It’s drool-worthy, crispy, and when well-cooked, aces the crunch test. Sound familiar? Indeed, one type of dish that exhibits all of these qualities is fried food.

During my trip to South Korea this summer, I realized how much fried food I’ve come across. From street food to hotel buffet delicacies, fried dishes have been a popular staple in Korean cuisine, with its origins dating back all the way to the Korean War. As the opening chapter of my ongoing South Korean vacation food diary, I’d like to highlight some of the fried foods I’ve come across:

#1: Korean Fried Chicken

When I say KFC, I don’t mean Kentucky Fried Chicken— I’m referring to Korean fried chicken. The top of my list is reserved for the iconic fried chicken unique to South Korean cuisine: an abundance of diverse marinades, chicken parts, and batters to choose from. After a long day at work, spending hours studying at the library, or even just chilling beside the Hangang River, fried chicken is a go-to choice for comfort food, most popularly paired with a bottle of ice-cold beer or cola. These combinations are so common that Koreans adopted nicknames for them: “chimaekfor chicken and maekju (beer), or “chicol for chicken and cola.

Korean fried chicken has its origins from the Korean War in the 1950s. With the lack of turkeys in the country, U.S. troops who spent their Thanksgiving holiday stationed in Korea decided to celebrate the holiday by frying chicken, according to Food Worth Writing For. Particularly, the African American troops stationed in Korea introduced the method of frying chicken, and thus the concept of soul food to local citizens. Although it didn’t become popular until years later, fried chicken has now become one of the most loved, popular, and accessible foods in South Korea. As of February 2019, there were about 87,000 fried chicken restaurants operating within the country, including popular chain restaurants like BBQ Chicken, Nene Chicken, and Kyochon Chicken

In contrast with chicken in the U.S., Korean fried chicken restaurants offer a wider variety of chicken parts that customers can order, as well as different marinades. For instance, the Kyochon Chicken menu offers the option of ordering boneless pieces, just the legs, one whole chicken, wings, or even a combination of wings and legs. Not to mention, on top of the original crispy fried chicken, they also offer different marinades such as soy garlic, honey, balsamic, and spicy red pepper. Like Kyochon, other chain restaurants sometimes offer a distinct array of their own unique marinades as well. My recent order from Kyochon Chicken consisted of soy garlic-marinated wings, as well as one whole crispy fried chicken.

Amy Chun

As you can see, I still daydream about the perfect crunch echoing in my ears as I took my first bite of the crispy chicken. Not only that, but the soy-garlic chicken was seasoned to perfection. Crispy on the outside, while juicy and warm on the inside, my taste buds were pleasantly satisfied with this meal. From this moment on, I decided that Korean fried chicken truly is in a league of its own. If you have the opportunity to visit South Korea one day, I definitely recommend stopping by a fried chicken restaurant — it’s a must-try!

#2: Twigim (Fried Tempuras)

Because of the pandemic, the normally fully-packed streets of food vendors, commonly found in Seoul, were reduced immensely. Street foods are one of the most popular types of snacks Koreans enjoy on the go and have been ever since the Joseon dynasty around the year 1300. During this time period, selling food on the streets was a convenient way to make a living for the low-income bracket. Much like the origins of Korean fried chicken, the act of selling street food began to flourish during the Korean War. Now, whether it be in the subway stations, in front of large malls, or even in specialized outdoor markets of their own, it’s not hard to find someone selling street food. Although there are a plethora of foods included in this category, focusing on the fried aspect will lead you straight to twigim, or fried tempuras.

Twigim includes, but is not limited to, deep-fried squid pieces, sweet potato, dumplings, pumpkin, shrimp, spicy pepper, vegetables, and much, much more. These fried delicacies are easy to spot, as they are often displayed in humongous stacks, while the mouth-watering aroma of freshly fried batter wafts through the streets. With a crispy, crunchy exterior packed fully to the brim with the tastiest fillings, what more can you ask for? My personal favorites are the deep-fried sweet potato and the squid. A tip to enjoy these fried delicacies to the fullest is dipping these tempuras in spicy, sweet tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) sauce- it takes the experience to a whole other level. 

Amy Chun

#3: Hotteok (Sweet Korean Pancakes)

Another type of fried street food is hotteok, or sweet Korean pancakes. Most popular during the winter months, these pancakes give off a pleasantly sweet, irresistible aroma that is sure to satisfy a sweet craving. These soft, doughy pancakes are crisp on the outside, and hot on the inside when served fresh off the griddle. Fillings can range from grain syrup, honey, and brown sugar, paired along with crushed peanuts, sunflower seeds, nuts, and more. Years of experimentation have led to variations in fillings, including cheese, kimchi, and vegetables, giving these pancakes a more savory twist! 

Amy Chun

#3: Korean Hot Dog

Korean hot dogs have been a recently rising phenomenon in South Korea and are slowly becoming more common to find in the U.S. Hot dogs have been a popular staple in street food that has risen to fame in the 1990s. Despite starting off as simple as a sausage on a stick covered in thick, doughy batter, more experimentation has, again, led to a boom in popularity of this dish.

Now, it’s not uncommon to see cheese instead of a sausage filling, or sliced potato cubes included in the batter, adding to an extra-crispy, savory exterior. Fresh out of the fryer, vendors often sprinkle sugar on the outside to give these dogs a sweet and savory kick. A popular vendor of these hot dogs is the chain restaurant Myungryang Hotdog, which sells various types of hotdogs. I had the opportunity to try the classic myungryang hotdog, or plain sausage covered with a crispy crust. Needless to say, since my first time trying them, I was always on the lookout for these hotdogs wherever I went.

Amy Chun

#4: Lotteria

Last but not least on this list is Lotteria, a popular fast-food chain restaurant. Originally opened in 1972 in Tokyo, the first store in South Korea opened in Sogong-dong, Seoul in 1979. A nostalgic restaurant for my parents’ generation, I love seeing when my mom’s eyes light up, telling me about her experience going with her family to try the restaurant for the first time as a child. According to her, there were so many people in the restaurant that her older brother had to push and shove his way to even place an order!

On top of a menu closely rivaling that of McDonald’s, Lotteria also offers Korean fried chicken (wings and whole chicken). Along with beef burgers, Lotteria offers shrimp burgers as well as chicken burgers. Having never tried a shrimp burger in the U.S. before, I decided to give it a go. With the quality of the packaging, perfectly crispy exterior, and warm, juicy filling of the shrimp patty, it was difficult to believe that Lotteria was merely a fast-food chain restaurant. I also had the chance to try their Korean fried chicken, only to feel the same awe and wonder afterward. Although this restaurant might be average in the eyes of Korean citizens, I felt like I was eating a gourmet meal.

Amy Chun

Nonetheless, fried food in South Korea continues to evolve immensely, and dare I say, rivals that of the American south. As one of the greatest highlights of my trip here, I think the memories of trying these fried foods will reside in a special place in my heart for the years to come.