Fried chicken inspired by Korean nightlife?
It’s very very good!
The words are boldly proclaimed on a large signboard, running just below a 2D mascot of a sunglasses-sporting anthropomorphic chicken welcoming anyone who enters the premises with a thumbs-up. The restaurant is simple, if not small, and shortly after I’m seated, servers and cooks start circulating among the tables. Most of them are wearing large tags around their necks with words like Ganjang, Padak, and Salt and Pepper, and carrying bowls filled to the brim with delicious-looking servings of different kinds of chicken. Standing in Portico along Capt. Henry Javier Road in Pasig, the newly built Oppa Chicken is a Korean-themed restaurant which mainly serves a variety of—you guessed it—chicken dishes. It was launched originally in Cebu by No Limits Food Inc., and is now just opening its first few branches in Metro Manila.
Chef Chanyang An, Oppa Chicken’s product development manager and a native of South Korea, recalls that she experienced culture shock the first time she saw Filipinos eat chicken. “When, I went to a McDonald’s for the first time here, I saw the chicken meals with rice. I was so surprised!” Six years later, however, Chef Chanyang came to embrace this trend, adding a one-piece and two-piece chicken-and-rice meals in Oppa Chicken’s menu.
Although tinged with Filipino influences, the restaurant is still largely Korean in theme. It revolves around the concept of chimaek, a portmanteau of the words “chicken” and “maekju” (beer), where fried chicken is paired with beer as anju—the way sizzling sisig is paired with San Mig as pulutan.Through this, Oppa Chicken offers an introduction to Korean nightlife, and while the pairing of hearty chicken and malty beer is not exactly innovation, it's popular enough for South Korea to commemorate it with several festivals.
Oppa Chicken focuses first and foremost on flavors. The simplest dish on the menu is the Salt and Pepper chicken, which, even without gravy, is juicy and flavorful. It doesn't take more than a visit, however, to realize that the Snowing Cheese chicken will end up as the cult favorite: the chicken is powdered with generous amounts of cheese sprinkling a rich flavor all over the poultry. “It’s not fake cheese,” Chef Chanyang clarifies. “The powder is actually made out of mozzarella and cheddar.”
For the customer looking for a healthier meal, there is the Crispy Baked chicken—an oil-less substitute for the Salt and Pepper. It is not as crispy as its fried alternative, but there’s a subtle pepperiness to the meat, which keeps me gnawing to the bone. When it comes to the oven-roasted variety, which I particularly enjoy, a smoky flavor is much more dominant.
And, of course, there are the Korean-themed chicken dishes. A plate of Padak (Green Leek) chicken is brought over to my table—an attractive display of small fried chicken tenders topped with a mountain of sliced green onions. The strong flavor of the leeks goes surprisingly well with the chicken, and a sweet onion sauce makes it all come together. If one wants a kick of spiciness, the saucy Yangnyum (Sweet and Spicy) chicken is perfect to order, while the Ganjang (Soy) chicken, topped with sesame seeds, meanwhile, has a comforting, salty-sweet taste.
One of the waiters sets down a bowl on our table: chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces and doused in a red glaze, served with potato fries. It's the “Bulsazo chicken,” or “The Atomic Bomb," Chef Chanyang's favorite. I spear a piece with my fork and pop it into my mouth. An initial savory-sweet flavor flares up to that no-holds-barred heat that Koreans love very much. The fries are imperative to break the spice or cool down with the Golbange, or top shell pasta. It's a cold noodle dish which offers a sweet, nutty flavor, and just a hint of spice. It's layered with rice cakes, known as tteokboki, and diced sea snails, thus the name “top shell.” Although best paired with the Atomic Bomb, the Golbange is definitely a must-try on its own.
Sweet and Spicy
While sincerity and simplicity make up Oppa Chicken's prime appeal, the menu actually took three years to perfect. A great deal of work is poured into the dishes, and even the fried chicken is meticulously marinated and fried (twice). Any mistake and that prized crispy skin could end up too tough or too chewy. Ingredients are imported from Korea, as well.
Chef Chanyang speaks with confidence about the future of Oppa Chicken. It's not all talk. We can see how seamlessly the chimaek culture could fit into our lifestyle.
Oppa Chicken is at The Shoppes at Portico, Capt. Henry Javier Street, Brgy. Oranbo, Pasig City.