Chef Tatung Sarthou’s limited-time adobo fried chicken takes over BB.Q Chicken

For the first time ever, the restaurant is offering a non-Korean flavor until July 12.  

Just how obsessed is South Korea with fried chicken? So obsessed that there’s a 10-episode K-drama about a woman who turns into a chicken nugget (seriously!). So obsessed that there are between 50,000 and 87,000 franchise and independent fried chicken restaurants in the entire country; in Seoul alone there are about 10,000. So obsessed that there are more fried chicken restaurants in South Korea than there are McDonald’s in 118 countries around the world.

So when Korea’s top restaurant BB.Q Chicken teased on socials that for the first time in its history it was adding a special friend chicken for a limited time in its Philippine branches, we thought: it’s going to be adobo, isn’t it?

BB.Q Chicken’s Korean principals came to Manila to taste-test chef Tatung’s adobo fried chicken. The subtle taste of laurel leaves made them green light the collab, according to the chef.

And who better to make it than chef Tatung Sarthou, who has brought to the mainstream regional ingredients and cuisines in his cooking shows, books, and restaurants. Launched in the Philippines today in time for Independence Day and Father’s Day, Tatung’s crispy, juicy adobo fried chicken is available until July 12.

Chef Tatung’s adobo fried chicken is the first country exclusive for the Korean franchise, which incidentally operates in 57 countries worldwide (none of them ever having done it).

Putting the best in BBQ

BB.Q Chicken platter with Adobo Fried Chicken, Secret Chicken, Golden Fried Chicken, and Hot Spicy Chicken at the Central Square, BGC branch

When you say “BBQ chicken” in Korea, you’re actually referring to the restaurant rather than “barbecue” the method of cooking. BB.Q Chicken stands for “Best of the Best Quality,” and that’s how their crispy, tender fried chicken tastes.

It was the ad and marketing agency Collab Asia that pitched the collab to Korea. “For that to happen, executive chefs from Korea flew in and tried chef Tatung’s adobo chicken. They loved it. Then another batch of executives flew in to taste test it,” says Matthias Koppe, who heads the Philippine office of Collab Asia.

The Philippines has the third highest number of K-pop fans in the world after Indonesia and Japan, according to Twitter. Ironically, South Korea is No. 4.

When Matt first told him about a possible collab, Tatung was at first doubtful. “It’s a big brand and they had never done it before,” the chef says.

Matt, of course, had to do some convincing. Though BB.Q headquarters was receptive to the idea, there was always a “but.” So he played the close friendship card between the two countries. A little history lesson: South Korea and the Philippines established diplomatic relations in 1949, after the two Koreas’ split became final in 1948. A little cultural lesson: The Philippines has the third highest number of K-pop fans in the world after Indonesia and Japan, according to Twitter’s internal data. (Ironically, South Korea is No. 4.)

Adobo the Korean way

Chef Tatung indulging in chimaek or the traditional pairing of fried chicken and beer in Korea. Soon there will be Filmaek or cocktails made with beer and soju.

The brief they gave Tatung was very broad: to integrate a Filipino flavor into the menu to celebrate the Philippines’ Independence Day and Father’s Day. It also had to be simple enough that the cooks in BB.Q Chicken’s eight branches in the Philippines would be able to do it.

At first the chef toyed with flavors like tocino, but then that would be sweet like BB.Q’s Secret Chicken flavor; then he thought of using pinakurat instead of plain white vinegar, but it would veer too far from BB.Q’s signature taste.

In the end, the chef known for his Simpol cookbook decided on the most authentic version of adobo because it was the simplest. Tatung says he had to exercise restraint because he wasn’t creating a new format.

A variety of tteokbokki or simmered rice cakes
A taste of Korea at BB.Q Chicken

“The challenge was making something that fits into their menu without trying to be too chef-y. Chefs are always tempted to do too much of a showcase, dapat bongga coz it’s the first time it’s happening. For me, it was about controlling  one’s ego or tempering it in a way that the taste stands out as very Filipino but also matches perfectly with the existing menu.”

The ingredient that locked the deal was laurel leaves. It’s in every iteration of adobo and none in Korean cuisine. During the media taste test, we felt that it was every bit a BB.Q fried chicken with its very crispy skin but also unlike the menu regulars because it wasn’t sweet. The aroma of the laurel leaves was unmistakable as soon as a tray of different chicken flavors was laid on the table. You knew there was adobo in there.

“Yun ang nagpapa-adobo,” he says.

Chef Tatung reveals that he first discovered BB.Q Chicken from his love of K-dramas. He giggles, saying, “During the pandemic I was doing my versions of the Korean fried chicken—a lot! Everybody was watching Crash Landing On You and Goblin. I was making it using banana ketchup because that was what’s available here.”

Chef Tatung Sarthou at the launch of his adobo fried chicken

Like Tatung and many Filipinos, my own introduction to BB.Q Chicken was also through the K-drama Goblin. In Seoul before the pandemic, I ate at the BB.Q Premium Café in the Gangnam District where the main character is a part-time crew there. The café has welcomed thousands of people from all over the world who wanted to see this particular shooting location. While the K-drama is a convoluted story about a goblin whose soul can only be set free by a human bride, BB.Q’s menu even with so many flavors—from sweet soy to cheesy, spicy, UFO, and Gangnam—is easier to follow, and much more satisfying.

In true chimaek tradition, Tatung’s adobo fried chicken pairs well with Korean beer served at BB.Q Chicken. Soon, the Philippine restaurants are launching their own Filmaek or cocktails made with soju and beer. If there’s anything to be learned about this experience, it’s that friendship is best sealed over the best food.  

BB.Q Chicken branches are located at BGC Central C3, Robinsons Magnolia, Newport Mall, The Shops at BGC, Evia Lifestyle Mall, Santa Rosa-Tagaytay Rd, Ayala Malls Feliz, and Robinsons Manila. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok.  

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