Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

(Yan Su Ji 鹽酥)


July 6: National Fried Chicken Day

McDonald’s has chicken nuggets. KFC has popcorn chicken. Taiwan’s night markets have yan su ji—flavorful, seasoned bite-sized pieces of crispy fried chicken.

Ling-Chen (Monica) C., Islander’s roommate from our college alma mater, took us to the Night Market in Hualien when we visited her and her family in Taiwan. We went from stall to stall tasting popular foods like coffin bread, scallion pancakes, lu rou fan (braised minced pork over rice), pineapple cakes, soup dumplings, beef noodles in a cup, boba tea and fried chicken pieces on wooden skewers (also known as salt crisp chicken or popcorn chicken).

Some boba tea places in North America sell Taiwanese popcorn chicken as a snack, too. But Islander’s former ESL student, YaJu Y., also from Taiwan, taught us how to cook it, so we can enjoy it whenever we crave it. Garnished with crisp, flash-fried basil leaves, and this food is a surefire favorite when we gather with friends—everyone takes a toothpick and eats it hot as soon as it comes out of the deep fryer!

For National Fried Chicken Day, try a Taiwanese style treat: popcorn chicken.


(From YaJu Y.)


  • 4-5 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tablespoon ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon rice cooking wine or sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Sweet potato flour (see Notes)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt to sprinkle (traditional but optional)
  • Fresh Thai basil, washed with leaves trimmed


Trim fat from the chicken and dice into bite-sized pieces. In a separate bowl, mix together the minced garlic and grated ginger.

Mix in the sugar, five spice powder, white pepper, wine and soy sauce.

Toss the chicken in the marinade and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (better if overnight for more intense flavor). Beat the egg with the baking soda. Then coat the chicken pieces in a dish of sweet potato flour.

Deep fry in small batches for 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt (optional). Carefully fry the basil leaves for 30 seconds (beware of hot oil  splatters). Drain on paper towels. Mix with the popcorn chicken. Serve hot with toothpicks or skewers. May serve with a chili dipping sauce.


  • Sweet potato flour may be found at Asian grocery stores. Use the flour instead of the powder variety to give the popcorn chicken a coarser and crunchier texture. Instead of sweet potato flour or starch, other substitutions may include tapioca starch, corn starch or rice flour.
  • YaJu likes to marinate the chicken overnight for a more intense flavor. But even when we chilled the mixture for an hour, the flavor was still good. We did not sprinkle additional salt after frying since there is already a lot of sodium in the soy sauce. YaJu says others like to sprinkle more five spice powder and pepper as well.