The Best Thing I Ate All Week: Old Bird’s Night Market Popcorn Chicken

The ultimate antidote to a freezing Vancouver day (and a longing for summer street food).

It may be gift-giving season and cuffing season and the season of public transit collapse due to a single day’s snowfall, but it’s definitely not night market season. Those dusky summer evenings—eating potatoes on a stick and buying adorable socks you’ll get compliments on for years to come—are long gone. It’s a tragedy, really: the salty, hot, fresh-off-the grill eats would be perfect for winter in Vancouver. Good idea, right?

Well, it wasn’t mine. When I stepped from the icy street into the roasty-toasty, lantern-lit Old Bird restaurant on Wednesday, I wasn’t thinking about night market food. That is, until I saw the Night Market Popcorn Chicken on the menu.

That popcorn chicken nabs the award for the best thing I ate all week, but before I get into that, I’d like to take a moment to honour the competition. Old Bird’s street noodles with bok choy and mushrooms are a simple (but delicious) classic that also happen to be vegan. The radish salad—which I was specifically told not to skip—was both savoury and light, crafted with paper-thin radishes in a chrysanthemum vinegar. And the stuffed squid was a showstopper of a dish, bursting with a chorizo-like mix of sizchuan beef and rice meal and kickass salsa verde.

The stuffed squid from Old Bird.
The stuffed squid from Old Bird.

All serious runners-up, for sure. But the night market popcorn chicken was insanely good. The dish arrives in a no-fuss paper bag atop the plate, bringing the street food vibe and also hugging the crispy peices together for ultimate heat retention. The chicken is the perfect amount of crunchy, with a sweet and spicy exterior that makes a serious argument for “it’s what’s on the outside that counts.” Obviously, the inside is also awesome—super juicy and hot. It comes with an aioli made with Thai basil that I would steal, bottle and sell if I were a money-hungry capitalist monster or had any idea how to start a business. Oh, and there’s pickled red onions—dipping the chicken into the ailoi and placing an onion on top makes for a truly beautiful bite. This is a new item on Old Bird’s menu, and just launched this week (other fresh features are 72 hour sous vide beef noodle soup and local mussels with Chinese sausage).

night market popcorn chicken from Old Bird.
Winner, winner: night market popcorn chicken dinner.

I assume popcorn chicken gets its name from being a similar shape and size to popcorn. But I also wanted to eat it like popcorn. Which is to say, by the handful, in a dark theatre, grossly unaware of how much I have consumed until my hand hits the bottom of the bag and we haven’t even gotten past the 5th Scotiabank commercial.

But I’ll accept that Old Bird’s cozy Main Street Digs are a more “socially acceptable” place to eat popcorn chicken. And I haven’t seen any White Rabbit cocktails (white rabbit vodka, spiced rum, black tea, lemon oleo and orange blossom) at the movies lately.

Night Market Popcorn Chicken, $20
Old Bird, 3950 Main St.