Korean fried chicken is so hot right now. That’s a terrible pun, admittedly, but at least it’s one that works on multiple levels. It’s served at finger-burning temperatures, often comes marinated with chili that varies in intensity from mouth-tickling to fire-breathing, and is hugely popular, so much so that a certain Colonel is probably wondering how to get back in the game.
Sydney’s Koreatown (just to the north-east of its Chinatown) is full of fried chicken restaurants that provide better value and more flavoursome options than you get from most of the ‘dude food’ establishments serving fried foods at the moment. Perhaps the most popular is Arisun, a giant restaurant on the Dixon St pedestrian mall, featuring an outdoor deck that overlooks the Chinese Gardens. They serve their fried chicken by the bowlful, and $33 buys you a choice between original, soy, spicy, cheese sprinkle or Tabasco buffalo chicken. As with Korean noodle soups, one serve contains far more than any one person could eat – it’s wise to come with a big group.
There are also four boneless varieties, one of which is laced with garlic as well as chili. The flavours are intense, and the chicken pieces are almost dangerously moreish, especially paired with the beer they sell in chilled plastic towers. It’s best to combine them with the usual Korean favourites like chili-laced noodle soups and the spring onion pancakes known as pajeon – and fries if you really want them.
Biting into a spicy drumstick unleashes several different flavour sensations. There’s the succulent meat itself, the crispy crunch and salty tang of the batter, the burst of heat from the chili, but also an explosion of sweetness, because like many varieties of Korean fried chicken, it’s also laced with sugar. The (also very sweet) soy variety is perhaps even tastier, and probably even saltier, while the original version that’s battered without any marinade is also delicious.
Arisun has opened another branch at World Square, which is probably the epicentre of fried chicken in Sydney – even Neil Perry serves fried wings at his Burger Project restaurant upstairs. NaruOne nearby on Pitt St has many fans, and the Sparrow’s Mill on Liverpool St has no fewer than twelve kinds of fried chicken, including Spring Onion, Snow Cheese and Incredible Gangjung. It’s a branch of Red Pepper, a restaurant in the Strathfield Sports Club that’s long been popular with Sydney’s Korean community and also boasts ten varieties including bulgogi sauce – what’s not to like?
But it’s not just Korean-style fried chicken that’s booming. Japan has long had great love for karaage, the ubiquitous deep-fried boneless fillets served with mayonnaise that are a stalwart of any izakaya (dining-bar) menu. And one Taiwanese chain, Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, is pulling in so many fans in Australia that they had to open a second location on Melbourne’s Swanston St, just a few blocks down from the original one. And then they added another in Elizabeth St.
In NSW, Hot Star has now spread to 10 locations in just a few years. I discovered their original Liverpool St Sydney store (also next to World Square) because it was impossible to miss the queues while walking past.
It’s fair to say that the format was fairly unfamiliar at first. You order their signature item, a Large Fried Chicken, and you’re given what’s essentially a giant schnitzel in a paper bag – marinated in five-spice powder, if you so desire, and I’d recommend you do. The only outlets I’ve ever seen (certainly the CBD ones) consist of mere takeaway counters, so most patrons just stand there, awkwardly eating a massive, oily, delicious piece of chicken that’s far too large for any normal human to finish in one go.
They also sell fries and deep fried mushrooms, and recently they’ve started providing chicken bites which are a bit more manageable – but the huge slabs of chicken seem to provide most of their sales.
It’s certainly not the healthiest of food crazes, but if you’re planning a fast food binge, it’s worth overlooking the American version and sampling the fusion between southern-fried chicken (which apparently came to Korea during the war in the 1970s), and the intense flavours added by the Korean and Taiwanese traditions. I’m not sure there’s a more delicious way of embracing the obesity crisis.
The image of Hot Star's chicken is provided by Alpha via Flickr.
Gochujang is a spicy Korean condiment, also known as hot pepper paste. It is used in a wide range of Korean dishes, from bibimbap to tteokbokki to fried chicken! Try making your own gochujang, as we have done here, or use the store-bought kind for a similar result.
The Colonel can keep his 11 secret herbs and spices – Korean fried chicken (dakgangjeong) has taken the world by storm. These marinated wings are coated in cornflour, twice-fried until crisp and golden, and then coated in a sticky, sweet, spicy, tangy and completely addictive sauce that will have you licking the plate, not just your fingers. Did we mention these delicious glazed morsels are also topped with chopped peanuts? Step aside, Colonel.