From traditional eats to contemporary food fusions, K-drama fans will definitely love this restaurant’s menu
To say that the Philippines is Hallyu crazy is an understatement. When the Korean culture tidal wave hit us through Asianovela and the sick beats by music groups Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, and Super Junior, many Filipinos were never the same. And with the continued popularity of Korean dramas, movies, and music in the country, it is safe to say that we aren’t yet over this K-phenomenon, so much so that it has affected the way we dine.
Apart from music preferences, streaming pleasures, and beauty routines, what we put on the plate reflects our love for Korean culture. As barbecue spots, samgyeopsal, and local food brands carry on with incorporating Korean flavors in their offerings, Filipinos have more choices of where to eat than the number of their fingers. But if you’re one passionate K-drama fan, there’s a place where you can have a taste of the food you see on your favorite series.
For over five years, local food destination Kko Kko has been among the top food places in the metro for anyone who is craving Korean dishes that are not just delicious but are also authentic, from the way the dishes are cooked to the ingredients that go in them. A testament to its success, the restaurant was able to produce 13 branches in two years after its establishment. While the pandemic has put barriers in its operation, it continues to thrive all thanks to its delectable offerings, new and classic, and the love of Filipino Hallyu aficionados.
“The business has definitely changed a lot now. Before, our operation was 80 percent dine-in and 20 percent takeout. Now, it is in reverse. Although we do see an influx of diners coming back,” Kko Kko’s restaurateur Grace Lee tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “I think it is because of the vaccination rate. People are more comfortable going out… I do believe, in the coming years, the dining scene is going to be awesome. People are going to be dining with a vengeance.”
It started with chicken
Initially established by her mom in Pasig City, Grace jumped into the business as she saw potential in it, even in a sea of Korean-inspired restaurants in Manila. The key dish that sets Kko Kko apart among other Korean food spots in the metro is its Double-Fried Chicken. There are numerous restaurants to indulge generously and do mukbang, but it is only in Kko Kko where one can savor the best Korean-style fried chicken best paired with a cold bottle of beer, much like what people see in “My Love From Another Star” series.
“I have to say, we have the best Korean fried chicken,” Grace proudly says. “In Korea, especially in Seoul, in every block there is a fried chicken place. My mom thought of promoting it here.”
With a restaurant name in ode to the sound that chicken makes, Kko Kko has dedicated itself to bringing that original crispy and juicy Korean fried chicken to the Philippines. In the process, the brand has come up with a dozen variants, serving them with different sauces and powders, some of which they import from Korea. What’s unique about Korean fried chicken is that it is fried twice. Aside from the marination process and the chicken’s tasty batter, the double-fry method makes the chicken moist and the exterior crunchy with an audible crackle in every bite.
Korea in the Philippines
Kko Kko also has the ability to transport Filipinos to Korea through their taste buds. In fact, its menu has two major sections, one for its amazing fried chicken and the other for Korean street food and other contemporary creations. The best thing about their street and modern food offerings is that they aren’t only filled with the best Korean flavors, but they also provide a fun dining experience.
Take its Chicken Fondue, for example, which was inspired by one of Grace’s travels to Myeongdong in South Korea. “There are a lot of chicken places there where they do a lot of fusion items,” she says. “I got really inspired by some of the chicken offerings there. They were mixing a lot of gooey cheese and double-fried Korean chicken.” Since its launch in the restaurant, it has become one of the banner dishes that keep customers coming back for more.
There is also the jumbo Kimbap, a rice roll dish filled with either tuna, beef, chicken, or spam. Also on its menu is the Filipino-favorite rice bowl Bibimbap and boneless chicken popcorn. It’s fusion dishes like the Rambokki, a mix of tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and ramen, and Dynamite Burger, an East-meets-West sandwich, take comfort food eating to the next level.
K-drama on the menu
“There is so much food Filipinos want to try but aren’t available in Korean barbecue restaurants in the country, like street food,” Grace says. “Everything you see on K-drama that people eat on the streets in little kiosks, we created it into a casual dining space where people can have a full experience of Korea.”
This has also been a key element to Kko Kko’s success, its ability to quickly whip up dishes that celebrities in hit Korean shows eat. It is a gimmick, yes. But in their case, it works because of how they masterfully craft them. Fans craving for ramyeon (noodle soup) like in “Crash Landing On You”? They have it. People want to taste dak galbi after seeing BTS’ Suga cooking it? They can order it for takeout. Even before the “Squid Game”’ fame, the restaurant served traditional doshirak (Korean lunch boxes) back then.
“Whenever I see a new dish on K-drama, I have a meeting with my team and ask them if we should put that item on the menu,” Grace says. “We put them on the menu for a month or two and observe if the crowd likes it, how do they respond to it. There are a few items that go for three months, there are some that do well and become part of the main menu eventually.”
Korean feast continues
Being born in Korea and living there for many years, Grace is on a mission to introduce more of Korea’s cuisine to Filipinos, not just in the metro but in different parts of the archipelago.
“We have to grow first in Manila and hopefully will be available in all major cities in about two to three years and we’ll branch out from there,” she says. “My goal is really to be able to educate the Filipino people about authentic Korean food. How amazing, flavorful, and diverse it is and not just about samgyeopsal. It is not just about kimchi. It goes so much beyond that.”
Get to know more about the “Home of K-pop n’ chicken” @kkokkoph on Instagram.