Review: Jollibee (Oh that Fried Chicken)

When life throws a lemon at you, don’t make lemonade. Instead, chuck the lemon away and grab some fried chicken. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing that a hot, crisp and juicy piece of chicken can’t fix – regardless if you are hungover, depressed, heartbroken or suffering from a horrible day. However, the problem with Hong Kong is that there simply isn’t good fried chicken anywhere. We, as a city, just don’t do fried chicken well. Sure, there are articles on Foodie and Timeout HK titled as ‘5 best fried chicken spots in Hong Kong’, or ’10 can’t miss fried chicken locations in Hong Kong’, but as someone who has actually sampled a lot of the fried chicken destinations on the list, I can honestly say that it is a load of bull (looking at you and your concrete hard chicken, Stone Nullah Tavern). So when I need a pick-me-up, or just a quick chicken fix, here is what I do. I head to Connaught Road in Central, to where Jollibee is located..

Jollibee is a Filipino fast food chain. It only has three locations in Hong Kong – two in Central and one in Mongkok – and is relatively unknown amongst the city’s local populations. Walk in to the store and you will hear more Tagalog than English and Cantonese, as much of the restaurant’s clientele are from the Philippines (For many of my meals, I was the only non-Filipino in the entire place). Before you berate me for promoting, or even simply just for reviewing a fast food chain, hear me out, for Jollibee does serve the best fried chicken in Hong Kong (Do ignore the fact that they call their fried chicken ‘chickenjoy’, after all, since their chicken tastes like heaven they can name it whatever they want).

Jollibee Combo Meal

I mean, just look at the picture above. That is a thing of beauty. Each individual piece of chicken is breaded with a secret coating and fried until perfectly crisp and golden in colour. Bite into it and you will be greeted with an explosion of steam, chicken fat and juices. I have eaten numerous fried pieces of bird in Hong Kong, but I have yet to encounter a piece of fried chicken as juicy as the one here. Eating at Jollibee is a fantastically messy ordeal, and I love it – after all, how often does one really get to strip away all formalities and embrace one’s inner desires while dining outside? As chicken fat and juices drip down my forearms, I am filled with a sense of joy and relief. This is the magic of food, it comforts you and lets you know that no matter how bad things get, everything will be alright.

But let’s return back to the chicken. The skin is as crispy as breaded, deep fried things get, and the succulence of the meat reminds me of something that has been brined for a prolonged period of time. It is juicy, and so tender that it can be torn from the bone simply by applying pressure with a fork. Sure, such an effect may be achieved by soaking the meat in a mysterious blend of tenderising chemicals, but ignorance is bliss, and you and I will just casually overlook such a concern. And you definitely should – when something tastes as good as this, why would you worry about such formalities and trivial matters? As if things cannot get any better, Jollibee serves gravy rather than the standard meh that is ketchup (also brownie points to them for labelling Ketchup as Catsup, I bloody love it). It tastes like packet gravy, the ones you find in school canteens and in badly prepared Thanksgiving dinners, but curiously, I am hit with a pang of nostalgia and find myself enjoying the gloopy sauce way more than I should. It meshes well with the chicken; but then again, what doesn’t? Everything else on the menu can be disregarded. Fries look fantastic, but turn limp and flaccid within a few minutes. Still they are well seasoned and are edible, unlike the Palabok (a shrimp based noodle dish), which tastes like the inside of a fisherman’s boot – fishy, musky and yuck in every single way. Disregard all this and go for the chicken.

Years ago, I read a very interesting statistic. McDonald’s is the most popular fast food chain in every nation in the world, save for one. That particular outlier is the Philippines, where Jollibee reigns supreme, above the golden arches of McDonald’s and the eery smiling face of Colonel Sanders. And you know what? I think the Filipino population has nailed it.

Jollibee, G/F Fortune House, 61 Connaught Road (other locations can be found in Central at the Eurotrade Centre and in Mongkok at the first floor of the Mongkok Commercial Centre)