[CNN] Watch your wing, KFC! Korean fried chicken (and beer) is here

June 22, 2015
“My Love from the Star” has created a “chimaek” (eating chicken and drinking beer) craze in China. (Korea Times file)

“My Love from the Star” has created a “chimaek” (eating chicken and drinking beer) craze in China. (Korea Times file)

[CNN] — Neither fried chicken nor beer originated in Korea.

But the union of these two overseas imports has become a culturally significant force in South Korean drinking culture.

The country is bursting with places to eat chicken. As of 2013, South Korea had more than 20,000 fried chicken eateries.

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

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

Xinhua, China’s state news agency, hailed the TV drama and the chimaek trend as a driving force in reviving chicken farms in 2014, which have suffered due to H7N9 avian flu concerns.

“Sales at the Kychon Chicken Ziteng Road location in Shanghai more than tripled over the previous year, following the success of (‘My Love from the Star’),” according to Gil Yeong-hwa of Kyochon Chicken. ”We had customers standing in line for two hours.”

Kyochon created a stir in the domestic delivery chicken scene in 1991 with its trademark soy sauce chicken.

Today the major chain remains a favorite at home and has opened locations in the United States, China and Southeast Asia. [READ MORE]