BANGKOK — From the walls of a chicken rice shophouse stare the kind eyes of the patriarch, who founded the shop almost half a century ago.
The Hainanese chicken rice at Kaeo Photchana is dirt-cheap, has zero online presence, and easily the most delicious street food dish of its kind in the entire city.
And that’s the least interesting thing about the shop, which chronicles with each daily soup cauldron, each poached chicken, each pot of fragrant oily rice the story of 45 years of an industrious immigrant clan from southern China.
Kaeo Photchana, located on Nang Linchi Road, was founded in 1975 by Kriangkrai Boonmeeprechacharn, who passed away in March this year at 75.
Kriangkrai was one of 10 children born in Bangkok to an immigrant Teochew family. He worked his dual family businesses of cobbling shoes and frying pa tong go doughs in a nearby alley.
But Kriangkrai, or “A Kaeo,” (Uncle Kaeo) always had a fondness for the Hainanese chicken rice, so he decided to open his own street food shop using his own secret recipe. And so the years passed, with Uncle Kaeo chopping up generous amounts of poached chicken onto garlic-and-pandan fragrant rice behind the “A Kaeo Kao Mun Gai” (chicken rice) sign.
“Papa was a very diligent person since his shoemaking days. He would find raw materials to make shoes, then rush around making the pa tong go dough,” Uncle Kaeo’s youngest of five children, Nattaporn Boonmeeprechacharn, 33, said. “He was straightforward, often loud, and down-to-earth.”
When Uncle Kaeo said the cleaver was too heavy for him to lift, his eldest son and daughter-in-law took over.
Today, the shop is run by the soft-spoken Kritsada Sae-tia, 46, and his wife Sai Sae-tia, 46, who emigrated from Laos.
“You can have an interview with me instead. My husband is a bit shy,” Sai said. Sai has been working at the shop for 18 years, since she married Kritsada. “We get up at six in the morning every day to make the rice and poach the chicken.
Nang Linchi Road, which straddles the Yan Nawa and trendy Sathorn districts, had back in the day been little more than a street lined with forests and lychee trees, Sai recalled. Her favorite customer by far is actor Mario Maurer, who has been visiting the shop since he was a boy.
Customers at Kaeo Photchana eat in a shop that also serves as the Sae-Tia’s living room. The long-closed Tia Hiap Heng cobbler shop opened by Uncle Kaeo’s father lives on as a shop sign installed in one corner.
Black-and-white photos of Uncle Kaeo line one wall. Nattaporn’s Chulalongkorn University graduation photo is proudly displayed near a shrine to Uncle Kaeo’s. Under the shrine sits Kritsada and Sai’s young son, playing on his phone.
A Chinese earth god altar glows red meters away from customers’ tables.
The restaurant said sales were steady due to regulars, but have dropped to less than half of what they were selling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Putting the shop on delivery apps like Grab were out of the question since they charged about 30 percent of the dish, but they do deliver via Locall.
A plate of chicken rice is 40 baht, 50 baht for a large portion. Kids or the young at heart may enjoy the fried chicken rice, sold at the same price but with sweet and spicy sauce instead. It’s one of the rare chicken rice shops where the rice and chicken disappears from the plate proportionately.
Free chicken broth – free from any MSG – comes free with any dish purchased.
A plate of poached chicken is 60 baht for a small plate, 100 baht for a large. A whole poached chicken costs from 100 baht to 200 baht.
Kaeo Pochana is open every day from 8:30am to 4pm and is located on Nang Linchi Road right next to the LPG Gas Station. Contact them at 02-286-0002. The shop is reachable via a motorbike ride from BTS Chong Nonsi, MRT Lumphini, or a 10 minute walk from BRT Thanon Chan.