what: Yen Su Jee
where: Egg Roll Chen, 715 Crowson Road
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying typical Chinese takeout. I love sesame chicken, beef and broccoli, and all of the favorites everyone grew up with. We’ve grown to know that there is much more beyond that, though. Columbia’s Egg Roll Chen has provided a little bit of both worlds for a long time, featuring the hearty American favorites that we know and love along with a few street dishes native to Taiwan.
This week’s bite is Taiwan’s take on fried chicken. Yen su jee (or yansuji) is a common night market dish that consists of boneless chicken that is battered, fried and tossed in tons of salt and pepper and chilis. The craze for this dish is Taiwan is high, with vendors coming up with all sorts of ways to play with the dish, in the same way fried chicken has become a source of fun for chefs here. Versions range from a fragrant five-spice blend to some kind of crazy pickle concoction, or playing with the fat it’s cooked in to give it different flavors and textures.
Egg Roll Chen keeps it simple and addictive. Pieces of dark chicken are coated in flour, handily seasoned with salt and pepper, fried and tossed at the end in fried scallions and chilis. The result is a perfect sort of bite that hits all the senses at once. Think about everything you enjoy about fried chicken — the saltiness, the fat, the crispiness — and then ramp up to a hundred when the chilis hit your palate and start shooting flares up to your brain. In the way Nashville hot chicken became popular, I could see some sinister form of yen su jee coming to life and taking the world by storm.