Korean Fried Chicken Might Be the Best Ever
Yes, American fried chicken is amazing. But, have you ever tried Korean fried chicken? If not, you're definitely missing out.
A modern food staple in the country, this version of fried chicken is lean yet juicy, crispy and crunchy. It also perfectly packs sweet, sour and spicy in every bite.
Korean fried chicken is so good, we're tempted to say it's the best fried chicken. Ever.
How Fried Chicken Became Big in Korea
Koreans have eaten deep-fried chicken for centuries, but the modern version of the dish was indeed influenced by American culture. After the Korean war, U.S. soldiers inevitably brought some western food recipes to the country. The dish began appearing in street food stands and homes.
In the late 1970s, the first fried chicken franchise in the country, Lims Chicken, was opened. Its instant popularity led to an explosion of new restaurants specializing in the dish.
As generations passed, the recipe broke away from the American version to become a thing of its own.
Becoming a Culinary Staple
Several generations have now grown up enjoying fried chicken on special occasions, rainy days or fun nights out.
Chicken fever reached its peak in the 2000s. By 2013, the country had around 20,000 restaurants serving Korean fried chicken. In the past decade, that number has only grown.
In Korean language, the dish is called "chikin," a Konglish (Korean plus English) version of the English word. Chikin refers specifically to the fried dish, differentiating it from all other types of chicken, or "takk."
What Makes Korean Fried Chicken Different
Korean fried chicken very different to the American version, as it reflects general attitudes toward food.
For instance, the skin is usually stripped of its natural fat as much as possible. This makes it thinner than the thick skin preferred in the U.S. Don't worry, this doesn't take away from its crispiness, since it's typically double fried.
Lacking the hormones of American chickens, the pieces you get are smaller, but they're also cooked more evenly. Meat is also fresh rather than frozen, even in street food stands.The resulting chicken wings have a perfect crunch with a subtlety that reflects the delicate and complex nature of Korean gastronomy.
Types of Korean Fried Chicken
After cooking, each piece is hand coated in sauces and seasoned. Two of the most popular variations are yangnyeom chicken, made with the famously sweet-and-spicy gochujang red pepper sauce; and honey chicken, which is golden brown and glazed with soy sauce and honey.
Can't decide which one sounds better? You don't have to choose. It's very common to get a half-and-half box with two different versions.
As a side dish, you'll usually get a plate of cubed radish that helps cut the grease and spice, while cleansing your palate.
A Perfect Pairing
But to really eat fried chicken like a Korean, order beer on the side. Consider a distinct dish, the pairing is called "chimek," a combination of "chikin" and "mekchu" (beer), and it's as popular in the country as cookies and milk or wine and cheese.
Take it to another level with somek, made by mixing soju and beer.
The Unexpected Best Place to Eat Fried Chicken in Seoul
One of the most wonderful things about Korea is that you can order food to be delivered anywhere, even if the address is simply "exit 2 of Yeouinaru metro station." Though there are many fried chicken restaurants in Seoul, the best place to enjoy this delicious dish is actually outside on the banks of the Han River.
Head to the Yeouido Hangang Park, a riverside promenade with grassy areas. As soon as you exit the metro station (use exit 2 or 3), you'll be accosted by numerous ajummas, or Korean aunties, who'll shove fliers for fried chicken in your hand.
You can order from one of these places online (the apps are also available in English) and tell them to deliver at the park. While you wait, buy some beer at the CU convenience store right in front of the metro exit. Then, find a nice spot on the grass, and enjoy your Korean fried chicken with a side of pretty views.
Just don't be surprised when you see people bringing tents for their day in the park.
Trying Korean Fried Chicken in the U.S.
If you can't (yet) make it to Seoul, you'll be happy to know that Korean fried chicken has come full circle and is now widely available in the U.S.
All you have to do is type "Korean restaurant near me" and look for one that specializes in the meal. But if you don't want to leave it to chance, here are our top picks for chikin in the U.S.
Location: New York, New York
Opening in Seoul in 1982, Pelicana is one of the original players of fried chicken in the country. The chain was also one of the first places to offer delivery for the dish.
But you don't have to cross the world to try it. You can find it in New York's K-Town serving a perfectly crispy fried chicken that'll transport you to Korea.
Not in New York? No worries! The chain has 28 locations across the U.S., so you'll probably get a chance to try it at some point.
Location: Alexandria, Virginia
Located near Washington, D.C., Chi Mc is one of the most authentic Korean fried chickens you can find in the U.S. Besides food done to perfection, the radish side dish is never missing. And, trust us, this really does make the experience better.
But the thing that wins our hearts (besides the restaurant's witty name) is that it understands the magic of chimek and lets you order beer right with your wings. This way, you don't have to run out to the store for cold ones when you're getting take out.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Each piece of chicken sold at KyoChon is hand brushed individually to make sure the restaurant's signature sauces are spread evenly. Don't expect their spicy sauce to cater to American tastebuds — this is spice made for Koreans, so only approach if you can handle real heat. Otherwise, we recommend the soy-garlic sauce, which has just as much flavor.
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