BONCHON VS KYOCHON: THE GREAT LOS ANGELES KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN DEBATE
Neither me or my lunchtime companion were sure what the hell they were. Two small, white discs had been placed in front of us, alongside a bowl of water and a salad meant to keep us occupied until our starters arrived.
My friend, Aaron Tell, author of the fun new blog Savory Hunter raised a quizzical eyebrow. I even took a sneaky bite on one, thinking it might be the Korean equivalent of an Extra Strong Mint, meant to cleanse the palate after the meal of spicy chicken we were both anticipating.
Aaron, the more sensible of the two of us, finally summoned up the courage to ask “er, excuse me, what are these?” as the young, saucer eyed waitress returned to the table carrying a couple of plates. “They are towels” she replied, slightly bemused that we had not figured it out. “You put them in the bowl of water”
I took one of the small discs and plopped it in the bowl, where it immediately began to swell into a very definite towel of the hand variety. Aaron nodded sagely as the waitress walked away. I looked down at the ground, pleased that there were only a handful of people in Bon Chon Fried Chicken to see my rapid transformation from renowned food traveller to the world’s premiere piece of cheese. Still, as embarrassment goes, it lags far, far behind the time I drank a finger bowl at a Hong Kong restaurant and compounded my faux pas by declaring drunkenly that “only the Chinese could make a stock this delicious”
Aaron and I had decided to spend our lunchtime conducting an experiment to see which of two popular Korean Fried Chicken restaurants was the best. We began at Bon Chon Chicken in K-Town, where after the hand towel debacle (let us never speak of it again) we were presented with a plate of Teokochi (rice cake skewers) to nibble on during the twenty-five minutes it would take for our chicken to be cooked to order. I am told they are a popular street food in Korea and, while I seemed to enjoy their slightly chewy consistency more than Aaron, both of us agreed that there would be little reason to order them again.
By the time we had finished our starter, our shared portion of chicken had arrived. A medium portion of wings and drumsticks in the house style “Hot Spicy” sauce. The fresh preparation was obvious. Each portion was piping hot. The skin had bubbled up during the frying process and now glistened in its final coating of a sweet, sour, spicy sauce. The chicken was deliciously moist, but that sauce while looking the part, lacked fire and ended up giving only one note of flavour. Not bad, however and I would still kill for a place like this back in London. But, I suspected better was to come.
In fact, I knew better was to come because I had visited our next port of call, KyoChon before with Sybil. The format is similar to BonChon, a small salad to whet your appetite and a limited menu of chicken in a variety of sauces all cooked to order. To make a fair comparison, we ordered the same combination of wings and drumsticks or “sticks” and in their own equivalent of the hot, sweet sauce.
The waitress asked us if we were sure we wanted the hot variety and we understood why the moment they arrived. Rather than the drab brown of the BonChon chicken, KyoChon serves their wings and things in a day-glo orange sauce that is, quite frankly arse blisteringly hot. It is far from unpleasant, but enough to raise a sweat and to bring a few tears to the eyes. In every respect the KyoChon chicken was the superior of its local rival. The skin had a better crunch, the sauce had that real kick and the meat inside was even more moist.
Once again, we polished off our order bar a token few pieces for me to take home to Sybil and paid our bill, which as in BonChon, came to an agreeable $20 including tip between the two of us. $20 each over all for lunch and very good value considering how full we both were as we left KyonChon, blinking in the sunlight.
So, there you go. In both our humble opinions, KyoChon wins the Los Angeles division of the Korean fried chicken wars. But then, you also have to take into consideration that this useful information is brought to you by two people who did hot have the nouse to recognise a hand towel, one of whom once declared the murky contents of a finger bowl the most delicious soup he had ever tried.