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Korea Blog: Fried Chicken’s Central Role in a TV Drama, a Police Comedy, and Korean Culture Itself

“Did you come because of the movie?” said a middle-aged man waiting a few places in front of me in line for fried chicken. He didn’t ask me, but a nearby family of four or five, and they had indeed come because of the movie, as had I. That movie, Lee Byeong-heon’s Extreme Job (극한직업), racked up more than 10 million ticket sales about two weeks after it opened in Korea January, a fairly staggering success in this country of 50 million people, especially for a comedy. The story of a bumbling team of detectives who stake out the headquarters of a drug-running operation by buying a chicken shop right across the street, it has made a fad of an unusual kind of fried chicken, one prepared with a marinade normally used for galbi, the beef short-rib dish available in Korean restaurants the world over.

Specifically, it has made a fad of galbi-marinade fried chicken available at the chicken shop I went to: Nammun Tongdak on the tourist-destination “Chicken Street” in Suwon, a large suburb about twenty miles from Seoul. Though it doesn’t have roots as deep as some of the other occupants of Chicken Street, its owners can claim to have put the dish on its menu two years ago, though they dropped it from the menu when it proved to be a slow seller, only bringing it back as soon as Extreme Job instilled in the public a jones for it, or at least an awareness of it. The movie’s main characters start using the recipe out of desperation: none of them have any experience frying chicken, so they have to make do with the culinary knowledge one of them picked up working at his family’s Suwon barbecue restaurant.

The hybrid dish immediately becomes a social-media sensation, and life has, to a degree, imitated art: even on a Monday afternoon, Nammun Tongdak had a line out the door and both floors filled with determined eaters. Though the taste of the chicken proved worth the trip — the Coca-Cola in the marinade gives it a metallic edge, though not an unpleasant one — I may never make another, not because of anything unpleasant about that particular chicken shop at all, but because there are so many to choose from, not just on Suwon’s Chicken Street but more or less everywhere in Korea. Known not by the Korean word for chicken used in other dishes but with the loanword chikin, fried chicken is, as any number of expat food bloggers might put it, not just a food in Korea but a way of life, a dish automatically chosen for so many gathering of friends, classmates, or co-workers.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.