Gà lá chanh literally translates to lemon leaf chicken, one of the many variants of chicken floss, the Vietnamese adaptation of the Chinese rousong or meat floss.
Sam and I were on a tour of Bat Trang, the ceramic village just outside Hanoi. There was a break between viewing the 500-year-old wood-fired kiln and the pottery class. We bought cold drinks to refresh us when Sam asked if I had seen the jars of dried shredded chicken that her younger sister, Alex, kept reminding me not to forget to buy.
“Where?” I asked.
Sam pointed to a coffee shop. I asked her to hold my drink while I went into the shop to buy the delicacy. We had been on the lookout for dried shredded chicken for days and had not been able to find any. Who knew that we’d finally find it in the most unlikely place when we least expected?
Back in Hanoi hours later, while waiting for dinner at Wrap&Roll, I took photos of the jars of shredded chicken and sent them to Alex who squealed with excitement when she viewed them. I told her the story of how we had been on the hunt for days but in vain until her sister saw jars and jars of the stuff through the glass window of a coffee shop. She was pleased and I was happy that I could tick dried shredded chicken off the list of “must buy”.
The curious thing is that after buying two large jars and we had already stopped looking for shredded chicken, we started seeing it everywhere in Hanoi. They were sold in tiny shops, convenience stores and groceries. They came in small packs, in large packs, in small jars, in big jars… Ah, the irony.
Alex’s love affair with Vietnamese shredded chicken, a.k.a. chicken floss, goes back to our trip to Saigon when she discovered it at the basement of Takashimaya. We bought two jars. When Sam and I left for Hanoi a month later, Alex asked me to bring home more. There were no plans to go on four trips to Vietnam in a year so I guess she wanted to make sure that we had full year’s supply of chicken floss.
What is Vietnamese chicken floss?
It is the Vietnamese adaptation of rousong, the generic name for dried fluffy meat, which originates from China. Pork floss is the most common but there is beef floss too. Interestingly, in Taiwan, there is fish floss too.
In Vietnam, chicken floss is popular. It is made by simmering chicken fillet with spices and seasonings, cooling the cooked chicken, tearing the meat into shreds then frying the shreds in a little oil over low heat until the meat is dry and a little crisp.
That may sound like something simple to do but the process is rather labor intensive. The final step, the frying, can take as long as an hour in order to get the correct texture.
There are countless recipes for chicken floss. The ones we bought, both in Saigon and Hanoi, had lemon leaves. Gà lá chanh literally translates to lemon leaf chicken. We got mildly spicy and ultra spicy versions.
How to eat chicken floss
Know that chicken floss is fully cooked. You can eat it straight out of the jar. Note, however, that eating Vietnamese chicken floss by itself may shock your mouth. The flavors are truly bold and, if you get the spicy kind, you may set your tongue on fire.
So, what’s the best way to serve Vietnamese chicken floss? We use it as congee topping and sandwich filling. We also eat it with fried rice and egg.