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Hẻm Gems: The Best Fried Chicken Rice in Saigon Is in District 8

The success story of Cơm Gà 142 epitomizes the impressive marriage between technology and word of mouth in Vietnam’s golden age of food delivery startups.

The thing that I’m most proud of about my fellow city-dwellers is that we have impeccable taste in food. There are nine million of us in Saigon, and together we form one of the most discerning collective palates you can find anywhere in the world. We’re not ones to ignite a kerfuffle over the positions of knives and spoons on our table; most of the time, a clean-looking metallic chopstick holder would suffice. Grime and grease don’t bother us, for we understand that the puny plastic tables and chairs are merely means to an end — a tried-and-true meal that’s not only delicious but comfortingly affordable.

Chicken at Cơm Gà 142 are twice-cooked to achieve a golden crispiness.

I have utter trust in the power of the collective palate, that’s why it’s never been hard for me to discover incredible food finds in Saigon: just go where the people are. The collective is very open and keen to try on new flavors, if the lines snaking outside the first McDonald’s or Heekcaa bubble tea presented any indication. However, as the novelty fades away, Saigon will not hesitate to shun underwhelming food like a fastidious body rejecting a mismatched organ transplant. Case in point: Subway is so ostracized that it had to leave Saigon to set up shop in Da Nang.

By that principle, a crowd of Saigoneers on bikes congesting a street corner while waiting for their takeaway orders is always a good signal pointing towards excellence. In the past five years, the army of ride-hailing app drivers has joined these crowds as Saigon’s good food harbinger — the exact reason how I came across the ingenuity of Cơm Gà 142, home to Saigon’s best cơm gà xối mỡ.

According to internet lore, Cơm Gà 142 has been around for more than a decade, but what put it on the map, quite literally, was the advent of food delivery services like Now and GrabFood. The eatery is the middle of nowhere on a neighborhood street in District 8 where I live. As a district, we’re not short on good food at incredible prices, but rarely can any spot achieve the level of citywide fame of Cơm Gà 142. The chicken rice place is in the know among district denizens, though its location away from central areas wasn’t helpful in getting the word out — until app-based food delivery became a thing and bridged that gap between great food and hungry foodies willing to pay a premium to get said great food delivered to their mouth.

What led me to Cơm Gà 142 originally were meme photos on social media showing hordes of green-and-red delivery drivers buzzing around an unknown restaurant. The images were meant as commentary on the app-obsessed Vietnamese society of today, which is not untrue all considered, but I was more interested in finding out what was behind the swarm of people. It seemed like a sign from divine forces of the universe that it was right where I live, so close that I could almost smell the mouth-watering zing of fried garlic in the air.

Cơm gà mắm tỏi (rice with fried chicken and a garlic-fish sauce glaze) and a bowl of canh rong biển (seaweed soup).

Now, cơm gà xối mỡ is a Saigon staple available at every nook and cranny, comprising crispy fried chicken on a bed of colorful fried rice. District 5’s Lão Hương Thân, for example, has been dishing out great Chinese-style fried chicken for decades, but at prices that are rising too fast for comfort. I have to make a case for Cơm Gà 142 as the best in town because of two compelling factors: affordability and its special garlic sauce. At VND37,000 a portion, it’s a steal for how much food it offers: one entire chicken leg slathered with garlic coating and enough rice to satiate you for the whole day. Upgrading to the VND50,000 set will get you that in addition to a bottle of herbal tea and a seaweed or vegetable soup.

The friendly and dedicated staff behind the fried chicken joint.

Behind the shopfront that’s constantly buzzing with new customers and orders, there’s an industrial-scale chicken operation with workers stirring rice, deep-frying wings and legs, dicing cucumbers, assembling boxes of chicken rice. In a corner, a staff member wields three handheld POS devices like a world-class Tetris champion, fielding incoming orders from Now, GrabFood and Baemin with seasoned ease. The chicken is fried twice, once in lower heat to cook the inside and a second time to crisp up the skin and outer meat into a golden shine.

If you order the star special cơm gà mắm tỏi, and you must, the freshly fried chicken is then coated in a sweet and savory concoction of fish sauce, fried garlic and caramelized sugar that’s so addicting it should be outlawed. The yellow rice is lightly fried and admittedly bland, but it compliments the intensely flavorful chicken well. Wash that down by slurping on seaweed broth. It’s the quintessential Saigon street food experience — en plein air, from an efficiently run specialized restaurant, and surrounded by a chaotic throng of traffic.

Xá xíu and braised pork ribs.

Of course, Cơm Gà 142’s menu features dozens of other dishes, like cơm chiên Dương Châu (mixed fried rice), cơm bò lúc lắc (rice with shaken beef), cơm sườn ram (rice with braised pork ribs), nui xào (stir-fried macaroni), among other things. But these should be reserved for second orders.

As I sat at the table on the pavement dismantling my chicken leg and people-watching, it became apparent to me that Cơm Gà 142 is no simple neighborhood hole-in-the-wall. Apart from the shopfront where the kitchen and cashier station is based, at least five other houses in the vicinity also take part in this chicken conglomerate.

A conglomerate spanning several houses.

Two open their front to house table sets; one seems like a prep area where line cooks prepare ingredients; while two operate what seem like rest stops for Now and Baemin drivers. I’m unsure if this was an initiative by the apps themselves or the entrepreneurial minds behind Cơm Gà 142, but it nonetheless serves as a testament to the intricate symbiosis between restaurateurs and food delivery services. Here, the drivers park their bike, hang around sipping on refreshments and mingle with their colleagues while waiting for their phones to buzz with chicken requests from all over the city. It’s a poetic, harmonious fried chicken ecosystem.

Chilling while waiting for orders to come.

By any measure, Cơm Gà 142 is a resounding success story for us District 8 dwellers. If selling chicken was a tycoon-style game, the eatery’s initials would be at the top of the hall of fame, and for good, delicious, and really affordable reasons as well.

Cơm Gà 142 is open from 10am to 11pm.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 4/5

Location: 3/5

Khoi loves fried chicken, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Cơm gà mắm tỏi

142 Ba Đình, Ward 10, D8

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