Drinking Snacks and Korean Fried Chicken: Q&A with Seoul Food Blogger Jennifer Flinn

Categories: 'Eat' Extra
Jonathan Kauffman
Jennifer Flinn at a ramen-rice cake shop in Seoul. Note: She does not normally wear a bib.
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 eat.

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.

The 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 otherwise.

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

There's 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 drinking buddies.

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Sandra Shaver
Sandra Shaver

Snail salad?  I stick with the chicken, thanks.  I like the idea of sprinkling with lots of garlic after it is cooked, and of course the sauces.


Her blog is beyond awesome, but you could've also emailed any punk Korean college kid who lives in K-town, Los Angele, instead.

I also resent the fact that the Korean dishes aren't spelled phonetically. Why employ "kimchi" but not bul dalk?

Other questions: has makgeolli overtaken soju in SEL?

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