Eating fried chicken wings, rice cakes, and fish-egg soup at Red Wings ― all with beer and soju cocktails ― made me wonder about how these foods would be eaten in Korea. Were they drinking snacks? Street foods? Were they meant to be a full meal? So I conducted an e-mail interview with my pal Jennifer Flinn, who runs the bilingual food blog FatMan Seoul (there's a long story behind the name) and is about to appear in PBS's upcoming Kimchi Chronicles. Jennifer, whose devotion to Korean food is exuberant and encyclopedic in its scope, took me out on a number of eating and drinking tours of the Korean capital when I was there a few years ago.
SFoodie: Is Korean fried chicken usually served by itself, or as an anju, with drinks?
Flinn: Fried chicken is served usually on its own ... but as an anju. Part of the
reason for this is that most chicken hof are specialized, and either
only serve chicken or serve it as part of a limited menu (these places
usually serve stuff like snail and noodle salad, fruit platters, and
French fries ― but just chicken is pretty normal). Families and young
people order the chicken as a takeout or delivery meal, but most of the people
who go to the chicken restaurant are looking to drink beer as well as
In Seoul, is the chicken usually plain or sauced?
Both sauced and unsauced versions are popular. The unsauced version is
usually served with a side of sauce and/or salt to dip it in. The
sauced versions are generally sweet and spicy, with lots of garlic.
Another variation is to just finely mince a large handful of garlic and
toss it on top of the chicken right as it comes out of the fryer.
American-style BBQ sauce isn't unheard of, but is a little harder to
find, and you also sometimes run across honey-mustard dipping sauce.
latest variations here are using rice instead of wheat flour for the
breading, and some places are experimenting with sweeter sauces, like
lemon-honey. In any case, most places will let you order "pan-pan" or
half sauced and half not. I'd say the half-and-half version is
probably the most popular.
Are drinks in Korea ever served without food?
Virtually never. Very cutting-edge, fancy cocktail bars might let you
just order a drink. A hotel bar will let you have a drink without
ordering food. But it's almost unheard of for a normal Korean drinking
establishment to let you only order booze ― partially because beer,
soju, and makgeolli are so inexpensive. It's hard to make a profit
What foods qualify as anju? Fried chicken? Ramen? Duk bokgi?
Anju really depend on the place, but I'd say the most common are:
- fruit salad and fruit platters
- French fries
- stir-fried kimchi and tofu
- snail salad and snails with noodles
- acorn jelly salad
- assorted batter-fried meats and vegetables
- seafood, green onion, and kimchi pancakes
- fried chicken
- dried squid, cuttlefish, and octopus
- dried fish
- stir-fried baby octopus
no real strict definition of what makes a food anju and what's not ... it's more where it's served and under what circumstances. They almost
always come in a very large portion so you can share them with all your