Ask any Korean what is their favourite snack to eat while drinking beer, & you will probably hear “fried chicken” many times. Although Korean fried chicken (KFC) has been a popular snack to the locals for as long as they can remember, I think the surge in popularity of KFC to foreigners became such a phenomenon after the Korean hit drama “My Love From the Star” (별에서 온 그대) was aired from December 2013 to February 2014.
Restaurants selling Chi-Maek (치맥), i.e. the combination of fried chicken and beer, are located everywhere in Korea. But special mention must be made to Suwon in Gyeonggi-do, because there is a special Chicken Street (통닭거리) here dedicated to chicken restaurants with more than 30 years of tradition. Instead of frying chicken in a frying pan, the traditional restaurants here prefer to fry or roast the chicken in an iron pot (가마솥).
Prior to arriving in Suwon, I was advised by my Korean friends to try the unique chicken here at least once, although I’ve been warned I may not be able to finish it alone. Their recommendation was the same as the Korea Tourism Organisation personnel (whose hometown is in Suwon), that I should give either Jinmi Chicken (진미통닭) or Yongsung Chicken (용성통닭) a try. Since I only had a light lunch (or should I say it’s a snack – only 4 pieces of Samjin fish cakes + a piece of Gyeongju bread bought at Busan Station :P) before taking the almost-3-hour KTX journey to Suwon, I was famished when I checked in to hotel. The friendly hotel female staff advised me to give Jinmi a miss but instead visit either Maehyang Chicken or Yongsung Chicken. As a local born & bred in Suwon, she felt that Jinmi was over-hyped by online reviews & hence the constant long queues by visitors to Suwon.
Following the directions provided by the staff, upon exiting the hotel, just turn right & go straight ahead on Paldal-ro (팔달로) for about 5 min before reaching a traffic junction. At this junction, you will find Haeggung Square (행궁광장) on your right. Make a left turn along this street & Maehyang Chicken (매향친킨) will be right before you.
Established in 1970, Maehyang Chicken has been around for 46 years, & they are proud to display banners of the restaurant being featured in popular local TV programs such as VJ 특공대, 생생정보통 etc on SBS, KBS & MBC. But I believe their banner as seen in above collage was prepared 3 years ago, since it indicated their 43 years of tradition of using the iron pot to roast their chickens. 😛
It was just after 5pm & the restaurant wasn’t very crowded. Only a few tables were occupied. But there was a constant stream of customers for the entire duration I was in the restaurant. As soon as I stepped in, I was asked “how many pax (몇분이세요)?” then ushered to a table. I didn’t even have to order my dish, except to order the drink I wanted! Within a couple of minutes, I was served my bottle of soda (칠성, KRW1,000/ S$1.20), together with the 3 types of sauces (mustard, tomato & pepper salt sauces) & side dishes (popcorn & pickled radish). The popcorn snack was quite addictive, especially with the 3 types of sauces till I couldn’t seem to stop popping them into my mouth. Oops! Or maybe I was really hungry. But I made a conscious effort to slow down the munching otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finish the chicken later. It was a good 15 min before my main dish was served:
Gosh, such a big plate of roast chicken for 1 pax (KRW14,000/ S$16.70), & I already popped half a bowl of popcorn into my stomach… I thought to myself: “don’t think too much 1st, just focus on how delicious the feast is” haha. The chicken was piping hot & even after some time, it was still piping hot with smoke & I had to eat with caution. The chicken was really crispy & flavourful, & I guess that’s the merit of cooking it in an iron pot. There was also a small plate of chicken intestines being served. Not knowing what it was at 1st, I just popped a few pieces into my mouth & surprisingly, they weren’t as smelly as I had imagined! In fact the chicken intestines were crunchy & delicious too. 😉 I spent about an hour trying my best to stuff myself with as much chicken as I could, until I felt so bloated. But there was still about a third of the chicken left! Not wanting to waste the yummy food, I asked to pack the remaining meat for takeout, before I left to explore the Hwaseong Fortress. The takeout became my supper for the night haha.
I didn’t just have 1 chicken feast in Suwon, I had 2, because I really wanted to try the famous Yongsung Chicken (용성통닭) as well! So the next day, I went to Yongsung Chicken, located in the middle of the Chicken Street for a late lunch at almost 2pm. Maybe it was too early for Chimaek, or the lunch crowd had already dispersed, there was no queue at Yongsung. Opposite Yongsung is the other famous restaurant – Jinmi Chicken, which also didn’t have a long queue like the night before. Here’s a photo collage of the 2 famous restaurants:
I took photo of Jinmi the night before after a feast at Maehyang & witnessed the horrible queue. Yongsung is closed every Wednesday so I couldn’t really compare which restaurant is more popular. 😛 Anyway, at Yongsung, there is a menu, albeit a limited one. ㅊustomers can choose from Fried Chicken (후라이드 – KRW14,000), Roast Chicken (통닭 – KRW14,000), Spicy Chicken (양념 – KRW15,000/ S$17.90), & Half Fried + Half Spicy Chicken (반반 후라이드/양념 – KRW15,000). NB: Prices indicated are for 1 pax.
For a fair comparison with Maehyang, I ordered the 통닭, & it also took about 15 min before my food arrived.
No, I didn’t order beer to accompany my chicken, although my collage said so. 😛 Too early to be drinking beer in bright daylight! Again, the food was served piping hot & it remained hot throughout. The sauces served at Yongsung differed slightly from Maehyang, because instead of pepper salt, they only provided salt. Chicken feet were found together with the chicken innards on the side plate too. My personal opinion of the dish? Yongsung is better than Maehyang! The chicken was equally fragrant, crispy & tasty, but compared to Maehyang, Yongsung’s chicken was somewhat more juicy & better marinated! It was so good that I finished more than two-thirds of the generous serving! I asked to pack the remainder to takeout again, but this time, I didn’t have it for supper. Instead, I gave it to the nice female hotel staff who was on duty in the day, since she was the one who recommended me to such great food. 🙂 She was delighted when I passed it to her, claiming that it’s her favourite chicken too.
If you are planning a visit to Suwon, be sure to put Suwon Chicken Street on your itinerary. Fried chicken may be so common that it’s found all around the world, but try some here & you will be glad to have tried this unique fried or roasted chicken cooked in the traditional method with special sauces to complement the taste!
For easy reference, here’s a map of the Suwon Chicken Street, which shows the names & locations of the 14 traditional chicken restaurants along this 200m long street. For your easy navigation, I started my chicken feast from the red circle location on the map where Maehyang is, & beside Maehyang Chicken is the Maehyang Bridge (매향교) by the stream. At the other end of the street, you will be able to see Paldalmun (팔달문, South Gate) of Hwaseong Fortress. Enjoy your feast! 🙂