Where to Get the Spicy, Crispy Chicken That Has Become a Korean Trademark

Poultry is trending.

This story is part of our OUT OF ASIA feature. Click HERE to read more from our deep dive into Milwaukee’s Asian dining scene.

Korean fried chicken is a mega trend in cities across the United States, but it hasn’t taken off quite so meteorically here in MKE. That begs the question, why not? It’s finger- licking, spice-kicking coating is captivating. Some food scholars argue that Koreans’ first exposure to fried chicken was when Americans brought it to the region during the post-Korean War years.

The sweet-spicy marinades – made with the fermented chile paste gochujang – that are popular now were created in part to appeal to Koreans’ tastes. The batter on KFC (not Kentucky!) tends to be a little lighter, less like the firmer, thick-clumpy coating on Americans’ deep-fried birds. In Korea, fried chicken is so commonly eaten with beer that the combo has its own term – chi-maek – a blend of the English word for chicken and the Korean word for beer (maekju). 




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If you’re craving some sweet-spicy fried chicken after reading this, I can’t blame you. In Milwaukee, its not-very-wide presence comes in wing form – for instance the garlicky, saucy and plump KFC chicken wings at Third Ward Korean-fusion restaurant Char’d (222 E. Erie St., 414-885-2611).

Crispy fried poultry is more of a focus at Merge, a sibling of Char’d located on the East Side (1932 E. Kenilworth Pl., 414-226-5160), where you can get it as a sandwich in patty form topped with spicy mayo, pickles and pepper jack cheese. Wings are also available (flats and drumsticks) and come in six flavor options, including sweet & spicy (gochujang). Our city needs more of this trend!



Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.