Text and images by Elaine Ng @ Makansutra
Move aside, Colonel Sanders, and make room for the latest Korean craze: yangnyeom tongdak (Korean Fried Chicken or KFC). Made popular in USA as well as in its native country, the dish is a modern take; created when the Koreans, who have always loved fried chicken, decided to give it a newer spin — bearing in mind taste, convenience and familiarity.
The moist, tender chicken meat under a thin, ultra-crispy exterior is made possible with the use of smaller cornish chicken as used in the equally famous traditional dish of samgyetang (Korean ginseng soup). The size of the chicken makes it easier to handle, be it when coating evenly in flour or for double deep-frying, which minimises absorption of fats, and creates the perfect crust. The resulting small drumlets and wings – often drizzled in various sticky, well-glazed dressings – make popular finger snacks enjoyed with beer or soju at fast food joints and bars.
With the arrival of crowd-pleasing NeNe Chicken in Singapore, we now have at least seven places we may turn to for this finger-licking good sustenance. We check out five.
1. NeNe ChickenSingapore Star Vista, 1 Vista Green Exchange, #01-24 Opens 11am to 10pm daily
The name NeNe Chicken is not a cheeky brand name invention by the boss. “Ne” simply means yes in Korea. The fast food joint isthe newest kid in the block in Singapore though Koreans will be familiar with nearly a thousand of its outlets at home. Plus, TV drama Running Man fans would recognise its spokesperson, popular Korean TV host Yoo Jae Suk.
There are five basic flavours to choose from: Black Sesame, Green Onion, Swicy, Freaking Hot and Snowing Cheese. Like established fast food models, they come in value sets. We went for the four-piece Swicy meal ($7.90), which came with cubed pickled radish, thin cajun-peppered buffalo fries and a soda. Two wings and two drumlets came doused in an amalgamation of ketchup, garlic, onion, soy sauce and little chilli.
Out of the seven places we visited, NeNe Chicken has the juiciest drumlets. However, the sauce was a tad too starchy and was sweet rather than spicy. The spice fiends in us regretted not going for the Freaking Hot version.
We also went for NeNe POP! ($5.90) just for the fun of it.The smart packaging — a tall cup with a customised container, which allows a straw to reach the iced soda beneath — is as handy as the portion is stingy. There were only six to eight pieces of popcorn chicken and four hash browns.
2. 4Fingers Crispy Chicken Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #B4-06A Opens 8am to 10pm daily
Thumbs up for 4Fingers, easily one of our favourite Korean fried chicken (KFC) establishment. A three-piece drumstick combo ($10.95), including fries and soda, can come in a mix of the only two sauces available here: soy garlic and hot.
Though bland, the meat slips off easily as our teeth sank through the crackly crust. Unlike the other establishments, Four Fingers’ thin but flavourful layer of sticky sauce avoided overkill. The hot sauce also packs a more powerful punch with evident bits of gochujang (hot pepper sauce). If these big drumsticks prove to be too much, order the tart kimchi coleslaw ($3.50) to encourage your appetite. This unlikely combination is surprisingly yummy!
3. BonChon Singapore Bugis+, 201 Victoria Street, #01-03 Opens 10am to 10.30pm daily
BonChon has claimed place in the hearts of many Americans in USA. But the local rendition leaves much to be desired, especially with several strong competitors in Singapore now. While not impolite, service is slow and the food came less piping hot than appreciated. We thanked the food gods for blessing us with chances at other Korean fried chicken establishments before BonChon — otherwise, this review would be unfairly pleasant.
At 5pm on a weekday, it took 45 minutes for our medium combo of six wings and two drumlets ($15.90), with our choice of pickled radish side (others include steamed rice, kimchi, coleslaw and edamame),to arrive. The crust was hard and crunchy rather than lightly crisp while the little meat hanging on the bones was dry and terribly bland. No copious amount of savoury soy garlic and tangy hot sauce could compensate for the lack in flavour; the sauces were wasted on the sad chicken.
4. Woori Nara 19 Lorong Kilat, #01-02 Opens Monday to Saturday 11.30am to 2.30pm & 5.30pm to 12am, Sunday 5pm to 12am
Instead of a crackly thin exterior, the boneless tenders of Woori Nara’s sampler set ($20 for nine pieces in three different sauces) boasts soft, crumbly crusts like KFC’s crispy chicken save that it is less greasy and sans the fats within. The meat is succulent and juicy, and goes well whether doused in sweet soy garlic or spicy chilli sauce. Be a tad weary of the lavish amounts of sauce that comes along with KFC, but the naked tenders dipped into a light tangy mustard sauce here, was a welcomed change.
More than just a fast food joint, Woori Nara is a restaurant that serves other traditional Korean cuisine including a doughy but crisp seafood pancake and a tasty spicy bean curd stew. We would avoid the tasteless jajangmyeon though.
5. KkoKko Nara 57 Tras street, #01-01 Opens 11am to 3pm & 5pm to 3am daily
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, we entered the dimly lit restaurant filled with Koreans, both singles and families. Noticing that most tables had a platter of fried chicken, we looked forward to the arrival of our Small Chicken Combo Set ($20 at lunchtime, $25 at dinnertime) with great expectations.
The piping hot platter — a mix of original, soy garlic as well as sweet and spicy — took less than 15 minutes to arrive. The star of the dish for us would be the soy garlic KFC sporting several bits of diced garlic, and we judge the herb to be aromatic rather than pungent. The sweet and spicy version had a strong barbeque taste and was cloyingly sweet with no hint of chilli at all. While not as moist and tender as NeNe Chicken’s, KkoKko Nara’s fried chicken makes up in size as well as crispiness.