“We’re family-focused. Eating here is about family gathering together or being with friends and colleagues sharing a meal together,” he says. Grateful parents will note there is a kids’ room to occupy the younger guests. Plans are underway for 3 more locations in 2020 starting with the third Chickita Vincom Center Dong Khoi in January.
To bring this concept to the public meant the product development was meticulous, as Asif (himself a former Executive Chef at the Park Hyatt Saigon and 6 years ago created new concept restaurants such as Sorae, San Fu Lou and Di Mai) experimented with temperature, ingredients and pairings to get the perfect balance of cooked juiciness, matched with the sauces. “It was so fun,” Jake laughs. “We ate chicken for weeks. It was fantastic!”
Chickita Ben Nghe (92 Ho Tung Mau, D1)
Chickita Thao Dien (230 Nguyen Van Huong, D2)
Images by Vy Lam