As you all know, I’m a big fan of trying out new cuisines/dishes. If I had all the money (and all the metabolism) in the world, I would dedicate a significant amount of time to just driving down random streets in Toronto and trying out never-heard-of-before places. For all its snow, criminally terrible transit system, and annoying cold snaps (along with more snow), Toronto is a fantastic place to live, partly because of the variety of awesome cuisines we get to try here.
Keeping in line with this, I decided on a whim to try out something that I’ve frequently read about but never sampled in any capacity: Korean fried chicken. It’s not kam pong gi, though that in itself is a beautiful creation that ranks second only to Gangnam Style in terms of awesomeness, but rather something akin to the deep fried chicken you see in the American south. It’s also an interesting tidbit that the initials for this dish are composed of exactly the same letters as the world’s leading American fried chicken chain.
So after reading up multiple reviews and recommendations, I decided to give the strangely named Ajuker Chicken a try. It’s a small, almost dingy spot shoehorned into a near-invisible shopping plaza on Yonge, just north of Cummer (teehee). Apparently it’s actually part of a larger Korean-based chain, but I’m personally not so sure about that. More on that later.
Walking in, the place was almost deserted, and the interior reminded me of the basement apartment I stayed at when I went to school in Hamilton. It was barren, utilitarian, and had a TV playing some random singing competition filled with overenthusiastic young Korean celebrities (and contestants, I assume). Take away the Wonder Girls wannabes on TV, and it could easily be the basement where I spent my co-op term at McMaster University during the bizarrely cold summer of 2009.
Despite the starkly barren interior, our experience there was very pleasant, mostly owing to the servers who were very friendly and polite. And they tried their best, in rather broken English, to explain the different varieties of fried chicken goodness that the place has to offer. Basically, the most popular one is their “spicy” variety, which is really much more sweet than hot, as well as their plain crispy ones. I decided to get a medium size-order, half of each. And since WW is in a contrarian mood, she decided to not have chicken and order gam ja tang instead, because what Korean food experience would be complete without a steaming bowl of spicy pork bone soup?
Our order came relatively quickly, and being a die hard fan of anything GORENG (that’s Indonesian for “fried”), I was mesmerized by the sight of petite yet scrumptious-looking pieces of chicken, half in blazing red sauce, the other dry but wonderfully crunchy-looking. This looks promising. The gam ja tang also came and looked, well, pretty standard (what did you expect? It’s broth) but it was positively hot and full of steam, which I guess is a good thing. It smelled wonderful though, so first impressions were definitely positive!
So on to the tasting. The pork bone soup itself was surprisingly very decent, given that this isn’t Ajuker’s specialty. The broth was very flavourful, with a deep spicy kick that permeates your mouth throughout, while the meat was tender and was itself very tasty. I can’t stand gam ja tang dishes where the broth’s flavour doesn’t seep into the pork, but this is clearly not the case here. Not to mention that the portion’s pretty generous, with a nice side of taro (I’m just guessing here, as it was purple-coloured) rice.
So that was good, but lemme tell you about the chicken: it was wonderful. The red-coloured ones were, as expected, rather sweet instead of spicy, but I found that I really liked the strong flavours that these sauced-up ones contain. It was nothing like I’ve ever had anywhere else, while the meat itself was extremely tender. The sticky fingers that I got were more than worth the experience of munching these babies down. The crispy sauceless ones were much milder in taste (for obvious reasons) but they more than make up for it with the added crunch that was ever-present in each bite. The meat was ridiculously tender as well. I found that the dry chicken bits go great with a side of hot sauce (don’t be shy, go ask for some!) and together they form a wonderful symphony in my mouth. It really was the best fried chicken I’ve had in Canada. And this is coming from the Colonel’s #1 fan.
So overall, it was a very good experience. I would definitely recommend this hidden place to anyone who’s curious about what Korean fried chicken is all about (apparently it’s a food genre all by itself) or likes anything goreng in general. An interesting note is that I’m really not quite sure what’s the deal with the Ajuker brand. There’s another restaurant in downtown Koreatown that serves it, but apparently they’re not really related. Not to mention that the brand is supposedly a well-known Korean name but despite a business card that suggests the presence of a Korean-based website for the company (due to it ending in .kr), I’ve found that the URL doesn’t work.
And how the hell do you pronounce “Ajuker” anyway? Like “Ay-jooker”? “Uh-jug-er”? “The Joker”? And come to think of it, what in the world is an Ajuker? So many questions. So few answers.
At the end of the day, don’t worry about all the mysterious circumstances surrounding your poultry dish, just thank yourself that we’ve been blessed with this UFC (unidentified fried chicken – oh come on, you HAD to have seen that coming), and makan away!
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
6016 Yonge St
Toronto, ON M2M 3W2