Monday, December 17, 2007
Korean fried chicken with my cousin
I don’t know anyone like my cousin Young. She’s a writer, a former award-winning journalist who’ll urge me to read James Salter and Henry Miller, almost in the same breath as she’s pressing upon me a mix CD consisting mainly of Charlotte Church. She’s a good Korean girl, a daughter who respects and honors her parents in a way that makes Mulan seem selfish, and yet she also holds her liquor better than anyone I have ever met. She once did an oil painting of a bag of Funions—without irony. The girl loves Hot Pockets. The most amazing thing is that she doesn’t surprise herself at all, nor is she trying to surprise anyone else. Young is simply who she is.
It’s hard to say what I enjoyed more the other night, her company or the delicate, crispy skin on the fried chicken we were eating. It may sound as if I am not respecting my cousin as much as I claim, but Korean fried chicken is spectacular. I could explain how it is different from the Southern-style fried chicken Americans know, except the New York Times already did it last winter. It caused a minor sensation, at least in my food-obsessed world. Chowhounds from all over the world were asking desperately, “Where, oh, where can I find Korean fried chicken?” Although in New York, you have to go specifically to Koreatown in midtown Manhattan, or to Queens, it is possibly in Seoul to simply decide, as we did, that you want fried chicken and wander until you find it.
This particular place was called TO:UR Fried Chicken, a classic Korean-English abbreviation of “Top Our Fried Chicken,” close to the Shinsegae Department Store in Myungdong, a very young neighborhood of energetic shopping and drinking. (As a general tip, any place with the sign “Hof,” a bastardization of the German word “hofbrau,” will serve beer, soju, and fried chicken.) As hofs go, it was spiffy, with a bright red and black décor that was reasonably clean and attractive. As the night went on, it got more and more crowded with a good mixed crowd, businessmen, middle-aged women, and us, all happily eating fried chicken and drinking beer.
The chicken was just as it should be, moist, ungreasy, and delicious. Koreans fry the whole chicken and then cut it up into pieces, serving it unadorned with just a dish of salt and pepper for dipping or coating it in a sticky, sweet, slightly spicy sauce. For 14,000 won, or about $15, we got half an order of each, as well as the usual accompaniments of shredded cabbage-cole slaw and cubes of pickled radish. We each got a big stein of beer, simple and refreshing. The more we drank, the hungrier we got, so we ordered another half order of plain fried chicken and shared another large mug of beer. I am not ashamed to admit we ate one and a half chickens in total.
It was a lovely dinner. We talked, we laughed, we drank, and we ate. Even though I’ve always loved and admired Young for all the ways in which she differs from me, it was nice to learn that we do share a key core value, a passion for Korean fried chicken.