Big soccer match spurs on Chimaek(Korean fried chicken and beer) frenzy

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09/10
Korean-style fried chicken is becoming popular abroad.

World media have highlighted that Chimaek- the term used to describe the fried chicken (chi) and beer (maekju) combo - has been thriving in South Korea for years but its frenzy is spurred on the occasion of a big soccer match such as the final of Asian Games soccer tournaments between South Korea and Japan.

The union of these two has become a culturally significant force in South Korean drinking culture.

The country is bursting with places to eat chicken.

The market for fried chicken is worth about 3 trillion KRW (about $3 billion), according to Statistics Korea.

There's even a festival devoted to chicken and beer in Daegu.

No single style counts as "authentic" chimaek. This one is a combo of traditional and yangnyeom (with sweet and spicy sauce) chicken.

Like any celebrity power couple, chicken and beer have a co-joined nickname: chimaek ("chi" for chicken and "maek" for maekju, Korean for beer).

Chimaek has been around for a while but the term itself became widespread in 2010, the year of the World Cup, and something of a golden year for chimaek.

Its popularity hasn't abated, and its significance has risen from national dish to national pastime.

"Chimaek is like a sigh of relief," says Kim Min-jeong, who works for a legal firm in Seoul. "Chimaek after work lets me know I've survived another day."

"It's part of our national culture," says bar owner Park Vito, who sometimes gets chicken delivered to his bar. "Chimaek is both an industry and a part of our dining culture."

Korean-style, chimaek-worthy chicken is defined by an enormous range of choices that fall under the chimaek umbrella.

Some claim only a specific frying method qualifies as "authentic" Korean-style chicken, but there are so many chimaek styles -- chicken places are forever hatching new techniques and flavor combinations -- that no one really has a say on what counts and what doesn't.

There's proto-Korean fried chicken, the whole roast chicken (tongdak).

There's chicken cooked on a charcoal fire (sutbul chicken).

There's boneless (sunsal), slathered in sweet and spicy sauce (yangnyeom) and smothered in leeks (padak).

There's no hierarchy, only a diverse range that caters to a variety of tastes.

Chicken was once considered a delicacy in Korea, stewed whole with dates and ginseng and reserved for special occasions.

Fried chicken for the masses came with the launch of the first South Korean vegetable oil product in 1971, alongside a rapidly growing chicken industry.

 

Fried chicken was embraced as an excellent food pairing for draft beer, and subsequent years saw the debut of multiple chicken franchises.

Their growth was bolstered by the financial crisis of the late 1990s -- some who lost their jobs turned to opening chicken joints.

This portion of Padak chicken is from the Hong Kong branch of Chicken Hof & Soju, a popular Korean chicken restaurant.

Korean-style fried chicken is becoming popular abroad.

The chimaek fever that swept through China in the past year can be traced to a line from the popular South Korean TV drama, "My Love from the Star."

Chimaek makes frequent appearances as the favored comfort food of the drama's heroine, who says, "It's snowing. How can you not have chimaek?"

The show has inspired a chimaek festival in the Chinese city of Ningbo, social media memes and long lines outside of Korean fried chicken restaurants in China.

Locations: 
S. Korea
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