Koreans love their fried chicken. Go to any decent sized town in this country and you'll find a shop dedicated to selling greasy wings in vast quantities. It's good for meals, as a snack, or as a late night "let's get drunk and eat something unhealthy" food. No, it's not part of the traditional rice, kimchi, and soup diet, but for fried chicken, Koreans bend the rules. Chungju alone has an array of options for the connoisseur. There are the standard franchises like Chicken Maru and Hoolala. Chicken Maru decorates it's storefront with Egg Ninjas. And Hoolala has one of the most existentially depressing commercials I've ever seen. But they both sell some tasty chicken, and are a ten minute walk of our front door.
If you're looking for something more exotic, there's dalk bal (aka chicken feet). Not much meat, but super spicy, judging by the ad on the restaurant around the corner.
We haven't tried that yet, but we hear it's delicious. Or, if you're feeling in the mood for something a little more familiar, just get pa dalk (onion chicken).
Yes, that's a massive plate of fried chicken with a pile of green onions on top. No, it really doesn't need to get any more complicated than that. It's delicious. And it used to be our favorite.
Until we went to Sokcho... and wandered down to the fish market... and ran into a wall of humanity forming one of the most epic lines we'd ever seen. Erin went to investigate and came back looking excited.
"You're kidding," I said after she told me. "All this for fried chicken?"
"Yup," Erin replied. "And I'd just like to point out, you're in the line too."
"I didn't want to lose our place in case it was something good," I said.
"You didn't even know what it was a minute ago."
"Details. How long until we get to the counter?"
"Um, well. Okay, do you see way down there? The guy wearing the white hood with the little green cap on top?" Erin said.
"No," I replied, squinting.
"He's by the metal rack there. He's kind of dressed like an Oompa Loompa."
I gave her a look. "There is something wrong with you."
"Hey, I didn't pick out his clothes."
I look at the line. "They must make this stuff with crack."
"I know, right?" Erin said. "There's already, like, forty people behind us." She frowned. "It might be a while before we get dinner."
I raised an eyebrow. "We are not leaving. Half of Korea gave up their Thursday night to buy this stuff. There's no way we're skipping that."
So we waited. And then we waited some more.
After most of an hour we managed to get close enough to smell our goal. And it was heaven, like fried deliciousness and honey. Another twenty minutes, and we were muscling our way to the counter to order a box. Then we dashed back to our motel like thieves salivating at our loot.
Two pieces of advice if you ever try this stuff:
1) Be prepared to eat vast quantities.
If this chicken is not made from crack, then it is made from the next best thing. It is garlic-honey-glazed, crispy joy. And you will not be able to stop eating it. You will cram it in with the mindless intensity of a starving, unsupervised teenager at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Because it is just that good. It's the full sensory experience, a carnival of awesome in every bite.
2) Make sure you get the mild, or that you are prepared for the consequences of the hot.
Erin and I sat on the motel bed, staring in mute horror at the half-demolished box of chicken. We annihilated it. We ate like rabid wolves. And this was in spite of accidentally getting the super spicy.
"You wa me ta ge some milk?" I asked around a mouthful of agony.
Erin nodded, dazed, covered in a sticky sheen of honey sauce.
I waddled down to the corner store, got two half-cartons of milk, and waddled back. We chugged. Then we sighed with relief.
Now that my mouth wasn't melting, I had a chance to survey the carnage. I looked around in a food-coma daze, startled at the amount of deep-fried meat I'd just stuffed into my straining stomach. Erin seemed similarly stunned.
"I think we found the chicken of tomorrow," she murmured.
I nodded. "And it is definitely kicking the chicken of today's butt. You want to get some more on Friday?"
"Yes," Erin breathed. "But next time, we're getting the mild."
P.S. We're doing a series of articles about our vacation to Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park. This is part two of four. You can find the first article, Erin's piece about Seoraksan, here. The others will be up next week!
Also, if you want to try this chicken yourself, head down to the Sokcho traditional market, shown in the map below. It's a large, rambling structure, and there are a lot of shops selling fried chicken. But look for the name on the box or just follow the line to the store.