To understand why Korean fried chicken is so popular, it helps to look back on the past.
In the late 1960s, it was sold hold and roasted over an electric oven in the Myeondong Yeongyang Centre in Seoul.
But once the 1970s rolled around, cooking oil became more widely available and hence, the frying began.
Lims Chicken was the first modern establishment for Korean fried chicken.
It got its start in 1977 in the basement of the Shinsegae Department Store.
Helmed by Yu Seok-ho, he came up with the idea to fry smaller pieces of chicken after studying abroad in the US.
With so many people applauding his early cooking efforts there, he brought his methods back to South Korea.
If you’re a fan of Korean fried chicken, you probably have tried the different flavours like yangnyeom, which came about in 1982.
This offering was created by Yun Jonggye who ran a Korean fried chicken restaurant in Daegu.
After noticing his customers found the outer, crispy layers of the fried chicken difficult to chew, he marinated it in sweet and spicy flavours.
Ironically, this first version of yangnyeom chicken didn’t include gochujang as it does today.
How Korean Fried Chicken Expand Over The Past Years
But the ultimate thing that catapulted Korean fried chicken into a favourite food in the country was when Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) began opening stores there in 1984.
The Korean fried chicken craze was officially on, though the late 1990s brought the Asian financial crisis where workers were laid off and went on to open their own fried chicken establishments.
Despite the saturation in the market, Korean fried chicken is still one of the most popular offerings. In 2013, South Korea was home to over 20,000 fried chicken restaurants.
That number rose to 36,000 by 2017. As of February 2019, there were 87,000 Korean fried chicken places, a clear sign that this main dish has firmly cemented itself into Korean cuisine.
They’re difficult to keep successful, even though Koreans love their chicken.
Half of them go out of business within a year of opening, but more continue to open to take their place.
While it doesn’t seem the most profitable venture for a restaurant owner, doing little things to stand out in the market could be the key to success.
Along with a great location, those that have staying power have commanded the best ingredients, flavour combinations, and banchan – the complimentary side dishes that are served in restaurants in Korea.
Things like homemade kimchi tend to pull Korean fried chicken restaurants into the lead of what has been dubbed The Chicken Game.’
As job prospects dwindle for the younger generations that have just completed college, this game of chicken continues while Koreans show no sign of slowing down on their cravings for fried chicken.