Korean fried chicken, commonly called “chikin” in South Korea, is a dish usually partnered with rice or with alcoholic drinks. When paired with alcohol, Korean fried chicken is called “anju,” this term is used for dishes that are eaten while drinking with friends, co-workers, or family members.
What’s different with Korean fried chicken compared to its American counterpart is that the chicken is usually fried twice. This cooking technique is used not only to reduce the grease in the chicken but also to make its skin crispier. Moreover, Korean fried chicken is famous for being coated with a sweet and spicy sauce, which adds more flavor to the dish.
It is widely known that fried chicken was first popularized in North America. So, how did fried chicken became famous in Korea? Let’s have a look at the intriguing story of how the recipe for fried chicken traveled from America to South Korea.
It all began during the Korean War in the 1950s, when American soldiers were sent to South Korea, under the support of the United Nations, to help the nation win the war against North Korea, which is backed by the Soviet Union and China.
Before the introduction of fried chicken to Korea, South Koreans traditionally only steam chicken and chop it to pieces so they can add it to their soups and stews. The American soldiers, unsatisfied with how Koreans usually eat chicken, gave the idea of frying chicken to their fellow South Korean soldiers.
Also, Americans usually celebrate Thanksgiving by cooking turkeys, and while there are no turkeys in South Korea during those times, they would often use a whole chicken as alternative meat.
Fried chicken became so popular in military bases that some Americans even began selling fried chicken in food stalls around Busan, Seoul, Songtan, and Pyeongtaek.
After the Korean War, South Korea was struggling economically due to the damages that the nation has suffered during the conflict with North Korea. Due to this economic struggle, chicken became expensive, making it difficult for lower and middle-class families to buy.
Despite its expensiveness, chicken was still a popular type of meat in the country, thanks to the founding of the Myeong-dong Yeongyang Center, a restaurant known for serving rotisserie chicken.
This restaurant also popularized the “yellow bag chicken,” a name given to rotisserie chicken placed inside yellow bags and bought by fathers during paydays. Their families will then enjoy eating this chicken at home as a way to celebrate the father’s hard work.
When South Korea experienced a sudden rapid growth in its economy during the 70s (a phenomenon named as the “Miracle on the Han River”), chicken became less expensive and is now considered an everyday food by Koreans. It was also in the 1970s, particularly in 1977, when the first fried chicken restaurant in South Korea, Lim’s Chicken, came to be. The restaurant helped popularized fried chicken not only in Seoul but also in the entire nation.
The most popular Korean fried chicken variant, the seasoned chicken or yangyeom-chikin, is believed to have been introduced by Yang Hee-Kwon, the owner of a fried-chicken restaurant called Pelicana Chicken.
Yang saw customers having a hard time eating the hard and crunchy skin of the fried chicken, so he began experimenting on ways to soften the skin while also adding more flavors to the chicken. He started marinating and coating the fried chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce, and after he started selling his variant of fried chicken to the public, it became hugely popular.
The popularity of the seasoned fried chicken prompted the rival restaurants to copy Pelicana Chicken’s sauce or make their recipe, which resulted in the different variants of Korean fried chicken we have today.
Varieties of Korean Fried Chicken
There are more varieties of Korean fried chicken to choose from besides the yangnyeom-chikim, but here are some of the more popular variants.
As previously stated, the yangnyeom-chikin is called seasoned chicken outside Korea. What’s interesting about the seasoned chicken is that when foreigners say “Korean fried chicken,” the majority of them will say that this variant is the only fried chicken in South Korea, which proves that the yangnyeom-chikin is the most popular type of Korean fried chicken in the world.
Yangnyeom-chikin is coated in a sweet and spicy sauce that has a lot of gochujang on it. Gochujang is a spicy condiment made from glutinous rice, fermented soybeans (meju), salt, barley malt powder (yeotgireum), and chili powder.
The most basic Korean fried chicken, its name comes from the Korean pronunciation of the words “fried” and “chicken.” Huraideu-chikin doesn’t have any sauce or marinate in it, making it the crispiest variant of Korean fried chicken.
Ganjang-chikin is the non-spicy version of the seasoned chicken. This Korean fried chicken variant is coated in a sweet sauce made from ganjang; a condiment usually called the “Korean-style soy sauce.”
There are two types of ganjang, the first one is the hansik ganjang and the other is the gaeryang ganjang. The latter ganjang is the one often used in the ganjang-chikin, as it is cheaper and more widely available than the hansik ganjang, which is harder to make.
Padak is a type of Korean fried chicken that has scallions as an added ingredient. These scallions are either mixed with the fried chicken or used as a topping.
The scallions make the Padak a healthier variant of fried chicken than the others on this list.
Banban is a term used in a Korean fried chicken dish where there are half yangnyeom-chikin and half huraideu-chikin in a serving plate. “Ban” is the Korean word for half.
This Korean fried chicken dish is often seen in an “anju,” as drinkers can have a choice of which type of fried chicken suit their tastes while drinking beer.
This variant of Korean fried chicken is a deep-fried whole chicken that was popular in the 1970s. Tongdak is also the rotisserie chicken packed in yellow bags at the Myeong-dong Yeongyang Center, and it is the only fried chicken sold in South Korea during the early 70s, making it the first Korean fried chicken.
This type of Korean fried chicken is not as popular as it used to be, as other variants are much easier to cook than the tongdak. However, some places in South Korea like Gyeonggi-do are still serving tongdak regularly.
Fried chicken serves as comfort food for many Koreans. As seen through its history, buying fried chicken is one of the things that gave South Koreans joy in times of economic instability, as it became a tradition back then for families to enjoy eating tongdak whenever fathers want to celebrate receiving their hard-earned money from work.
The Korean fried chicken continues to give happiness by being one of the staple dishes in drinking parties, where people often enjoy the company of family and friends while forgetting about their problems. If ever you visit South Korea, make sure that you try at least one variant of their fried chicken and see if it also brings you joy.