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!