Arts & Leisure

By Joseph L. GarciaReporter

The many flavors of Korean fried chicken

Posted on December 08, 2016

SOUTH KOREA, the land of delicate beauties, delicate buildings, and elegant, subtle cuisine. Apparently, you can also go wild there: grab a pair of tongs, and use that to stuff pieces of fried chicken in your mouth and wash everything down with a chug of beer.

BULSAZO (Atomic Bomb), chicken chunks coated in Oppa Chicken’s spiciest bulsazo sauce, P360
This is the surprising setup in Pasig’s Oppa Chicken. Although in informal settings, you’re kind of expected to eat fried chicken with your fingers (plastic gloves are provided), a pair of tongs are also set on your table, which you pick up and use to eat your chicken, going at it with your mouth while it dangles tantalizingly.

We’re used to three flavors of Korean fried chicken, a sweet-spicy chili variety, an all-out spicy one, and a milder soy-garlic flavor.

This restaurant spoils with an option of eight flavors, each of which BusinessWorld went through. Chanyang An, product development manager for Oppa Chicken, said that the multiple choices on their menu sprang from the poverty of choices in other Korean fried chicken outlets.

“When we tried it, we were not satisfied with the flavor,” she said of Oppa’s competitors. “They’re not really carrying all kinds of different flavors.”

The meal started out with a bowl of Atomic Wings, extra-spicy and almost masochistic. The heat -- borne by chili paste, chili powder, ginger, and other spices -- feels like it’s giving the tongue a bruising you were asking for; and a lingering heat like a spicy evening. This reporter isn’t sure he didn’t sprout a chest hair or two during this exercise.

Next came a gentler option, Chicken Padak, light chicken fingers sprinkled with green onions with a nutty sweetish sauce, the combination of which tricks you that you’re eating something healthy.

To relax the palate, a cold pasta dish with cucumber, leeks, poke sauce was passed around, with a secret ingredient: sea snails, which left an exotic taste which whetted one’s appetite.

Just as well, because we weren’t done yet. The next dish was similarly gentle: a salt and pepper-seasoned chicken that tasted relaxingly like Jollibee’s Chickenjoy, a comforting option after the exoticism of the others.

Next came a baked chicken option, with a smoky and complex taste and soft, cloudy, innocuous skin. A roasted chicken came after, with a tangy taste and a smoky edge. Finally, guests were served the Cheese Snowing, something to look forward to, coated with cheese powder, it tasted like an indulgent childhood with memories of cheese-flavored Pringles and thoughts of how wonderful life could have been if your parents had allowed you to dust all your meals with cheese powder.

Ms. An said that the recipes took three years to perfect. All of the sauces and marinades are shipped from Korea. This seems to be a recurring theme for most of the restaurants under the No Limits Food, Inc., which owns Oppa Chicken, along with other brands such as Modern China, Modern Sichuan, Ogawa, and K-Pub BBQ, among others, where many of the ingredients are shipped from the country of the cuisine’s origin. Furthermore, each restaurant is staffed by at least one national.

When asked how close to authentic the Korean experience is in Oppa Chicken, Ms. An said that the experience would be 99% accurate. The 1% difference, she added, comes from having different vegetables.

Oppa Chicken is located in Portico Pasig.