ZenKimchi http://zenkimchi.com Exploring Korean food since 2004 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:25:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 https://i2.wp.com/zenkimchi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/cropped-ZK_Logo_app_512.png?fit=32%2C32 ZenKimchi http://zenkimchi.com 32 32 10 Best Korean Chicken Joints http://zenkimchi.com/featured/10-best-korean-fried-chicken-joints/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/10-best-korean-fried-chicken-joints/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:29:13 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=14510

2017.03.22

I’ve updated this post for the first time since 2011. Some of the places have fallen out of favor, but we have some new ones here.

Chicken and beer have become serious institutions in South Korea. Fried chicken started showing up around 1970, when cooking oil became more affordable. In the 1980s and 1990s, chicken “hofs” that served fried chicken and beer popped up everywhere. This was likely due to early forced retirement for mid-level managers in Korea Inc.’s chaebol conglomerates. Chicken hofs were sold as turnkey business solutions. Since so many opened on every corner, Koreans started going to them because they were there. These days, there are more chicken franchise locations in Korea than there are McDonald’s in the entire world.

The chicken hof has gone through phases. I’m a personal fan of the 1990s style. Small free range birds with papery breading and strong Asian aromatic flavors. Or as one chef I shared chicken with said, smelled like a cinnamon doughnut. The more modern style is closer to American fried chicken, dipped in a flour breading with all the nooks and crannies. There are a few franchises I like from this vein as well.

My rule of thumb is this. To tell a good chicken place, look at the people inside. If it’s full of beautiful young women taking selfies, likely isn’t good chicken. If it’s full of middle-aged men who look like life has kicked them in the teeth–GREAT CHICKEN!

Here are some consistently good chicken franchises and spots. Add your favorites in the comments.

Two-Two Fried Chicken 둘둘치킨

Style: Classic

Everyone knows my love for Two-Two. It’s one of the oldest franchises and the first taste I had of Korean fried chicken. The birds they use are bony, but that means they aren’t factory raised. They actually have flavor. The crust is thin, delicate, and has that Chinese five spice and cinnamon scent that I always associate with Korean chicken hofs. This chicken screams for beer.

BHC

Style: Modern

Big Hit Chicken. Actually, they keep changing what the acronym stands for. This is the old standby and the typical family-style chicken joint.

Acronym for a name?
Check.

K-pop group as spokespeople?
Check.

It’s reliable, predictable, but satisfying.

Kyochon

Style: Battered

This is the one most Americans think of when talking about Korean fried chicken. The thing is, Kyochon is the only franchise I know of that does it this way–batter dipped rather than rolled in flour or starch. The batter is garlicky with a slight sweetness. The crust shatters and stays crispy a long time. If you order it “yangnyeom” style, they meticulously paint the sauce on each piece individually. Caution–the breading really seals the contents inside. Expect a hot geyser of chicken juice to burst out in your first bite.

BBQ Chicken

Credit: Formalin81 on Flickr (cc)

Style: Modern

Pronounced Bee-bee-kyoo. It’s the king of chicken franchises in Korea. They follow the American style of frying, but their flavor is unique. Claiming to fry their chicken in olive oil, they obviously feel like they have to chase KFC. They boast over 20 herbs and spices. BBQ’s flavor is unique and hasn’t been copied. You can smell a BBQ a block away.

Chicken Baengi 치킨뱅이

Style: Classic

They specialize in classic style, but they also make a mean pa dalk, boneless fried chicken thighs served in a sweetish peanut sauce and shredded leeks. The other half of their name refers to golbaengi, sea snails. For some reason they think that chilled spicy sea snail noodle salad goes well with fried chicken. It sorta does, TBH. Reminds me of trips to the beach in my earlier times in Korea. It’s been going through a re-branding to appeal to a younger crowd (note the two logos). We go to one of these on the Chicken & Beer Pub Crawl. The location we go to violates my rules for clientele, but it’s still great chicken.

Kkanbu Chicken 깐부치킨

 

Style: Modern-ish

This is a new player. You can tell by the design of the restaurants with the bold lettering and well designed posters. The chicken here is excellent, especially the garlic chicken. They have a decent variety, and I say they’re the one to beat in the near future.

Hanchoo 한추

Style: Batter

Not really a franchise. It’s a popular spot in Gangnam. It’s popular for being popular, but it has its fans. They serve fried chili peppers with their chicken, which is their schtick. I’m putting it here because people I respect like it. I personally had bad ju-ju with the owners when we were arranging a TV show to shoot there. One of them said they didn’t want more foreigners in their restaurant. I know where I’m not welcome.

Goobne Chicken 굽네치킨

Style: Oven

Going into oven chicken territory, Goobne (GOOB-nay) has been getting popular lately. And it’s good. Even though Korea’s gone through many “well-being” food fads, for some reason chicken hasn’t registered. A Korean co-worker of a friend of mine said that since the fried chicken she was eating was Korean, it was healthy.

Goobne has promoted itself as a healthy alternative to fried. All I know lately is that when we order it, it’s stripped to the bone like those Winged Devourers did on “Beastmaster.”

Vons 본스

Style: Oven

Similar to Goobne, Vons chicken itself is roasted/baked. Its edge is that it comes with a variety of sauces for whatever fits your personality. Kind of like a K-Pop mega-group.

Hoo-La-La 훌랄라

Style: Barbecue

Hoo-La-La holds a special place in my heart. They were big around 2007 and then evaporated around 2010. They headed up the smoked barbecued chicken craze of that time. It’s hard to find this style of chicken anymore. A restaurant that serves this style is on our Chicken & Beer Pub Crawl. If you can find a Hoo-La-La, go for it. It’s dark. It’s cozy. And the chicken comes out sizzling on an iron plate, smothered in what we call “crack sauce.” Because it’s addictive.

Dishonorable Mentions

Just to shake up the anthill, there are a couple fried chicken chains I’m not too fond of.

Pelicana

Credit: Clockwork Boo on Flickr (cc)

Style: Classic

One of the early BBQ copycats that just didn’t get it. It’s just bland. They do nothing that makes them stand out. I’d put ToreOre in this column, too.

The Frypan

Credit: StudioEgo on Flickr (cc)

Style: Modern

Man, was I excited when one opened in my area. They look so good–boneless fried chicken with housemade potato chips! Hat Dave and I could barely finish our order from the grease overload. They offer salads to balance the grease, I guess. This was where I started developing my chicken hof rule of thumb. We noticed we were surrounded by pretty young co-eds eating salad.

Mexicana

Style: WTF

They actually thought chicken flavored with banana, strawberry, and melon was what the world needed.

Nope.

BUT I’M WRONG…

What are your favorite and least favorite Korean chicken restaurants?

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Impeachment, Robert Kelly, and Whoa F*&% Korea! http://zenkimchi.com/featured/impeachment-robert-kelly-and-whoa-f-korea/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/impeachment-robert-kelly-and-whoa-f-korea/#respond Thu, 16 Mar 2017 03:23:42 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=50089 I arrived in Korea in 2004. I already had an interest in the country because of a couple courses in Korean history I took. The plan was to stay a year, but when that first year was up, I looked at all the change happening around me. This was a part of the world where history was happening in my lifetime. I decided to stay and witness it.

And my, what I’ve witnessed!

There are lots of smarter people than me commenting on Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. I ended up witnessing the whole demonstrations from beginning to now. This wasn’t because I wanted to go out and see them. See, I run The Dark Side of Seoul walk every weekend. It’s like a mix between Jack the Ripper tour and a haunted tour. It’s gotten fairly big lately. The route starts at Anguk Station, near the north part of Insa-dong, and winds its way through north Seoul, ending up near Seodaemun Station. That ended up being precisely where all the demonstrations were. I watched it grow from the usual spatter of professional protesters. I mean, we joke that protesting is one of Korea’s past times. Summer and fall are protest seasons. The year before, people were protesting the government co-opting of history textbooks. I had to work around that on the tours. One couple I had from Singapore ended up getting some spray from a water cannon. I apologized to them, and they said, “No, this is great! We don’t have anything like this in Singapore.”

This past season, when the protests started, I had some experience with this, so I prepared alternate routes. Our peak season starts in October, which was precisely when I had my seizure and fractured my back. I did my best to get back on my feet and do the tours with my lobster shell back brace.

The protests grew and grew. The hard part was that I couldn’t predict where they would be. They usually centered in Gwanghwamun, and we’d just cut through the crowds to continue the tour. Other times, they’d block the north part of Insa-dong or Sam-il-ro. So every weekend, I was in the middle of the crowds. The guests on the tours loved it. I noted that the tenor was changing when I saw families attend the protests. Children walked with their parents with a candle in one hand and an ice cream in the other.

This is a CRUCIAL learning moment for protesters around the world (are you listening anti-Trump peeps):

If you want the regular folk to support your cause, you need to make your protests a safe space. No smashing windows. No firebombs. No fights. Make it a festival that people would want to bring their kids to. Make it something where the elderly would want to join. Otherwise, it just looks like a bunch of 20-somethings getting their rocks off.

The riot police were good and polite the whole time. They’re mostly kids doing their required public service. They’re in little phalanxes, each with a pennant with a different color and number. It’s amusing to watch these guys run into action whenever a radio pipes up, telling their leader to move to a different location. It’s like a human-sized chess game–or Twister. In fact, the only time I was approached by the police was last Saturday when I was starting the tour. He told me (in Korean) that the area we were in was about to be blocked off. I told him we were going to leave in five minutes and pointed where we were planning to go. He said that that direction was already blocked off and told me an alternate route. He smiled and said he was sorry. I said it looked like a fun route, and we laughed.

The protests started interfering with the tours when the parliament voted for impeachment in early December, and the hearings moved to the Constitutional Court. That is RIGHT AT THE START of our tour. It’s usually empty when we go there. But after that, it was impossible. All the protests and police moved there. Before it got completely blocked, I moved the group to a Starbucks stairwell, where we could observe the building, while I told my stories.

Since it’s an outdoor walk, I close down the tours during the winter. Last Friday was the start of our new season. And like an idiot, I planned it on the day the court was announcing its impeachment decision.

IDIOT!!!

I had a few people signed up for that tour, but I knew it was going to be crazier than it had ever been. I watched everything closely. Pro-Park conservatives finally started demonstrating. They were an ornery bunch and kinda late to the party. There was a lot of speculation that they were paid to be there, as when journalists asked why they were protesting after all the things President Park had done, they drew blanks. It got violent. (Note, it didn’t get violent until the Right got involved.) It got worse and worse, and I watched it closely. Then the news came out that a couple of protesters died right where we meet for the tour.

Cancelled.

I can work around protests, but I can’t put my guests in dangerous situations. That may sound callous. I mean, people DIED. But that was a point also. I learned from doing the tours soon after the Sewol ferry disaster that it’s hard to do a ghost tour when real life is darker. It was disrespectful to continue with the tour that evening.

The next day, as I was checking Facebook, one of my journalist friends posted a video of Robert E. Kelly and what is now his famous video-bomb by his kids on the BBC. Just like “Gangnam Style,” we all sat there with our mouths agape as this thing blew up all over the Internets. I’ve never met Professor Kelly in person. He is way down in Busan. But we run in the same circles and have interacted with each other on Twitter. That’s another thing I love about living here. The expat and international Korean community is small and tight knit. We all know each other. We’re an odd family.

It was cute. And as expected when something goes viral, there was the pushback. It was much, much smaller than I anticipated. Just some stuff about patriarchy and crap. I get how the video can be a metaphor for patriarchy. But the reason he didn’t get up was that he was wearing jeans, we later discovered. I don’t disagree with the sentiments behind patriarchy awareness. It just loses people when you look like a naked opportunist, hijacking a popular cute video to promote your cause. The backlash against the patriarchy stuff was stronger.

What did bug me was the nanny thing. This was personal,  and I was aware of it. People were assuming that Robert’s wife was the nanny. They said it looked like someone who was worried about their job and other excuses rather than admit that they were going on stereotypes of Asian women with non-Asian men. As one Twitter person stated, just admit that you had a latent racist moment, learn from it, and move on.

It hit me personally because there are so many racist stereotypes about western men with Asian women. “Yellow Fever” and all that. Angry Asian men who don’t live in Asia dismiss mixed race couples. Still perpetuated in clandestinely racist posts with outdated facts and hiding inside a cloud of freshly learned academic jargon while saying absolutely nothing. There’s the stereotype about Asian wives being subservient, WHICH IS DEFINITELY A MYTH. In Korea, the mainstream media does whole news segments about the dangers of foreign men to Korean women.

Those of us who married for love and have children find this disgusting. I mean, how dare these people feign moral superiority while trashing our marriages. Our kids have a hard enough time dealing with a place as homogenous and, yes, as racist as Korea. We don’t need them feeling even more isolated because of stereotypes people have about their parents.

When a lot of Korean kids are getting ready to enter elementary school, they are busy learning to read, basic math, some foreign language. My wife and I? Our priority was preparing our daughter for the inevitable racism she’d have to face. My wife stresses so much over her social skills, which I think are fine. We made sure she developed her social intelligence early. And really, she’s done well so far. She’s been in the popular groups through play school and kindergarten. Other friends’ kids have had more problems. She started elementary school March 2nd. She seems to be fine there, but I do worry. The older kids, especially the groups of boys that want to impress each other, can be mean. Yesterday, I picked her up from school. As we were leaving, a group of older boys noticed the foreigner (me), and one said, “Holy shit” in English, trying to get a reaction out of me.

He got a reaction, and I don’t think he liked it.

So I worry about this. Maybe this is why the nanny comments bugged me. People are dismissing our families with their narrow assumptions.

Whatever. I’m talking out my ass as always.

In other news…

Since my injury, I’ve kinda closed off socially. I was busy with the tours, which have been growing like crazy. Other than that, I’ve been concentrating on my health. I’m eating better and exercising. I’m 85% vegetarian these days. Can you believe it? It doesn’t mean I’m eating tasteless food. The opposite. Eating some amazing foods these days.

Last year was tough, as you know. After meeting Anthony Bourdain in October 2014, I’ve had a hard time steering my career boat. I’ve realized that I’ve lived my life the reverse of other people. Most people concentrate on their jobs and making money. Then they check off their bucket lists. After Bourdain, I noted that most of my bucket list had already been checked. Last year with the restaurants, I checked another one off. This year, I know what is working, and I’m concentrating on that. I’m consulting for a restaurant on the Cruise 378 boat in Apgujeong, moored off of Hangang Park. I’m concentrating on tours and the occasional writing gig, and I have gone back to teaching part time to fill in the gaps. Later this year, I hope to join an old friend of mine setting up his new business in Korea. I’m not chasing any spotlights. I’m just doing my thing now.

Peace.

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