Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Much to cluck about with fried chicken on the streets

By Muhammad Yazid

JAKARTA (JP): Lovers of American-style fried chicken no longer have to drag themselves out of their homes for a crispy piece of thigh or breast.

Fried chicken is finding its way to the streets, with loyal customers saying the food is as tasty as that to be found in major fast food restaurants.

Operating from small handcarts, street vendors have set up shop on street corners and crossings. There are no plush surroundings, no tables, no servings of rice, no ketchup and chili in fancy plastic sachets.

It's a bare-bones operation where fried chicken rules the roost.

It's the very simplicity of the setting which makes the street fried chicken more affordable for the pocketbook. A piece of breast, thigh or wing can cost more than Rp 4,000 in a regular fast food restaurant, but they are Rp 2,000, Rp 1,800 and Rp 1,500 respective from the street vendor.

Fried chicken for sale at a price that consumers can afford is the street vendors' main selling point. Most of their customers are from the middle class and low-income bracket, who have been unable to cope with the price increases at fast food restaurants during the economic crisis (prior to the crisis, a piece of fried chicken in restaurants was about Rp 2,000).

"What's important is that it is affordable to the buyers," said Tasiman who sells fried chicken near the railway station at Kranji, Bekasi.

Fried Jhiken

They get their message across about what they have to offer in sometimes garbled English -- Fried Jhiken, Fried Chiken, Fred Chiken and Frid Chiken -- stamped on the glass fronts of their handcarts. There might be misspellings, but the buyers know what they mean.

Selling fried chicken is a simpler profession than hawking other types of food, vendors said.

"Particularly when compared to Soto Ayam (chicken soup), Bubur Ayam (chicken porridge) and chicken satay," said Mardiono, the owner of three fried chicken handcarts, who has been in the business for several months.

He said start-up costs for the business were about Rp 2.5 million. It covered the handcart (Rp 500,000), a kerosene burner and pump (Rp 750,000); a frying pan (between Rp 50,000 and Rp 75,000); plus Rp 25,000 for other small equipment, like pails.

He marinates his fried chicken in salted sago juice; other vendors use a mixture of water, milk and egg. The marinades are used to plump up the chicken before it is covered in spices and fried.

Not chicken feed

Most street vendors go it alone, performing all the tasks themselves, in contrast to fast food restaurants with their retinue of counter and kitchen workers.

The profit is not chicken feed either. A broiler, costing between Rp 7,000 and Rp 10,000, can bring in about a 40 percent profit.

Vendors have taken up potentially lucrative spots near shopping centers and malls and, inevitably, it has led to competition. There are price wars and the adoption of various business strategies among the vendors to win over fried chicken lovers.

"The most determining factor is the bumbu (cooking spices)," said Agus, the owner of Fried Chicken on Jl. Gelora, Central Jakarta.

He was willing to pay for the secret to success. He paid a friend Rp 1.5 million for a recipe for the spices, which the friend said he obtained for Rp 2 million from a cook at a famous fried chicken restaurant.

"If the recipe is not the right one, it may have a different aroma and taste," explained Agus.

"The taste is not bad, as I still can smell the Kentucky Fried Chicken aroma," commented Wati, a mother of three, who was returning home from her job as an elementary school teacher. She is satisfied by the presence of the vendors of "Kentucky", which is what many people call the street vendors.

Some of the street vendors sell their chicken at a higher price; one operating in the Jabotabek area sells pieces of chest, wing and thigh for Rp 3,000, Rp 2,000 and Rp 2,500 respectively.

The appearance of the street vendors has not ruffled the feathers of established fried chicken establishments like KFC.

"We have our specific recipe which our clients love," said KFC brand manager Priscilla P. Handajani.

Yet the street fried chicken vendors have found their own niche market among people who love their chicken but do not want to fork out a lot of hard-earned rupiah.

It also provides some formerly unemployed people with much needed work. While fast food restaurants require their workers to have a high school diploma, street vendors only need some cash and a bit of pluck to start up their business.