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Jun 4, 2013 09:56 AM

Are you a Karaage Kid?

Where do you go to get your Karaage kick?

I'm not as familiar with Japanese fried chicken as I'd like to be (have my head stuck in a plate of Taiwanese popcorn chicken most of the time), but this list from http://www.latimes.com/features/food/... piqued my interest.

Any recommendations you'd like to pass along, or any comments on the LAT list?

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  1. I think the only Karaage that's wowed me was the one at Musha.

    Generally I don't order karaage to be wowed though, it's more like a comfort food/appetizer to me... it's like the fries with your burger.

    1. I was actually a tekka maki and ten don kid.

      But I find that those karaage mixes you get at Mitsua or Marukai pretty damn good.

      1. We eat it at Yamadaya all the time.

        My son's dinner order is just their kara-age appetizer.

        I have nothing to compare it to -- I don't order it everywhere, but I like what I get at Yamadaya. We go to the Washington/Sepulveda location.

        1. I feel that karaage is a decent appetizer, but something with the taste or texture of it makes it bland (even with sauce). It doesn't seem to vary too much between restaurants, so I don't usually order it.

          Like you, I'm also usually eating taiwanese crispy/popcorn chicken - 鹽酥雞 (Yan Su Ji)

          29 Replies
          1. re: blimpbinge

            Ok, I didn't want to start any cross-border international disputes (as we're still trying to figure out Senkaku Islands after all), but I agree with blimpbinge.

            Popcorn chicken just somehow ... tastes ... better ... than their Japanese counterparts.

            But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              I had never heard of Taiwanese crispy/popcorn chicken, but just googling around it looks like the main differences between it and Japanese karaage are that the chicken meat in the Taiwanese version is cut into smaller pieces, which is going to make it more crispy. They also use garlic and 5-spice, which are pretty Chinese flavorings.

              Japanese tend to prefer meat more juicy. So the thigh meat, same portion of chicken used for Taiwanese version it seems, is left in larger chunks. Japanese also use ginger as part of the prep, rather than garlic...I mean not always, but usually. Ginger is commonly used for homey types of Japanese meat dishes.

              I met an exec from Yum! Brands Japan once. They are the umbrella company for KFC. Anyway, I asked him about what the differences are between Americans and Japanese tastes and I'll always remember his response: "Americans like crispy. Japanese like juicy."......I don't know where Taiwanese fall. Maybe crispy...

              ...Sorry, can't help with LA recs. Just saw the thread title and jumped in.

              1. re: Silverjay

                To me, the main difference between is the Taiwanese Popcorn has that amazing flavor bomb of spices and karaage does not. Plus you get that fun spear/harpoon to eat with.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    So does Taiwan popcorn chicken taste like the poultry version of the fried squid app that's common in HK cafes?

                    1. re: ilysla

                      Nope completely different. The fried squid app is 椒鹽鮮魷, where it is salt, pepper, batter, and maybe jalapenos, and in some cases, garlic bits (the key really is fresh squid and frying technique). The salt pepper powder, additional spices, and fried basil make the TW popcorn chicken 鹽酥雞 very different beasts.

                      1. re: K K

                        Ah, thanks for the info. Wonder if they have this at Volcano Tea on Sawtelle? It would just make the comparison btw kara-age and the popcorn chicken so much easier! Have it at Hurry Curry and then walk a few doors down to Volcano....

                        I've kara-age at Jinya and Yamadaya. I thought both versions were enjoyable but not amazing.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            One of the big differences between karaage and TW fried chicken/popcorn chicken is that the latter involves the additional spices/herbs, and with a combination of high heat creates what is known as explosive fragrance 爆香 (which is actually a verb in Chinese) that creates a multi dimensional assault on the senses, in a shock & awe ass kicking kind of way. There's also the result of the texture...lightly crispy, airy, fluffy (like fried puff pastry). Basically a reiteration of what was already said about basil, garlic, spices by Tony, but with cooking vernacular.

                            爆香 is also the act of forcing the flavors of the seasoning out through high heat. Shallots and fatty bits of pork (no additional oil needed) and maybe some soy sauce/salt stir fried quickly in high heat is one helluva fantastic condiment. I guess one can say freshly made XO sauce is also born of that method.

                            1. re: K K

                              and the sweet potato starch.

                              karaage uses katakuriko which is just potato starch. huge difference in the "fluff" texture, IMO.

                              there's a place for both, but the bias in the thread is... obvious.

                    2. re: A5 KOBE

                      Yeah, good karaage just tastes like juicy chicken. Not spices and stuff.

                    3. re: Silverjay

                      That is too funny because 95% of the Karage I've had has been anything but juicy. I find it more tough and salty than other kinda 'fried chicken bites'... My favorite of the genre is Ludo's chicken Balls...

                      That being said, I've tried four of the ones on the list and they have all been 'meh'. The best ones I've had is the karage right now is at Men Oh in Downtown and Asa in Gardena


                      1. re: Dommy

                        As Mr. Taster recommended here, try the fried chicken appetizer at Hurry Curry on Sawtelle sometime. It is one of the few that I've ever had that don't come as as you've so aptly described the shortcomings of most kara-age.

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Hmm! I will admit I've never tried the one at Hurry Curry... and you don't need to twist my arm to go get curry...


                          1. re: Servorg

                            Went to Hurry Curry tonight to have the chicken (among other things). Definitely better than Jinya or Yamadaya. Chicken is indeed juicy, but the pieces are a little big, the batter could've been crispier, and the dipping sauce is a must to temper the sweetness of the batter.

                            1. re: Servorg

                              Thanks for such a thorough answer! =)

                              1. re: ilysla

                                Odd, this was supposed to be in response to KK....

                          2. re: Silverjay

                            "They also use garlic and 5-spice, which are pretty Chinese flavorings."

                            Garlic isn't essential, white pepper powder is; fried basil makes it phenomenal.

                            Taiwanese salted crispy (popcorn -- do I dare?) chicken is salty, peppery, spicy, and juicy. Karage is.. expensive and fit for cosplay obsessed otakus.

                                1. re: blimpbinge

                                  Speaking of otaku, here is a link to the Japan Karaage Association that promotes "changing the world with Japanese karaage"- http://karaage.ne.jp/ .

                          3. re: ipsedixit

                            Now I'm interested in your favorite places for Taiwanese popcorn chicken!

                            1. re: Savour

                              +1 on recs for chowworthy places to sample the taiwanese popcorn chicken please! I can't believe I"ve been missing out on this.

                              BTW, I have sampled and enjoyed the karaage at both Jinya and Yamadaya every time I visit either ramen shop.

                              I guess my expectaton of karaage is a bit simplistic; basic, dark meat fried chicken with that umami-like flavoring from the soy sauce brine. That's a winning combination in my book and both ramen shops seem to hit the flavor notes just right for me.

                              1. re: RacerX

                                Why Thirsty
                                Pa Pa Walk
                                Copycat Cafe
                                Ten Ren
                                Milk and Honey
                                Tapioca Express

                                There are multiple places. It really depends on what you want with you TPC. I like Ten Ren because of the honey tea. Or if you want sausage with your TPC, go to SinBaLa.

                                1. re: RacerX

                                  A number of times, I've also seen karaage served with mayo, which would indicate that they really do want that umami to pop... though mayo is often seen as a cheap man's way to add flavor.

                                2. re: Savour

                                  In no particular order:

                                  Why Thirsty
                                  Tenju Tea House

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Awesome. Very close to my stomping grounds.

                                    1. re: Savour

                                      By the way, I really enjoy your blog. Dunno why I've never mentioned it before.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Thanks for the kind words. I took the munchkin to Why Thirsty yesterday - Popcorn chicken was delicious (and the portions were huge - kiddo ordered the fish filet with noodles and it was enough to feed 4) and we shared a rose milk tea with boba. Thanks for the rec!

                              1. re: wienermobile

                                Ahem, from my OP:

                                >>>but this list from http://www.latimes.com/features/food/... piqued my interest.

                                Never hurts to double one's pleasure, however!

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  OK, the Jinya karaage rec is terrible. Who writes these articles? I've ordered it on three different occasions (Miracle Mile branch, RIP) and the stuff has been bland and greasy each time.

                                  I absolutely love the non-fancy karaage at Hurry Curry of Tokyo on Sawtelle. The sake marinated chicken is spectacular, juicy and flavorful, and a great added bonus is that you won't be paying the inflated hipster prices since this is absolutely not a trendy hotspot.

                                  It's not bland, like karaage can be. It's really got a wonderful flavor sweet, crunchy and salty-- entirely different than white pepper intensive Taiwanese popcorn chicken, but just as delicious.

                                  Mr Taster

                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                    Funny, I found Jinya OC's version too marinated and almost too salty the way the egg is almost too salty. A bit wet almost like it is slightly undercooked.

                                    Yamadaya is pretty decent. Used to be better up at the Torrance branch.

                                    Agree with chowseeker below that Toihei is my favorite. An excellent version just like all their other chicken dishes.

                                  2. re: wienermobile

                                    Isn't that the link ipse posted in his OP? :-)

                                    I'm not an expert on karaage either, but the zangi, a Hokkaido variant(?), at Ramen Hayatemaru is excellent.

                                    Their amazu (sweet vinegar) dish, zangi topped with negi (scallions) and shoga (ginger), is a great sweet-and-sour preparation.

                                    1. re: PeterCC

                                      that. looks interesting. a departure from the norm, will try!

                                      1. re: PeterCC

                                        Second your rec. They also have a version coated with a mayo/ketchup-based sauce . It's on their happy hour menu.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          I haven't seen that one at the West L.A. location. Interesting. Will have to look more closely. Come to think of it, I haven't seen a happy hour menu there, but there is a specials menu with additional items like meatballs, shiokara (squid with fermented guts), octopus, etc, but no other fried chicken preparation that I recall.

                                          1. re: PeterCC

                                            Must differ by location. I've been to to the Torrance location on Carson.