No, that title doesn’t refer to the popular fast-food chicken chain. It actually refers to Korean fried chicken — yup, KFC for short.
In the three times I’ve been to Seoul on official business, I don’t remember being taken to a fried chicken restaurant or even being offered to try it. I guess our hosts were too enthusiastic to introduce us to Korean food that we were taken to barbecue restaurants, where we had not samgyupsal (pork belly), but woo samgyup (beef loin). Most of the times we would be dining at fine dining places that served continental food to the pleasure of the European or American bosses.
I remember being skeptical when we were told that there would be an endless refill of beef barbecue when we were taken to a restaurant about an hour’s drive from Seoul; we would have to tell the server when we’ve had enough. They weren’t kidding. Our host told us the next lunch course wouldn’t be served until we had our fill of the barbecued beef.
The attraction for Korean fried chicken comes from the K-dramas I’ve seen through the years. There will always be a scene where the lead characters drink themselves silly, and they will have fried chicken as pulutan.
Why didn’t I try the fried chicken in Seoul? Blame it on my interest in other Korean dishes. I remember always wanting a taste of galbi-jjim (braised beef short ribs), which I was partial to. That’s why when we had a chance to eat on our own, I would go to eateries — either the stalls on the top floor of department stores or shopping arcades, or at a proper restaurant — and order just that. I can taste right now in my mind the sweet beefy broth, followed by the fall-off-the-bone ribs.
I can still remember the one time I ordered the wrong item. Instead of galbi-jjim, I asked for galbi-tang, which is beef short rib soup. Nilagang baka, I kid you not, albeit with the taste of Korean herbs and spices. I have not made the mistake of ordering it again at any Korean restaurant here.
An aside. Something special about Korean restaurants is the banchan, the selection of side dishes that accompanied any meal. It will mostly consist of kimchi, bean sprouts, sauteed spinach, egg roll, radish kimchi (kkakdugi), stir-fried fried anchovies and potato salad. The number of little dishes will depend on the prestige of the restaurant you are dining in. At a food stall at a department store in Dongdaemun, we were served five side dishes. And yes, they are all refillable. You get the best bang for your buck when dining Korean.
Back to chicken. I only had a taste of Korean fried chicken here in Manila, making me wonder whether it would taste the same as in Korea. I’ve tried it at a couple of Korean places and the taste has been pretty consistent.
There are a number of Korean fried chicken places on most food delivery apps, and the difference in taste from one brand to another is pretty minimal. It would mostly be in the cut of the chicken — almost everything is boneless — and such huge cuts they are.
The standard order would be the original: Just plain crispy fried chicken, the skin crackling like chicharon. And then you have the option to have them either coated or served with a flavored sauce on the side. I am partial to yangnyeom, which is sweet and spicy, but emphasis on the sweet. If you want something more western, opt for the spicy barbecue, Jack Daniel’s, buffalo and lemon glazed. Some brands also carry cheese, salted egg and takoyaki flavors. There are so many flavors to choose from, so you will never tire of ordering the same thing.
There’s a catch, though. Just like regular fried chicken, Korean fried chicken is just as heavy in calories. Keep that in mind as you reach out for another piece.