THE FOOD CULTURALIST

Arva Ahmed doesn’t do fast food. Un­less it’s crispy-sweet-sticky-spicy yangnyum

Friday - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS BY ANAS THACHARPADIKKAL FOR GREAT FOOD EV­ERY DAY fri­daymagazine.ae

For Arva Ahmed, KFC means Korean fried chicken – find out where she gets her fill here in the UAE.

Nei­ther fast food nor chilli sits well with me, but there is one kind of spicy KFC that I am al­ways game for: Korean Fried Chicken. Korean fried chicken is South Korea’s fin­ger-lick­ing gift to the rest of the globe, pos­si­bly in­spired by the Colonel San­ders’ chain en­ter­ing the coun­try dur­ing the ’80s. But “Yangnyum chikin” or Korean-style “sea­soned chicken” hatches a very different sort of crust than the jagged, bat­tered one of Amer­i­can-style fried chicken. You can peel away the thick blan­ket of fried bat­ter smoth­er­ing Amer­i­can fried chicken, but the crisp saucy ve­neer over yangnyum chikin is so thin that it is vir­tu­ally in­sep­a­ra­ble.

Dur­ing my past life in New York, I would wait out­side the door of Bon­chon Chicken on Fifth Av­enue, a hun­gry sheep in a line of more hun­gry sub­mis­sive sheep. New York­ers queue for ev­ery­thing – and the queue ex­po­nen­tially in­creases your an­tic­i­pa­tion for what­ever may be dished out at the head of the line. In the case of Bon­chon, it was the ul­ti­mate late-night, post­party snack: dou­ble-fried crisp chicken painted in the sauce of your choice – soy gar­lic or spicy.

Spicy is the right way to go. Kore­ans use a thick spice paste called gochu­jang which is one of the mother sauces of their cui­sine and the main rea­son why their yangnyum chikin is so ir­re­sistible. I have never seen gochu­jang be­ing sold in tubs smaller than 500 grams, an oc­cur­rence that might best be ex­plained by the of­fi­cial Visit Korea tourism web­site: “Kore­ans love the spicy taste of gochu­jang and of­ten eat it as part of a meal when they feel stressed out or down in the dumps.”

The pri­mary in­gre­di­ent of gochu­jang is the Korean red pep­per ‘gochu’, paired along with gluti­nous rice, fer­mented soy­bean paste and

salt. On the Scov­ille scale of spici­ness where a jalapeno agi­tates be­tween 2,500 to 4,000 units and a ha­banero shrieks be­tween 100,000 to 300,000 units, ‘gochu’ softly whis­pers in be­low 1,000 units. In­ci­den­tally, there is no good sub­sti­tute for the salty, umami flavour of gochu­jang but it is avail­able on­line as well as at Ha­narum, the Korean gro­cery store in Karama.

In­ci­den­tally, there is no good sub­sti­tute for the flavour of gochu­jang but it is avail­able on­line as well as at Ha­narum. What is also avail­able in Karama is an ad­dic­tive plat­ter of yangnyum chicken at the 17-year-old South Korean restau­rant, Seoul Gar­den. Their spicy fried chicken can­not be mistaken as a main dish, but rather, it is akin to pop­ping supremely sea­soned na­chos on the side of your meal. You never keep count. And you end up eat­ing far too much.

For restau­rants that bust out chicken yangnyum style, a gochu­jang-based sauce is not their only move. The crispy beat of this chicken is played out by coat­ing the chicken chunks in corn or potato starch and then deep fry­ing them twice over. As I learned from a two-hour de­tour while writ­ing this col­umn, there is enough sci­en­tific anal­y­sis at the molec­u­lar level be­hind dou­ble dip­ping in hot oil to leave your brains feeling quite fried, so let me leave it at this: Dou­ble-fry­ing is more ef­fec­tive at ex­pelling mois­ture and giv­ing the lightly bat­tered chicken its in­vin­ci­ble “snap’’.(For a more ex­haus­tive anal­y­sis, switch on your out-of-of­fice mes­sage and google “why dou­ble fry.”)

An­other hot spot for Korean fried chicken is Hyu Korean, the in­vis­i­ble restau­rant in a no-name cor­ner of Oud Metha that was closed and res­ur­rected in JLT. I have fond mem­o­ries of plough­ing through a hill of saucy pop­corn chicken two years ago at the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion. But the dish was called “dak­gang­jeong”, which the owner Annie claims she used to en­joy in Korea far be­fore yangnyum chicken rocked the food charts.

Dak­gang­jeong is a com­bi­na­tion of two words: ‘dak’ or chicken and ‘gang­jeong’ which is a Korean con­fec­tionery tech­nique ap­plied to sweet snacks that are deep fried and coated with sticky sweet syrup, quite like brit­tle or rice crispies. Hyu’s dak­gang­jeong are bone­less dark meat frit­ters pol­ished with a sauce of gochu pow­der, gar­lic, fer­mented soy­bean paste and mu­lyeot (corn syrup). After a talk with Annie about the dif­fer­ences be­tween crispy-sweet­sticky-spicy yangnyum chicken and crispysweet-sticky-spicy dak­gang­jeong, I put the phone down con­vinced that the two are near iden­ti­cal twins. It would take a Korean mother to know the sub­tle dif­fer­ences – and she would be ly­ing if she said she didn’t have a favourite.

But com­ing back to the Bon­chon Chicken of my New York days, the fran­chise opened its doors in Dubai a few years ago and then shortly after, re­branded it­self as Kim­chikin. Kim­chikin is one of the few fast food chains you could catch me at red-handed. Lit­er­ally, be­cause chop­sticks will never match the mo­men­tum of my dex­ter­ous bare fin­gers when faced with a glossy sauce-drenched pile of Korean fried chicken.

Arva Ahmed guides tours through Dubai’s culi­nary hide­outs at fry­ing­panad­ven­tures.com. She co-hosts a food pod­cast at fry­ing­pan.fm.

Spicy fried chicken is akin to pop­ping wellsea­soned na­chos on the side. You never keep count. And you end up eat­ing far too much

Ho­suk Kim at Seoul Gar­den serves a crispy fried chicken that you can­not have enough of

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