There are two things that I secretly wished for when I went to this Korean fried chicken joint in North Oakland: a better camera to take picture in the dark and a better tolerance for chili powder. [UPDATE: better camera obtained] I mean, just look at the jumping chickie on their menu, isn’t he all fired up?
Late February, at 7pm. The moment we stepped in from the cold damp parking lot outback, I fell enamored with the ambiance. Dim light, warm air, seats divided up into small sections with straw thatched roofs overhead and modest curtains to ensure privacy and a sense of lonesomeness amidst the crowd. The fire post watched over quiet customers, most of whom are Korean. I’m saying this because it feels oddly heartwarming to listen to conversations that I don’t understand, and if you’re like me, then OB Town is the place to go when you’re in the mood for nostalgia.
And fried chicken too, of course. A plate of garlic and soy sauce fried chicken (gan jang chicken) is more than enough for one, maybe two if neither is too hungry. The sweetness was addictive. I don’t know how many things were added to the mixing bowl, but no single flavor was too blatant, everything blended together to make a perfect package. The crispy coating was great, but what’s inside was so much better. Juicy, tender, flavorful strips of meat, and yes, even the white meat was great. I savored every bite.
Which is not something I could do with the ddeok bokki (spelled “dduck bog i” on the menu), at least with the first few bites. I learned about the “spicy rice cakes” from Korean movies, and was prepared for the fiery blunder. What I wasn’t prepared for, and blame no one but my imagination, is the lack of a sweet taste. Chili powder, gochu jang, jalapeno, whatever it was, was on full strike with no masking flavor. Was it because I ordered seafood ddeok bokki? Are all ddeok bokki this spicy?
Wimpy as I am though, I like the dish. The smooth and chewy texture of garaeddeok (rice cake) hooked me, and I dug in. The mussels, shrimps, and squids were definitely for good change of texture, but those oversize noodle tubes fare best with the thinly sliced carrots and sauce soaked cabbage. Burning outside, soft and plain inside, the garaeddeok was pure pleasure. And although the sauce was quite strong, its scorching touch faded quickly with a sip of water and a few nibbles of cole slaw, allowing us to sample every visible piece of ingredient: rubbery sleeves of eomuk (fish cake), bitter herbs, mushy onions, gummy mushroom. The plate was a textural party. One tiny mismatch: the pungent jalapeno doesn’t belong there (just as it doesn’t belong in bánh mì and phở).
We washed the spice down with two awesome skewers of bacon wrapped asparagus kebob. It’s cute how they made the asparagus look like bones, and they were actually crunchy like cartilage too. (I’m suddenly reminded of pig feet, cooked and uncooked.) A savory high note to end the night.
Was my tongue dead because of the chili? Yes, I made a funeral for it with lots of milk chocolate. Will I go back to OB Town? You bet. The chicken feet are calling me.
Wallet thinning: 1 gan jang chicken (15.50) + 1 seafood ddeokbokki + 1 kebob (<3.00)+ tax = $34.35
Address: Oriental BBQ Chicken Town
6101 Telegraph Ave.
(across the street from KFC)
Oakland, CA 94609
It looks a bit shady outside, but that’s just another indication of how tempting the food is inside.