Zabu Chicken – Korean Fried Chicken

Restaurant: Zabu Chicken
Cuisine: Korean/Pub Food/Chicken
Last visited: June 28, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address: 1635 Robson Street
Phone: (604) 602-0021
Transit: WB Robson St FS Cardero St
Price Range: $10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 2.5-3
Service: 1.5
Ambiance: 3
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Korean operated/owned
  • Specializes in fried chicken
  • Popular/busy
  • Good for groups
  • Open late
  • Drinking spot
  • Sake/beer list
  • 12:00 PM – 02:00 AM
  • Delivery & Take-Out
  • Twitter: @ZabuChicken

**Recommendations: Zabu Soy Combo

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (10)First Donut Burgers and now fried chicken?! What are you trying to do to me? Prepare you for the weekend… or just putting your health insurance to good use. So I didn’t have them back to back, but I might as well have. Indulgence is indulgence and feeling guilty about it just ruins the experience. Now where’s my fried chicken?

It’s not the KFC you grew up with, or maybe it is? But the “KFC” I’m referring to is Korean Fried Chicken. People often associate good old fried chicken with our Southern American friends, but Korea is actually pretty famous for them too.

In Korea, fried chicken is a popular bar snack or late night meal, although it’s eaten at all hours. There are endless options for it in Korea, but in Vancouver it is a bit different. We have many places serving it, but few really specializing in it. I haven’t tried them all yet, but so far I’m not enthusiastic about our Korean fried chicken scene and it doesn’t do it justice.

My visit to Zabu Chicken was random and good thing too because fried chicken is even better when there is a craving. It isn’t just any craving either, it’s a late night craving, although Korean fried chicken I could have any time of day.

Korean fried chicken is different than American fried chicken. They use younger and smaller chickens and the batter is crisp and crunchy without being thick. They don’t use buttermilk and flour, but often use a combination of corn starch, flour, and/or potato starch. Everyone has their own recipe, but some characteristics are standard, like the chicken being fried twice, and it not being greasy. The marinade is also always soy based with sugar and or mirin and garlic, and you’ll start a shouting war if you ask who has the best “KFC” in Korea.

Zabu Chicken attracts a late night crowd of Korean students. It’s lively and loud with Korean music videos and it’s representable of what happens in traditional Korean bars. It’s a good and casual drinking place, but almost all Korean restaurants are, and they need to be to survive. It’s a big drinking culture and it’s quite obvious stepping into any authentic Korean restaurant.

The menu has little description, but it’s fried chicken, so what do you need explaining? It’s categorized in three categories: Zabu soy original, Zabu hot original, and Zabu Signature Series. They offer some hot dishes as well, but their specialty is fried chicken so I would recommend coming for that.

I had just come from an elegant 6 course Visa Infinite BC Wine Pairing dinner and I wasn’t necessarily hungry, but quite thirsty. What started off as a quick bubble tea stop on Robson ended up being a full on feast. And what started off as one plate of fried chicken quickly became four.

On the table:

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (1)Sake – If you’re not drinking beer or shoju, then it better be sake. Korean Fried Chicken goes with one of the mentioned.

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (2)Zabu Cole Slaw & Pickled Radish

  • This comes with any order of chicken. 
  • The Korean side dishes (banchan) is supposed to indicate what will be served.
  • The lighter dishes and pickles balance out the fried chicken. It’s the “ying and yang” philosophy.
  • The cole slaw was just shredded cabbage dressed in mayo or yogurt (?) with perhaps some vinegar or lemon juice.
  • The dressing was quite runny and there was a bit too much.
  • I think there was vinegar or lemon juice to thin it out and give it some acidity, but it was mild.
  • It is a nice side to have with fried chicken and it is supposed to balance out the deep fried goodness.
  • The pickled radish were quite sour, and it is just like having pickles with fried chicken, but Asian style.

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (3)**Zabu Soy Original4/6 (Very good)

  • A whole chicken in soy garlic sauce $19.95
  • The Zabu Soy Chicken Combo is the most popular which features just wings and drumsticks.
  • Who likes white meat anyway? Health nuts… or those who want to live longer I guess.
  • The Soy Original was my favourite of the four I tried, but don’t stop reading!
  • It was the most savoury and well balanced in flavours.
  • They make it upon order and it has a very crisp batter that stays on the chicken.
  • The batter is nice and thin and it isn’t greasy, but I’ve had crispier KFC.
  • Most Korean Fried Chicken is double fried, but this one was triple fried.
  • Triple frying makes for a crisp and non-greasy crust because it dries out the batter and skin.
  • I think they might lay it out flat to air dry overnight too to take out as much moisture as possible so the chicken is crispy.
  • I wouldn’t even be surprised if they baked it as a last step, I’ve had KFC baked and it makes it crisp and crunchy as well.
  • The meat itself was not dry at all, even the white meat. It was marinated to the bone.
  • The marinade was a sweet soy, mirin and garlic sauce, but it is not a saucy fried chicken.
  • I could also taste some sesame oil and it wasn’t too salty, but wonderfully savoury.
  • It doesn’t even need additional sauce because there is enough flavour and marinade.
  • Again, Korean fried chicken uses smaller younger chickens for more tender meat, so don’t be surprised with the size of the pieces.
  • I found these very good, but in Korea they wouldn’t rate as high because there is so much more selection for KFC.
  • I’m still a fan of BonChon Chicken which is a Korean fried chicken chain I tried in New York (see here), but even so it could get better.
  • That being said, in the context of Vancouver this was good, but there are a couple places I still need to try to see where it stacks up.

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (4)Zabu Hot Combo 2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • Wings and Drumsticks M $14.95 L $20.95
  • I usually prefer the spicy Korean fried chicken, but the original soy was actually better at Zabu.
  • These were surprisingly pretty spicy and I like and can handle spicy. I found these medium-hot.
  • The only thing was that the spice was one dimensional and it was just hot rather than flavourful spicy.
  • It was hot immediately and hot in the aftertaste and I prefer there to be some sweetness to balance it out.
  • I was hoping for more Gochujang (fermented Korean chili bean paste) presence in the marinade.
  • The crust was crispy and the chicken moist, but it was just the flavouring.
  • For more details on the batter and chicken see description for Zabu Soy Original above.

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (5)Yang Nyum Chicken2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • Sweet and spicy with a hint of cinnamon flavour $21.95
  • I was curious about their “Signature Series” category for fried chicken and these were recommended.
  • I found these too sweet although Koreans do like sweet in their marinades and sauces.
  • This reminded me of honey garlic spare ribs, but way sweeter with a strong presence of cinnamon.
  • I could smell the aroma of cinnamon as soon as it landed on the table.
  • The chicken batter was a bit crunchier due to the added sugar and that added to the formation of a crust.
  • It was a bit spicy from Gochujang (fermented Korean chili bean paste) and the cinnamon was giving a bit of heat too.
  • They were quite aromatic from added sesame oil as well.
  • The texture of the sauce was a bit grainy and I could feel the cinnamon powder so I wasn’t too keen on that.
  • They were sweet and sticky with lots of honey, but too much honey for me and I found them syrupy.
  • It was also finished with peanuts which I loved, but the flavours weren’t quite balanced in the sauce.
  • Again, the batter was crispy and the chicken moist, but the sauce a bit overwhelming.
  • For more details on the batter and chicken see description for Zabu Soy Original above.

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (8)Soy Sal-Sal Chicken1.5/6 (Poor-Okay)

  • Coated with crispy rice puff M $16.95 L $27.95
  • This was another one of their “Signature Series” options.
  • The “crispy rice puff” was the convincing factor and I was really curious about it, but the outcome was disappointing.
  • There was a bit of misunderstanding and I couldn’t read the menu, but apparently this was a salad and I thought it was just chicken.
  • It was just plain white chicken breast and the batter was different and not as good as their original.
  • The crispy rice flour batter made for a very thin breading, but it came across as any other “chicken finger” style chicken I would find at an American restaurant.
  • The batter was almost cornmeal like, but not as crunchy in the end result.
  • Being white meat it was drier and it didn’t seem as well marinated or marinated at all.

Zabu Korean Fried Chicken (9)

  • The salad was almost half raw green onions, some red bell peppers, sliced apples, and a bit of romaine lettuce.
  • The overwhelming amount of raw green onions is quite typical though because it is supposed to balance out the “heatiness” of fried chicken.
  • It came with a side of sweet soy vinaigrette which was the only Asian flavour and seasoning for the dish.
  • It was their interpretation of an Asian style chicken salad, but it felt like an Asian place trying to cater to a Western clientele and it didn’t work out so well.

Zabu Chicken on Urbanspoon

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