Ssal Ssal Chicken: Chicken of My Childhood in Gangnam

Ssal Ssal Chicken: Chicken of My Childhood in Gangnam

Koreans love chicken, but what makes this place special? It's all in the dredge flour, and it's a treat in and of itself.

8 min read

Originally reviewed on June 14, 2020

Name

한글 🇰🇷 ENGLISH 🇺🇸
쌀쌀맞은닭 Chilly Chicken

The name is a play on words. The first meaning is that it is made using rice flour (chicken [covered in] rice), the other is that it is chilled (cold chicken). This has to do with the preparation, which will be mentioned later.

Price

Korean Won 🇰🇷 United States Dollar 🇺🇸
₩10,000 ~$8

Price is a rough average per head, excluding drinks.

Operating Hours

Day Open Close
Everyday 17:00 02:00

Location

There's a nearby GS25; this should be very easy to find. It's a bit far from a subway station, so maybe taking a bus would be the best option here, unless you don't mind walking ~10 minutes.

Seoul Seek Recommendations

  • 👑 Signature
  • ✅ Counting Calories
  • 🌶️ Spicy

 

한글 🇰🇷 English 🇺🇸 Price 💵
쌀닭 삼삼세트 Ssal Ssal Sampler Set 👑🌶️ ₩26,000

We're going bold here and recommending a single menu item. It's about $23, and can serve up to 4 people. We ordered it and had to take more than half home.

The sampler set includes three flavors of chicken, all signature:

  • soy sauce chili pepper ginger (spicy)
  • sweet chili (mild)
  • original (no sauce)

Overview

This was a solid chicken joint. It is difficult, among the literally thousands of places in Korea that offer chicken on their menus, to find one that is crispy enough to make you pause and think about it. This is one of those places, and the quality of the sauces was very respectable as well.

The chicken here is prepared cold; it is never frozen and supplied direct, then chilled for several hours. Dredged in a special rice flour mixture, then dunked into the hot oil while chilly, the resulting crispiness of the skin is hard to beat.

There's nothing deep about this place. There's no deep lore, backstory, or anything like that. It's a simple, go-to chicken spot which offers delivery. They just use rice flour, which is their signature (hence the name).

The Food

You're given some rice crisps to snack on while you order
They're very crispy, and made from the same rice flour the chicken is; it's a signature
This is a sweet chili sauce, the exact same as what comes on the chicken if you order that flavor
That's some standard tartar sauce; they don't have ranch in Korea, sans Western BBQ spots
Shot of the fan for no reason
This is what you get; three flavors as listed before, and some nice fries
The soy sauce ginger flavor has some chili peppers on top
The normal is Plain Jane, nothing but the batter
The sweet chili does not have chili flakes in it, it's smooth and without anything chopped
The fries are very crispy, and a bit thicker than a normal McDonald's fry
Top-down shot shows how many pieces you get, and how large the platter is
The chili peppers taste the same, they're quite spicy but nothing too bad
This is a drumstick of the soy sauce ginger one
The normal
The sweet chili
As you can see, there is no chopped red chili peppers in this, which is uncommon
The soy sauce ginger chicken is crispy, despite being doused in a thick teriyaki-like sauce
It is also the most colorful thanks to the peppers on top, and very flavorful and savory
the chicken is cooked perfect and is extremely moist, while the outside remains crispy
It's hard to tell from a picture, but the skin on this is like a potato chip

Why is Korea crazy for chicken?

Actually, it's chicken and beer. 치맥 (chimaek) is a slang word combining chicken, which implies fried chicken, and maekju, which is beer.

The common belief is that Koreans love chicken and beer. This is true, however, there's a deeper reason as to why the amount of chicken restaurants exploded within the last two decades, and that reason is the Financial Crisis. As history goes, South Korea went through an extreme financial crisis right before the turn of the new millenium.

Many predicted this, due to increased regionalism and general globalization, but no one took action

What caused the financial crisis in the late 90's?

Near the latter half of 1997, tourism was exploding and people were becoming more open to visiting Asia, and by proxy, South Korea. As a result, the Korean Won was grossly overvalued, and eventually collapsed. The government was not prepared to manage the economy properly, and the house of cards crumbled. The GDP went along with it.

Korea's competition was falling. They were not leading the tech race; that hat belonged to Japan. China was outclassing them on everything textile-related as well; they were slugging behind with no real vision of where to go. As a country, reform was needed, and nothing was being done. Again, Won was being inflated and there was nothing to back it up; they weren't winning the race.

Increasing for no reason

Chaebols also fed into this. Having a reputation for running the country itself, above its own government, a handful of big names contributed to an imbalanced concentration of economic power. This fed the debt, and in turn, the government had to bow to them to meet various policy goals.

This was a two-sided sword, however; chaebols began to take advantage of this by substantially increasing loan guarentees which inflated debt capital to an unfathomable degree.

There are many aspects to this, but the essential reason this all came to be was mismanagement and reading the economy wrong.

After getting help from the IMF, Korea needed to bootstrap itself out of the crisis. People needed jobs, and they needed to up their tech game. An educational reform ensued, amongst many other things, and in the mix of all of that, a food revolution occurred.

Fast food came to Korea en masse. Restaurants were being opened faster than they ever had before. It was a paradigm shift.

If you wish to read more, refer here.

That's interesting, but why is chicken and beer big in Korea?

Both chicken and beer have had a presence in Korea since the 60's. You had rotisseries in small trucks or in small huts posted around various cities attempting to sell, what was at the time, a premium-priced chicken menu. Back then, chicken was expensive, and was looked at on the same level as select beef.

Speed up to the 80's, and you get seasoning on chicken. Different flavors of chicken offered in restaurants. Speed up another decade, and you get to the 90's, where you start to see fast food chains adopt chicken within Korea, as prices leveled out.

Then came the aforementioned crisis; following recovery, people were fiending for jobs and needing to earn money for their families. Time and money were both very important and of the essence, and the traditional "sit down family meal" was fading fast, along with traditions. Enter the expansion of fast food. With that, the growth of chicken, the cheapest popular meat (chicken, beef, pork, lamb).

What's yummy, something almost everyone loves, and is cheap as hell?

Chicken.

What goes good with chicken, which turns a massive profit?

Beer.

It's as simple as that. Chicken was the answer to blue collar Korea, and it still is two decades later. You saw the pics above; for under $25, you can get 4 people completely filled with chicken now. Back then, it was relative.

Fast food was very rare in Korea until the early 2000's. In fact, I remember walking around Korea as a kid between 2000-2002 and seeing only a McDonald's. There was no such thing as Burger King where I was at. Taco Bell was a far cry away, and KFC only had a handful of stores.

Pizza Hut was nearly $60 to order a single large pizza, a liter of soda, delivered. I can walk down the street right now, and get a large pizza with any topping I want for $8. Candy bars were nearly $4 a pop, and beef jerky did not exist whatsoever en masse. Go to Jamsil station any day of the week except Monday, and there's a stall selling candy bars and snacks, 2 for $1.

It was a completely different Korea even two decades ago as I remember it, and being able to see the fast food market blossom as it has is a direct result of the crisis in '97.

You can request to have cream cheese latticed on the top of the sweet chili if you want
It tasted more akin to Toaster Strudel sauce; I do not think this is cream cheese whatsoever
Sounds really nasty, but surprisingly, the flavor profiles matched up well
Anytime you have chicken in Korea, it's recommended to go with a dark soda (cola) versus cider
On the left, the large beer mug, on the right the soda glass
We just decided to divide the ice cubes and split the soda
Chicken and cola, known as the slang word 치코, called chico.

Summary

Fried chicken like this is a comfort food. It is not a food you eat when you're dieting, nor is it something you'd eat on your first date with a significant other. It does one thing very well, however; it speaks to the people, and they speak back.

Ssal Ssal Chicken is one of those places where you walk in, get a whiff of what's cookin' in the kitchen, and immediately have a flood of childhood memories rush into your head. It is the smell of when you were a kid, eating fried chicken with friends or family.

Not many places can do that these days; a lot are cookie-cutter low-effort attempts, and few succeed, but this place need not worry. From the sauces to the way they prepare the chicken, down to the amount you get for the price point, it is delicious.

Come here with some friends or family, and relive your childhood.

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