What's the difference between Korean fried chicken and Japanese fried chicken?

Fried chicken is an indelible part of our nation’s culinary landscape from the wings of Buffalo, to the hotness of Nashville, and, of course, those unmistakable craggy ridges of Kentucky. Less familiar are the oil-bathed wonders to the east. Specifically, the Far East. More specifically, Japan and South Korea, where chicken is definitely done right. Luckily, you don’t have to travel far, as both Japanese and South Korean-style fried chicken are becoming more readily available in the U.S. thanks to an influx of international chains and homegrown restaurants serving up an Asian spin on an American classic.

If you have yet to come across fried chicken on the menu at a local Japanese restaurant, try looking for the dish’s traditional name, karaage. Often offered as an appetizer, karaage begins with small chunks of flavorful dark meat which is soaked in a marinade that most often consists of soy, sake, and mirin—a harmonious marriage of salt and sweet that doesn’t overpower the chicken.

Unlike the lightly battered tempura and breaded katsu, karaage is dredged in a thick coating of potato starch. The result is flavorful, exceedingly juicy chicken housed in a crunchy crust that never seems to lose its crispiness—if ever there was fried chicken suited for a picnic, this is it.

A spray of lemon and a side of mayonnaise round out this classic Japanese snack.

While the Japanese take their karaage seriously, in South Korea, fried chicken is basically a religion. Devotees flock to the over 50,000 Korean fried chicken or KFC (here’s your obligatory “this ain’t the Colonel’s fried chicken” disclaimer) restaurants that saturate the local dining landscape. Options are plentiful, ranging from tongdak, the minimalist, whole fried bird that rose to prominence in the 1970s to the infamous, neon-colored, fruit-flavored boneless chunks courtesy of popular chain Mexicana Chicken.

Pickled radish cubes are a classic side, but by far the best accompaniment to KFC is beer. Chains specializing in chimaek (the term is a hybrid of chicken and maekju, the Korean word for beer) are wildly popular in South Korea.

Stateside, KFC (again, of the non-Double Down variety) is largely synonymous with the double-fried wings and drumsticks made popular by Kyochon, which was among the first Korean chains to set up shop in the U.S. over a decade ago. That genius double-fry technique ensures a thin crackly exterior which is brushed with a sticky sauce—garlic-soy and sweet and spicy (made with gochujang, Korean chili paste) are the most popular options.

There seems to be no end in sight to the expansion of outlets in the U.S. offering Japanese and Korean-style fried chicken. South Korean-import Bonchon spread its wings to Minnesota earlier this month while Japanese-based karaage specialist Karayama finally expanded its fried chicken empire to North America with a location in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles.

When it comes to fried chicken in America, there’s always room for more.

Related Video: How to Make the Crispiest Fried Chicken Wings Ever

Header image by Chowhound, using photos from Just One Cookbook and Korean Bapsang.

David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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