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Korean Fried Chicken Is Ready For the Mainstream

What’s all the hoopla over KFC? No, not that KFC, I’m talking about Korean fried chicken, which is letting it be known it’s not just a substitute for American fried chicken, but is its own thing entirely. Spots like Momofuku Ko, Bonchon Chicken, The Gangjung and OG KFC franchise, Pelicana Chicken, are only a few that have made a name on the food scene. They’re waving the banner high for other established joints like The Prince and Kyochon, who have held it down in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood for years. Ever heard of quadruple fried chicken? I hadn’t either. But before we dive into South Korea’s take on fried chicken, let me give ya’ll a little background.

Established in 1977 in the basement of Seoul’s Shinsegae Department Store, the first modern-day Korean fried chicken joint was called “Lims Chicken.” As the first fried chicken franchise in South Korea, Lims became extremely popular amongst locals who were used to eating chicken boiled with rice and ginseng. The restaurant employed a cooking method that involves frying the chicken twice, thus creating a version of fried chicken that was thinner and crispier than its American counterpart. As the demand for fried chicken in Korea grew, it was the arrival of Pelicana Chicken in 1982 that really changed the game. 

Photo by: National Institute of Korean Language on WikiCommons, CC BY-SA 2.0 KR

Pelicana created what we know today as Korean fried chicken by being the first to drench it in sweet and spicy sauce. This approach is popularly referred to as “yangnyeom (seasoned) chicken,” and was a driving stimulus behind future innovations on the KFC scene.

Evolving as the years progressed, today there are four flavors and three styles of Korean fried chicken available for chicken lovers. “Dankganjeong” is the most traditional flavor of KFC, and is considered by some to be the Korean version of orange chicken. It’s fried twice using potato or corn starch mixed with seasoning, and glazed with a sweet garlic soy sauce. One LA-based restaurant that’s fittingly named and known for their dankganjeong is The Gangjung. They offer an array of flavors from garlic to barbeque. Out east in New York, modern Korean soul food gastropub, Windrose, provides an upscale presentation using a cloche as a makeshift smoker that when removed reveals glistening dankganjeong.

Another flavor is “padak,” which means “green onion-chicken.” It’s plain fried chicken smothered with slivers of fresh green onions. Palisades Park, NJ hot spot MaMa Chicken features generous portions of padak on their menu along with a range of options to keep your taste satisfied.

For the humble palate there’s plain ol’ fried chicken, which is named “huraideu.” David Chang’s famous Monofuku Ko has what is called “Fried Chicken But Cold,” which is exactly what you think. The prestige lies in the quadruple fried skin which maintains its crispiness even after refrigeration.

The other two KFC styles are “sunsal,” meaning “boneless” and “tongdak,” which means “whole chicken.” Lims Chicken originally popularized tongdak in the 1970s. It’s made by submerging a whole chicken into a fryer until it’s extra crispy, and is then served rotisserie style. 

Photo by: happy o’ne on WikiCommons, CC By 2.0 KR

As you can see, there’s a KFC style for every mood. Fried chicken will always be a comfort food staple and as Korean fried chicken continues to gain mainstream popularity, you can expect more unique approaches.

Next time you’re trying to decide how to appease your munchies after a night of partying, be sure to type “Korean fried chicken near me,” into your search engine.