There is fried chicken and then there is Korean fried chicken. Anyone who’s ever tucked into a plate of Korean fried chicken will understand that there’s nothing on earth quite like the sensation of biting into perfectly crispy chicken skin that melds fluidly into juicy (oh, how juicy!) succulent meat inside.
It’s a yin-yang balance of crunch and tenderness that has in turn created a global obsession.
Interestingly, Korean fried chicken is relatively new even in its South Korean birthplace. As recently as the 1960s, Koreans were still struggling economically so chicken was hardly ever on the table.
As the country’s financial situation improved, chicken became a facet of everyday life.
It began with the arrival of rotisserie chicken in the 1960s and became ingrained in Korean food culture with the debut of Korea’s first fried chicken franchise, Lim’s Chicken, in 1977.
By the 1990s, modern versions of Korean fried chicken had well and truly arrived with the inception of restaurants like KyoChon 1991 and Nene Chicken, both of which opened in the 1990s.
These new modern restaurants popularised different flavour options for fried chicken; KyoChon for example, has almost single-handedly been responsible for the creation of the soy-infused fried chicken variant.
KyoChon 1991 is incredibly popular in Malaysia, with more expansion planned for this year. Photo: KyoChon 1991
Another notable creation is the crazily-popular yangnyeom fried chicken, which sees fried chicken thinly coated in a sweet-spicy sauce that makes use of another Korean staple – the spicy gojuchang paste.
In Korea, fried chicken isn’t fried chicken without a side-serving of beer, hence the word “chimaek” – a portmanteau of the words “chi” from “chicken” and “maek” from “maekju” (which means beer).
Although you can opt for a non-alcoholic beverage to pair with your fried chicken, beer remains the tipple of choice.
While Korean fried chicken is undoubtedly a hit in its homeland – in 2017, the number of fried chicken joints in Korea was 36,000! – what’s surprising is how feverishly the rest of the world has caught on to this hot Korean chick.
Korean fried chicken is now a huge international export, with chains like Bonchon, KyoChon and celebrity chef David Chang’s popular Momofuku, having a lot to do with expanding the poultry’s popularity to places as far-flung as the United States, Australia, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore.
In Malaysia, numerous Korean fried chicken outlets pepper the local scene, from KyoChon to Chir Chir Fusion Chicken Factory, Nene Chicken and many others.
According to KyoChon 1991’s operations director Joyce Chin, just for their original and red pepper variety of fried chicken, the brand sells an average of 35,000 chicken wings daily across their 14 nationwide outlets. This number surges to 52,000 on weekends.
Chir Chir’s fried chicken comes in all forms, including the delicious crispy fried chicken (left) and garlicky chicken (right), both of which boast crispy skin and juicy meat.
In line with the growing demand for Korean fried chicken, by the end of this year, Chin estimates that they will have 21 stores and a total of 600 employees.
Chin says there are many factors that have likely contributed to Korean fried chicken’s rise on the local front but most prominent among them is the taste factor.
“Everyone has different reasons for liking Korean fried chicken but my personal opinion is that it’s much more flavourful with unique flavours such as aromatic soy garlic, burning red pepper and sweet-on-the-lips honey.
“It’s also less oily and the very thin batter allows for a paper-thin like crispiness which is different from traditional Western style fried chicken,” she says.
This crispiness is also what is most difficult to nail if you’re a home cook attempting to make this fried chicken yourself at home.
Korean fried chicken is typically lightly battered in corn starch (sometimes wheat flour or rice flour is added too) and then fried not once, but twice.
This is key to solidifying a whisper-thin crispy exterior while retaining moistness in the meat.
It is also what makes it different from Southern-style fried chicken, which is typically soaked in buttermilk first to obtain a thicker crust.
As the chickens used for Korean fried chicken are typically smaller, they crisp up well and are less likely to be tough.
When frying the chicken, you’ll have to be patient and wait for the oil to heat up to the required temperature (it should bubble furiously when you put a piece of chicken in). And trust me when I say patience is a virtue, because if you get restless and toss the chicken into the frying pan too early, you’ll end up with a soggy, greasy mess that no respectable Korean fried chicken would want to be associated with.
In the end, if you’re willing to put in the effort to make it work, you’ll end up with that most elusive of homemade creations: Perfect Korean fried chicken.
SPICY KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN (YANGNYEOM CHICKEN)
Serves 2 to 4
For the sauce
1 tsp minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
3-4 tbsp vinegar
2 1/2 tbsp gojuchang paste
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
For the chicken
8 chicken wings, cut into drummets and mid-wings, tips removed
1 tsp grated ginger
sea salt to taste
coarse black pepper to taste
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lightly toasted sesame seeds
spring onions, for garnish
To make the sauce
In a pot, combine all the sauce ingredients and cook until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens up. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To cook chicken
Clean and dry chicken well. Marinate chicken with salt, pepper and ginger.
In another bowl, put potato starch. Drop chicken one by one into starch and coat thoroughly. Shake off excess starch.
In a large frying pan, heat up enough oil to nearly completely submerge chicken pieces. When oil is hot enough (test oil by dropping a piece of chicken in, if it bubbles up furiously, it’s hot enough), put in chicken pieces. Don’t overcrowd the pan as this will cause the temperature to drop.
Fry chicken for 5 to 6 minutes, turning chicken pieces to make sure they don’t overcook on one side. Remove from the heat.
Use a skimmer to remove the bits of starch that may have pooled at the bottom of the pan. Heat up oil again until bubbling, then drop chicken pieces in again and fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
Re-heat sauce until hot and quickly coat hot chicken in sauce. Sprinkle sesame seeds over chicken and garnish with spring onions. Eat immediately.
Nestled in a cosy corner of Arcoris Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur is Kumar’s. The restaurant has a casual, modern vibe that seems to indicate that it is both new and untested. But in reality, the brand is anything but new.
In fact, Kumar’s traces its roots all the way back to 1969 when it began life as a stall in Brickfields, KL, helmed by the owner’s mother. The stall was said to be a popular haunt for Malaysian Indian fare but shut down in the 1970s.
Then six years ago, Kumar’s resurfaced again, this time in Oasis Damansara in Selangor. The owner retained his mother’s heirloom recipes, which is why the place attracted a large following. But the area itself was changing and the restaurant once again found itself needing a new space to call “home”.
“A lot of restaurants were moving out, because that place was getting a bit tired and it was more of a watering hole. So we decided ‘Okay, maybe we should move somewhere else where we can showcase our food’,” says Emmanuel Devandran, Kumar’s long-time general manager.
Kumar’s new home is about a year old and sees a more diverse group of diners than the largely local followers the brand attracted in its previous spot. But the food remains the same – all the recipes are still made according to Kumar’s mother’s exacting standards and she even pops in once in a while to check that everything is in order.
The eatery is relaxed, with an upbeat, modern vibe.
The brand believes in maintaining high standards, so all the curry powders and chilli powders are made in-house while seafood is sourced fresh, as opposed to using frozen.
When you place an order at Kumar’s, the meal does not arrive congealed and cold. Instead, everything is made only once an order is placed, which defies the conventional wisdom at most Malaysian Indian eateries.
“These are things that we really want to do because we want to show that we can give quality food to everyone,” says Devandran.
True to its name, the crackling bhendi is both crackly and addictively good.
Start your epicurean experience at Kumar’s with the crackling bhendi (RM11.90+) which is essentially okra breaded and deep-fried to a crisp. The okra is unbelievably addictive – each crunchy shard will easily become acquainted with your palate that before you know it, the entire basket will be polished off.
Kumar’s has become well known for its fish head curry (RM99.90+), which makes use of a giant slice of snapper as well as complementary ingredients like okra, brinjals and long beans. The fish is fresh and tender to the core, but the gravy is a little wanting and you might feel like it could be a tad thicker and more robustly flavoured.
The fish head curry is pretty good, but the curry itself could be thicker.
Things hit an all-time high with the flower crab masala (RM99.90+ per kg) which features crabs still in their sturdy carapace surrounded by a hedonistically good masala, which in turn is buoyed by the addition of copious amounts of curry leaves and crunchy bits of onion.
This crab masala is ridiculously good – the crab meat is plump and silken and worth the time required to excavate the meat from its hard shell. And the masala is a true thing of beauty – spice-infused and packed with flavour. And together? Well, you couldn’t ask for better things to be in your mouth.
Peppery undertones punctuate the bone marrow pepper masala, which features tender bone marrow juxtaposed against a potently good masala.
The bone marrow pepper masala (RM79.90+) picks up where the crab left off with bone marrow suffused in a masala that has fiery pepper undertones underscored by punchy hits of ginger. It’s the sort of masala that is likely to clear nasal passages and leave you feeling lighter and more clear-headed than when you arrived. And the bone marrow itself is divine – the meat tender and well-cooked. Diners are provided with an implement to extract the marrow and here you’ll discover rich bone marrow fat that is putty-soft and unctuous with a buttery underbelly.
The flower crab masala hits all the right high notes, with perfectly cooked crab and a masala that is triumphantly good.
More goodness is on the way with the fish puttu (RM35.90+) which is a great rendition of a classic Indian dish popular in south India. Kumar’s version combines milk shark fish, dried chillies, curry leaves and grated coconut in what proves to be a memorable pairing where every element is incredibly well-balanced. The fish here is flaky and underscored by nutty tropical notes from the coconut while the spice element runs as an undercurrent throughout, punctuating the meal with the flavours of the Indian sub-continent.
The fried chicken features a winning combination of perfectly crispy skin and tender meat. – SAMUEL ONG/The Star
Although fried chicken is a fairly common offering at most Indian joints, Kumar’s fried chicken (RM17.90+) is really something else. Here, crispy, crackly skin yields to meat that is incredibly tender and juicy in what can only be described as finger-licking-good fried chicken that could seriously give KFC a run for its money.
Wash down all that goodness with a glass of ginger chai (RM9.90). Made with fresh Bentong ginger, the tea is soothing and strong (although a touch sweet) with pronounced ginger notes guaranteed to send you happily on your way.
The fish puttu features delicate, flaky shark fish against a backdrop of grated coconut, dried chillies and curry leaves in what proves to be a memorable union.
Although Kumar’s has been doing well since moving to the new location, the brand has no intention of spreading its wings just yet.
“We have a lot of offers, but the owner does not want to franchise, because once we do that, the quality will not be monitored as closely. So it’s not just about opening many outlets, because many chains were good when they started, but lost the plot after franchising. So we don’t want to go that way – we just want to maintain the quality here,” says Devandran.
LG-5-01, Arcoris Plaza
10, Jalan Kiara, Mont Kiara
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-6412 2969
Open daily: 11am to 3pm; 5pm to 10.30pm (open Fri to Sun for breakfast from 7.30am to 10.30am)
Savour Texas Chicken’s new crunchy deals for only RM5.50 per combo.
Craving for a burst of delicious juicy flavours in your mouth? Perhaps something that is toasted yet tender? Maybe something that crunches with every bite you take? Feel like having it all but afraid it will burn a hole in your wallet?
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For those craving a juicy crisp crust patty, the Texas Chicken Classic Burger is now part of the deal.
For those craving a juicy crisp crust patty, the Texas Chicken Classic Burger is now part of the deal.
Additionally, the toasted-to-perfection Texas Chicken Tender Wrap is an option for those who yearn for a chicken tender wrapped snugly in a toasted tortilla – the perfect snack for those on the go.
Texas Chicken Tender Wrap is the perfect snack for those on the go.
Texas Chicken fans can also enjoy a big, juicy and crunchy Fried Chicken (1PC) with the Crunchy Deals. Each combo deal comes with a regular-sized soft drink with free refills.
Perhaps you are in search of a warmer and softer alternative for the tummy?
Fret not, as the last Crunchy Deal combo presents the Texas Chicken Porridge – comfort food ready to save the day with freshly cooked tender chicken chunks. Foodies can now enjoy their porridge with either a cup of coffee or tea as an option too.
Texas Chicken Porridge is comfort food with freshly cooked tender chicken chunks.
That’s not all. With an additional RM1.50 you can pair your Crunchy Deals combo with a selection of sides such as the creamy and tangy coleslaw, the silky, savoury mashed potatoes, or the popular honey-butter biscuits that is generously drizzled with honey butter.
This wallet-friendly deal is now available at all Texas Chicken outlets in Malaysia (except for KLCC, KLIA2 and SkyAvenue Resorts World Genting).
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Texas Chicken’s all-new Crunchy Deals are now available at Texas Chicken all day everyday.
Banana leaf meals are one of life’s greatest pleasures. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of sitting down at a crowded restaurant, having someone hand you a fresh banana leaf and then watching as your server ladles all manner of delicious vegetables, curries and other bits and bobs that make up a traditional banana leaf meal.
Aunty Manju’s has become my go-to place for a yummy banana leaf meal, especially on weekends when my husband and baby girl come along for the ride (she’s going to be a huge banana leaf fan someday!).
The eatery has become incredibly popular since it first opened a few years ago. Try heading there for lunch on a weekend and you’ll know what I mean! The place is perpetually thronging with other banana leaf aficionados, and with good reason.
The banana leaf meals at Aunty Manju’s seem to be prepared with more love than garden variety banana leaf restaurants. The kitchen staff have apparently been trained by the eponymous Aunty Manju herself (otherwise known as Manchula Kandasamy), so I’d wager that the recipes are trawled from her extensive repository.
You can opt to upgrade your basic banana leaf meal at Aunty Manju’s with fried chicken or the eatery’s famed mutton bone marrow curry and crab curry.
A basic banana leaf meal at Aunty Manju’s costs RM8.50. The meal begins when the customary fresh banana leaf is placed on your table. This is followed by four very generous servings of vegetables, including the eatery’s popular taufu sambal, which is spicy and laden with flavour. Then the other accoutrements arrive in the form of rice, and a choice of chicken or fish curry (you can opt for dal if you’re vegetarian).
I would highly recommend the fish curry, as it is incredibly full of flavour and has lovely fishy undertones, swirled in with spices. You’ll also get as many crunchy papadoms as you want and a serving of piping-hot rasam (a tamarind-based South Indian soup that aids digestion) which is delightful and hits all the right piquant spots.
The fried chicken at Aunty Manju’s is sooo good – crispy skin yields to tender, juicy meat inside.
You can also opt to pimp your banana leaf meal with additional accoutrements, like the fish cutlets (RM3.50 a piece) which are a little like croquettes, with a crispy batter coating a filling that includes potatoes, fish, curry leaves and an assortment of spices. The fish cutlets at Aunty Manju’s are stuffed with lots of fish (some eateries cheat and use more potato instead) and are bursting with flavour. It’s easy to fall in love with these little morsels of delight, so my advice is to order at least two for yourself – just in case your dinner companion wants a “taste” and ends up finishing it, which has been known to happen (I’m looking at you, husband!).
Aunty Manju’s is also renowned for its fried chicken (RM8.50 for a single serving). Portions are actually really generous, so you could potentially share a single serving. The fried chicken is excellent – lightly crispy on the outside, with tender, juicy meat inside.
To cap your meal, have a glass of hot masala tea (RM4.50). The tea is made with fresh milk and and has lightly spice-laden flavours running through it. It’s a liquid delight that soothes and sates in equal measure and provides a lovely denouement to your meal here.
The restaurant is perpetually packed, especially on weekends at lunch time.
18 Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1
Taman Tun Dr Ismail
60000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-7733 5954
Open daily 7am to 1am