When people think about Korean food, a lot of people will automatically think of kimchi. It is the quintessential part of korean meals that most feel is absolutely mandatory. It’s everywhere in South Korea and can be purchased at any restaurant. When I moved here, it wasn’t surprising how much kimchi there was.
The thing I was surprised to see everywhere? Fried Chicken. Almost without fail, you can find a chicken restaurant on every block. It turns out that fried is almost as popular as kimchi here, warranting festivals and a hyper-competitive chicken restaurant market.
Chicken can come as simple as this, with lightly seasoned chicken in a box. This kind is usually accompanied by a packet of flavored salt. The chicken itself is battered and fried in a very light coating. While I usually think of fried chicken in the US being heavy and sometimes soggy, fried chicken in South Korea is lightweight and crisp.
The white cubes at the bottom of the picture are mu, picked radishes. These are standard with ALL fried chicken meals. The vinegar in the radishes cuts through the greasiness of the chicken and keeps the meal from feeling too heavy. In this picture, the meal also came with plums. Those aren’t standard. I just went to a super friendly restaurant. But don’t be surprised if a restaurant has something special that they add to the meal. That could mean sauces, side dishes, etc.
This is what it actually looks like when you go out for chicken. This is a super popular kind of chicken called “yangnyeom”. The breading on the chicken is pretty thick so it can stand up to the thickness of the sauce. The yangnyeom sauce is sweet but spicy, like a mix of honey and chili. This kind of chicken is what is usually sold by “Korean chicken” restaurants in North America.
Besides the fact that most chicken restaurants will deliver for free, you can find walk-up chicken stands everywhere. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to cup chicken by a friend. It is literally a cup filled with yangnyeom chicken. In this case, the chicken is shallow-friend instead of deep fried and has no breading. Because this snack is so cheap and filling, it is hard for me to walk through the subway station without stopping for a cup.
There are all sorts of different kids of chicken, from soy sauce chicken, honey garlic chicken, bone-in or boneless (“soon sal”). I suggest trying all different types and figuring out what your favorite is.
*Word of warning to people who like to eat drumsticks or breast meat. What I have found in South Korea is that the meat isn’t divided into white and dark meat, or wings and thighs. The meat is cut up, cooked up, and served all together. Here, it is all just chicken.*
I was lucky enough to attend the Daegu Chimac Festival this year. “Chimac” is the combination of the words “chicken” and “maekju”, which is the Korean word for beer. The festival went on for five days and was filled with booths for chicken, beer, and much more. There were performances every night by top entertainers. I got to watch HaHa and Skull, a reggae group perform for free. The chicken was excellent, the beer was refreshing, and it was the perfect place to spend some time with another food-loving friend. If you get a chance to attend the festival, I suggest you go. The festival organizers want it to become a destination event for people around the world and I couldn’t agree with them more.
Thanks and happy eating,