It’s been a hot summer. (It’s still a hot summer.) When the weather gets to you, it’s very easy to lose your appetite. Luckily, Korea has many different dishes to beat the summer heat and among them, there’s one that stands out as a year-long favorite: fried chicken. Anyone knows that once you’ve tried Korean fried chicken there’s no going back; it’s that addictive.
Back in the day, by which I mean up till the 1970s, the chicken Koreans ate the most was either stewed, steamed, or roasted. Roasted chicken on a barbeque pit or electric grill was simply called “whole chicken” (통닭) as the whole chicken was roasted. Chicken fried in bite-sized parts didn’t become that popular until the 1980s, when the fried chicken franchises started to pop up. These franchises had their own special recipes that fit well into Korean taste buds and the boom hasn’t faded since.
But I’m not going to talk about Korean fried chicken only. (I did that already), because what’s even better than just plain fried chicken? Fried chicken and cold beer. The pairing of fried chicken and cold beer is so perfect that in Korean, there’s a separate word to describe it: chimaek (치맥). Chimaek is composed of the first syllables of the words chicken (치킨) and maekju (맥주, beer.) Simple as that.
Koreans like to eat while drinking. (Or drink while eating.) In the anju (안주, side dishes for alcoholic drinks) culture, the most natural choice for beer would be chicken as pajeon (파전, savory green onion pancakes) would be for makgeolli (막걸리, rice wine). Anju is not like western bar snacks, which are really just snacks, but full-fledged meals, which is why you’d see many fried chicken diners advertising their beer, and beer hofs (bars) advertising their chicken simultaneously.
Draft beer started being popular in the 1970s, alongside the roasted chicken trend, so it naturally became the companion to fried chicken as it became more popular.
Korean fried chicken evolved with new recipes: “flavored” with various spices and condiments, offering special cuts only (drumsticks, wings, chicken breast, or the whole thing), adding tubs of special sauces or toppings (honey, garlic, red pepper paste, green onion, bean sprouts, perilla leaves, etc), and all of these are available for delivery. In fact, since fried chicken is one of the most delivered foods in Korea, it is inevitable that these delivery chicken places deliver beer, too. Most of the franchises would have their own draft beer at their disposal which would be delivered to you in a separate, ice cold PET bottle for an additional fee. (The soft drink delivered with your fried chicken is usually complimentary.)
Chimaek is so integrated in Korean everyday life that a “chimaek date” was voted as the most popular date for male office workers in a recent survey, beating out a movie date (which was the favorite among women).
On hot summer nights, you’ll see hordes of people on river banks and camping grounds munching and drinking chimaek; you’ll also see people lounging in plastic chairs in front of convenience stores downing chimaek while nattering the night away. Although chimaek is for any time of the year, it is the most visible in summer; many people will say it is “perfect chimaek weather” on certain days.
The city of Daegu, which is hometown for many of the fried chicken franchises, even holds a festival for chimaek, where rows of tents are set up for every fried chicken establishment in Korea to show off their recipes and where endless pitchers and mugs of beer flowed between very happy people. (Hey, chimaek will do that to you.) This year’s festival took place in July, when Daegu was going through an epic heat wave. Chimaek would have been the best solution to forget the difficult weather.
Of course, if you’re being calorie conscious, chimaek might not be an ideal choice for you, but you can always opt for chicken salad, to ease some of the dieting guilt while enjoying chimaek at the same time, but heck, live life a bit, just drop the guilt and enjoy this perfect pairing! I swear you won’t regret it.
- Get addicted to Korean Fried Chicken!: http://blog.korea.net/?p=2196
- Grab a Cold One: http://blog.korea.net/?p=5177
- Top 10 Late Night Snacks in Korea: http://blog.korea.net/?p=10428
- Korean Drinking Guide – beers and barbeque: http://blog.korea.net/?p=6858
- Slurp! Tasty Korean cold noodles: http://blog.korea.net/?p=4122
- Makguksu – Beating the Summer Heat: http://blog.korea.net/?p=17022
- How to survive a Korean summer: http://blog.korea.net/?p=4009
- Summer in Korea: http://blog.korea.net/?p=16475
- Microwave it! Korean food for the lazy: http://blog.korea.net/?p=13119
- Steve Miller’s video on chimaek: http://youtu.be/4vHnK6BwFqY
- Daegu Chimaek Festival: http://www.chimc.or.kr/2013