BonChon: Korean fried chicken chain worth a visit
BonChon, meaning “My Hometown” in Korean, certainly lives up to its name. Upon stepping in to this establishment located in the basement of a building largely populated by Korean restaurants, the pungent aroma from the gochujang and kimchi immediately assaults your olfactory senses. The simple décor with the tabletop grills oozes the typical setup of yakiniku and Korean BBQ joints. Indeed, it was an ambience fitting of a Korean “hometown.”
Ever since its first location was set up in Leonia, New Jersey, BonChon has expanded rapidly across the nation. In this particular location at Harvard Square, it was only fitting that I tried their signature dish: Korean-style fried chicken. For some, it might be dismissed as a simple fried chicken dish. However, a proper marriage of the technique of double frying the chicken and the its perfect outer glaze can create a truly gastronomic experience that is quite unlike the typical fried chicken found around the country.
You have a choice of ordering drumsticks, wings or a mixed serving. Similarly, you can choose between the soy garlic sauce, the hot sauce, or a mixture of both. Eager to try all variations possible, we ordered a mixture of wings and drumsticks with both sauces. In addition to that, we ordered tteok bokki, which is stir-fried rice cakes, fish cakes and noodles in a spicy Korean sauce topped with mozzarella. Just for good measure, we ordered an extra kimchi al jjigae, a spicy kimchi soup with whiting roe, tofu, rice cake and vegetables.
When the fried chicken arrived, the manner in which the outer glaze of sauce reflected the dim lighting of the restaurant was truly a sight to behold. The viscosity of the sticky sauce was perfect and the double frying ensured that the outside was delectably crispy. Another great aspect of double frying is that it ensures that the middle of the chicken stays perfectly juicy. Both the wings and the drumsticks were perfectly cooked and neither was dried out. While the wings definitely carried more flavor as there was more skin, the drumsticks provided more of a crunch and the satisfaction of digging into a substantial chunk of well-done chicken. As I am a fan of spicy food, the hot sauce provided just the right amount of heat for me, though I can see it being overwhelming for those not accustomed to it. The soy garlic sauce, while in abundant quantity, tended on the sweet side and didn’t pack as much of the garlic punch as it could have.
The tteok bokki arrived next and I had high expectations. The sauce, however, was on the thick side despite packing a good flavor from the pepper paste. The rice cakes and noodles soaked up a good portion of the sauce and possessed a rich flavor that salvaged this dish. I wasn’t quite sure what the mozzarella sauce did, however, and would probably have left it out of the dish.
The kimchi al jjigae, on the other hand, was a definite winner. That is, if you have a stomach for unusual ingredients. Whiting roe is definitely an ingredient that many local restaurants have never seen in their kitchens and my friend dining certainly stared at his serving for quite a while before trying it. The balance between the kimchi and the beef stock was done quite well and the kitchen did a commendable job of incorporating the flavor into the tofu and the other vegetables. Ladle some of this fiery stock into the provided bowl of rice and you have the perfect soup to tide you over.
All in all, BonChon was a reasonably authentic Korean experience. While it might have come up short in certain uniquely Korean dishes such as the tteok bokki and the flavor balance of the sauces for its chicken, the texture and crispiness of the fried chicken demonstrate the full merits of the double frying technique. You would definitely want one of their rich flavorful soups next to you on the next snowy Boston day too.
Food (taste): A-
Food (presentation): B
– Finn Qiao
Cover photo source.