I’m in Holborn, central London, wiping my hands with a pack of wet wipes and it’s all because the president of the United States had a headache.
Part 1: Storytime
December 7th, 1941. After suffering a devastating attack on the naval base, Pearl Harbour, commander-in-chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt declares war on Japan and then subsequently orchestrates an invasion of Europe to aid the fight against Hitler. The trouble is being a wartime leader of a powerful country is quite taxing. Encumbered with working all day, every day: the wheelchair ridden, polio-paralysed, chain smoker fell ill. In my own estimation the man clearly worked himself to death. While posing for a portrait on the 12th April 1945, he announced: “I have a terrific headache. . . ” before falling unconscious. He never lived to see the end of the war he worked so hard to help win.
A famous story takes place later. In the middle of the night, his Vice President, Harry S. Truman, was asked to ‘come quickly, but quietly’ to the White House. He was confronted with Eleanor, the deceased’s wife. She tells him:
‘Harry, the president is dead.’
Taken aback, he is said to have answered: ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ To which she replied:
‘No. Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.’
Truman was sworn into office just a few hours after a cerebral haemorrhage took FDR.
After dropping the bomb and subsequently winning the war, Truman was now faced with a new enemy: Communism. The fear of socialism rose in the states after the war when it was clear Stalin was not the loyal ally FDR hoped he was. This fear was compounded by the idea that Roosevelt was a little too much to the political left himself. Truman, having been Roosevelt’s man, had to look tough on communism. A sentiment that was already on the peripheral for his predecessor, who theorised about containment in 1937 when relations with the U.S.S.R. were getting fraught. Harry S. clearly agreed with him. Ten years later, in 1947, the Truman Doctrine was signed. Benevolently declaring themselves the protectors of freedom in the world, it was a military agreement that announced the United States would come to any democratic country fighting an authoritarian threat. In 1950, there were rumblings of an insurgency in the Peninsula-Pacific from the influence of the powerful shroud of the burgeoning Soviet Union. U.S. troops were deployed to battle in Osan, Tajeon, and were pushed down to Busan. While fighting in Korea these soldiers became homesick and wanted food that reminded them of the states. Chicken was an inexhaustible supply, so these troops improvised with Korea’s traditional seasonings and spices. Eventually, those forces left in 1953. But the food they introduced stayed and grew into its own culture.
. . . And that is how the president of the United States having a headache meant that Koreans began to make their own style of fried chicken.
“. . .The soy-garlic, the hot, and the liquorice sauces were a fantastic trio of flavours that made the chicken really stick out. . .”
The world is full of cultural hotspots. Each country has its own style of food. The Germans have their sausage, the Italians have their pasta. . .If you were asked who has the monopoly on fried chicken, where would you say? Like an ignorant limey I presumed the deep south of the United States, where it is considered a fantastic comfort food. Discovering Korea had developed their own variations and culture of fried chicken was an eye opener. Having studied history, it was surprising to know a dish is closely related to a subject I spent over a year on – the Cold War – led me to the rabbit hole which opens this post. Taking an utter shot in the dark, we head to Holborn, – armed with a packet of baby wipes to rub off the handheld chicken gunk – to try out Korean style fried chicken.
One of the main differences from the southern U.S. style is how often the chicken gets dipped in the oil. Apparently Americans do it once, Koreans do it twice. I’m not too sure how much I believe that. Nobody in Texas double dip-frys their chicken? Anyways, according to the googles, this results in a far crispier skin, the meat is usually younger and then seasoned before and after the fry-dip.
The southern states also use buttermilk for a glaze and to harden up the skins, which gives the edges that thickness. This is something Mother Clucker do very well. So there are differences, but there are also similarities. It’s customary to have a beer with Korean fried chicken. Such are they paired together that there’s even a name for it: Chimaek. To me, this is more evidence of a Easternised variation. Fast food rose in the U.S. predominantly after world war two, along with the drinks typically accompanied with them. I feel that beer isn’t the best accompaniment when you can have a coke or milkshake, but when in Rome. We have a Thai Singha, which is very wheaty and hoppy. It’s a nice beer though.
The menu is comprehensive; using chicken and some seafood with variations of wraps and buns and burgers. There’s plenty to be had here in their bag of chicks. Fries can be so wonderfully varied. In that regards, Wing Wing sprinkle theirs with seaweed. The place has sort of the same colour schemes as Thunderbird Fried Chicken; bright neons of pink and yellows on metallic black. The set up is nicely spaced out, in an L shape. Their staff also are wearing t shirts with “addictive as f**k” written on it. So it’s nice there’s a confidence. However, the service was a little cold, not as cold as the chips but it seemed a little phoned in. Zero eye contact and the staff kinda hid about in the kitchen with zero visibility on the floor. This isn’t helped that much when you’ve got a collection point where food comes in and out and they’ve got those heart attack inducing buzzer gadgets that unnerve me so much. Apart from scaring away those of a nervous disposition what is the point of those things? Anyways, your only point of contact with the staff are when they take your order at the till. It’s a shame such comfort food, such soul food, is presented a little soulless. (Then again I don’t really want to be that customer that complains and ends up forcing staff to have permanent grins on their face.) That little gripe out of the way, let’s get on with some of the pros.
“. . .The meat inside is slightly pink, soft and tender to chew through and falls off the bone fluidly. . . “
Part 2: “How to Randomly Assault People with a History Lecture.”
The meats; the katsu and the drumsticks and the seafood side were served at a very nice, hot temperature. The prawns are loaded with the flavour and the calamari has that rich, salty smell and is crispy deliciousness and so saucy. Smears of black, the soy-garlic are all over the batter. That salt helps the fat of the fish so, so much. They came with a slice of (slightly tough) lemon to drip over the top. You’re left with a crispy, slightly sharp fry, with juicy and moist innards that burst with their fleshy succulence.
The skin on the drumsticks (£7.50) really is far, far crispier. In comparison, Mother Clucker‘s breadcrumbed meats are brined and glazed and hence softer, and sweeter. Wing Wing is so much tighter, tauter, and incredibly nourishing. And instead of the sweet breadcrumb taste we have salty soy and crisp, brittle skin. The meat inside is slightly pink, soft and tender to chew through and falls off the bone fluidly. And the sauce? My god, the sauce. They put one sauce on each chicken. The soy-garlic sauce, the hot, and the liquorice were a fantastic trio of flavours that made the chicken really stick out. The hot sauce is a pleasing fiery tingle, rather than something insipid and overly sugary. The liquorice made it taste darker, slightly bitter and better for it. Unique flavour for a drumstick. This is definitely the dish of the day for me. I had some gripes about the price (“how fowl!”) but they’re easily forgiven because they do deliver a unique enough taste you can’t find just anywhere. Next time we come here, and there will be more visits, we’re just going to order a large bucket of this.
For my main, the katsu bao (£7.90) is so fucking good. It’s also so pretty in real life. The bao-bread is light as a feather, but ever so slightly crispy. This gives it a delightfully sweet, toasted brioche delicateness. The coleslaw is spicy and slightly warmed and it keeps cover over the katsu meat, hot in the middle of the bun. The slaw also have a nice little zing to it, and lovely lil zest too. The kimchi within has a softness to it, as contrasted to the vinegary-sting of onion and cabbage of traditional southern style. And finally the meat, plainer in style, but the breadedness of the katsu is a slightly harder inside, giving it a nice contrast of texture between the soft bun and the coleslaw meshness. It’s stringy and gloriously messy.
The fries (£2) are salted and have sprinklings of seaweed and chilli flakes on top. The flavouring I don’t have a problem with, I was looking forward to tasting a different way of having fries. But sadly the fries are cold, pale and cardboardy! For a unique flavouring it’s a bit of a let down. Happy as I am to give the benefit of the doubt, chips aren’t difficult to pull off so yeah, bit of a let down. The taste isn’t bad, I’m presuming the seaweed is supposed to be an alternative to salt, it gives a herby, bitter taste. There’s some chilli flakes too, and were I to come again I’d like to see more added, and let the heat-spice with the seaweed mingle and make a great combo on chips.
I’m willing to forgive this oversight too though as the flavouring is unique. Also it’s better off to practise good faith and assume that it’s a one off. And the fries, and bao were an exceptionally good price however. I had to do that thing we all do when we’re full and at a restaurant and somehow magic up some space in the stomach for this absolutely delicious chicken and felt utterly disgusted with myself. It was a fantastic meal, and we needed this to be hoarded in my chicken filled guts.
One of the pleasures of doing this blog is sometimes you can get so pleasantly surprised with something that really invigorates you. Wing Wing did that for me. Come here, the chicken drumsticks are just incredible! This is another one of those places I can’t fathom why business isn’t booming all the time. It’s fried chicken and beer. What’s not to love?
We finished up standing outside, frantically wiping down my hands with a packet of baby wipes I had brought with me, googling decent chicken puns for the post’s title.