Written by Cho Namhee
Continuing from last month’s issue, this article will not only give you some more information on how big the Korean fried chicken market is, but it will also serve as a guide for a more important question: What kind of chicken should you get tonight, and what beer should you pair it with?
Here are some more fun facts about the Korean fried chicken market. The size of the market is reaching upwards to approximately three trillion won (approximately 2.6 billion USD) annually, according to the KB Financial Holdings Management Institute. But what’s even more surprising is that the market is far from reaching its pinnacle (and any future decline of the market is not yet predicted). Referring to the statistics of the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), the average person in Korea consumes 15.4kg of chicken per year, which is only about half of the average of the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and only one third of the average of people in the U.S., where fried chicken originated. It may not appear in the statistics because of how they are calculated, but the Korean numbers for fried chicken (as opposed to total chicken) consumption would be at the very top of the table.
Now, getting down to more practical facts for your pleasant evening of poultry-eating indulgence. The total number of fried chicken brands in Korea is around three hundred, and with that, there are more than three hundred ways of cooking or frying chicken in Korea. Major chicken franchises are the top five in sales: Kyochon (교촌치킨), BHC, BBQ, Goobne (굽네), and Nene (네네). These restaurants can be found everywhere. All franchises have the original fried and yangnyeom (seasoned) chicken, but if you prefer sweet soy sauce, Gyochon is famous for it since it specializes in sweet soy sauce-flavored chicken. If you prefer fried chicken without batter, Goobne chicken is the one you’ll want. If you would like to try a local franchise, Ajuker (아주커) and Suil Chicken (수일통닭) are two of the many well-known local franchises available.
Flavors and recipes vary greatly among fried chicken franchises, and it is almost impossible to list them all. In brief, first you need to choose between plain fried or flavored, and between chicken with bones or without. Then you must choose between: original fried, spicy batter, spicy flavor, sweet flavor, and possibly other eccentric recipes that come as the consequences of innovative research and development in chicken flavoring. Due to each type of fried chicken having its own unique flavor and recipe, it is recommended that you try each of them and compare them in order to find the ultimate dish for you.
And now for the “maek” portion of “chimaek” and of our deliberation. (“Chimaek” is combined from “chi” of “chicken” and “maek” or “maekju”/beer.) It was not until the early 2010s that drink fridges at restaurants started to fill up with international brand beers. Thanks to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Korea and the EU and the U.S., international beers (which are often regarded as more tasty and genuine) are now commercialized in a similar price range as domestic beer. In other words, international draft beer is now available in diners, but is a little more pricy than standard Korean brand beers like Cass and Hite. Fried chicken restaurants offer draft beer deliveries as well, however, they are limited to domestic beer, and it might be more economical for you to get your favorite beer at one of the supermarkets or convenience stores citywide.
On a slight side-note, news about chicken and egg crises (e.g., avian influenza) are common these days in Korea, and as a result, the market tends to fluctuate as we react to dietary threats. It is recommended that you be careful regarding consumption in those periods when warnings are sent out and in effect. But, other than those days, fried chicken will likely remain the most popular choice for supper.
Cho Namhee currently studies communication at Chonnam National University.