In Daegu, revered chickens, fried gizzards and beer

July 25,2015
Left: A tongdak vendor smiles as he trims the deep-fried whole chickens at the Daegu Chimac (chicken and beer) Festival. Right top: Fried dakdongjip, chicken gizzards, started the fried chicken industry in Daegu, according to the Daegu Chimac Industry Association. Below: Chicken pops: bite-sized breaded and fried chicken. Above: Readying dakgangjeong and fried octopus combos for serving. By Kim Hyun-min
The Chimac Festival, an annual festival devoted to Koreans’ trendy chicken and beer combo, began Wednesday at Duryu Park and Dakdongjip (Chicken Gizzard) Alley - yes, Gizzard Alley - at Pyeonghwa Market in Daegu.

On a typically hot and humid Wednesday evening in the hottest city of the nation, chicken-frying redolent Duryu Baseball Park was packed with people enjoying “chimac” and watching the opening festivities celebrated by several K-pop stars including actor Lee Min-ho and girl group EXID, Daegu City Mayor Kwon Young-jin and the U.S. ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert.

Near the main stage at the northern end of the baseball park, there were 20 or so colorful booths selling fried chicken, dakdongjip, dakgangjeong (sweet and spicy boneless chicken), beer and other snacks that go well with beer in the stadium. The festival was crowded with friends, couples and families who came for a chimac night.

The fact that visitors can enjoy various kinds of chicken and beer at one place and many chicken-tasting events by chicken brands such as Kyochon and Samchon attracted local residents and visitors to Daegu. Most chicken brands provided tasting events and some offered giveaway events and time sale to early visitors.

People queued long at some popular booth selling unique and tasty chicken. The most popular was a set menu of traditional fried chicken, yangnyeom (sweet and spicy) chicken and fried potatoes. People grabbed several buckets of chicken and beers and moved to the bleachers of the baseball stadium and sat on silver-colored mats.

With a nice nutty smell and music and selfie-taking sounds in the air, a group of English teachers was buying beer and debating which chicken they were going to try.

Erin English, an American English teacher at Shinheung and Jangsung Elementry Shool in Daegu, was at her second annual festival.

“I love the chimac culture in Korea. In my country, America, we eat pizza when we drink beer. After I came to Korea to work, I found that chicken and beer is the best combination. ”

Emilee from Iowa, a student studying music education at Kyungpook National University said, “I was recommended to come here tonight by my friends. Here, beer and food are so cheap, I love it! We will of course have chicken but there are too many choices, so we’ll see.”

Jesa (commemorative rite) for Sacrificed Chickens

Late afternoon on Wednesday, Dakdongjip Alley was bustling with festival staff and restaurant owners preparing for the night’s entertainment. At 5 p.m., a jesa for chickens was offered by dakdongjip restaurant owners to thank the birds who are at the core of their businesses.

A fried chicken, trays of eggs, a whole pan of red bean rice cake and other typical ritual foods were neatly arranged on a table and a chicken’s portrait with diagonal black ribbons at the upper edges was set up. Men wearing white traditional jackets and black hats repeatedly stood and bowed, reciting prayers for the fowl. Then a man poured rice wine into a small wooden cup over three times to fill it and waved it several times above the table filled with food.

“We have made our livings at this Dakdongjip Alley, which has 43 years of tradition,” said Lee Won-woo, president at Dakdongjip Alley merchant union. “To thank chickens and ask for better business at this alley in the future, we hold a commemorative rite at the Chimac Festivals in Daegu.”

The origin of the festival - Dakdongjip Alley

The popularity of fried chicken in Daegu started with fried gizzards, according to the Daegu Chimac Industry Association.

Chicken gizzards, the nubby and chewy little bits with a slightly gamey taste, is the local specialty of Daegu, called dakdongjip here.

The history of Dakdongjip Alley traces to the 1970s when day laborers came to the alley to rest after a harsh day.

Dakdongjip was not even on the menu, but was a giveaway side dish. People became fonder of the side dish than the regular menu, so the owner of Sama Tongdak, who invented the dish, began to sell it for the equivalent of 1,000 won ($0.87) at today’s prices.

A beer-drinking competition at a sponsor’s booth. Champion guzzlers can win a can of engine oil or wet tissue packs. By Kim Hyun-min
The gizzards, which were once thrown away or left for livestock, became the most popular and famous menu item at Pyeonghwa Market.

Due to its cheap price and light taste that goes well with many seasonings, dakdongjip is loved by not only local residents but also visitors to Daegu.

Seasonings and sauces differ, and dakdongjip dishes are named accordingly. With fried dakdongjip as a starting point, the dishes can be made hot and sweet, garlicky, soy-flavored or with only salt and pepper. The price of a plate of dakdongjip to serve 3-4 people ranges from 9,000 to 12,000 won. Menus also include tongdak (traditional fried chicken), dakbal (chicken feet) and jjimdak (braised chicken with soy sauce).

Festival for everyone

Moms and dads were feeding their children, sitting on mats as oldsters drank soju with chicken bought from nearby booths on their mats. Long queues for chicken tasting and a prize lottery never shortened.

Yoko Honda, 33, is a student studying Korean at a private language school at Dongseongno in central Daegu. Her boyfriend, Yoon Joon-sik, works at TaeguTec and brought her to the festival to enjoy chimac together.

“There aren’t many festivals we can enjoy in Daegu but I think this is a very successful one. We enjoyed tonight very much and I’m happy to be with her here together,” Yoon said.

“It’s my first time to try yangnyeom dakdongjip. It was very delicious and I hope to come here next year again,” Honda added.

Jesa, a commemorative rite, honoring chickens conducted by dakdongjip restaurant owners in Dakdongjip Alley in Pyeonghwa Market. The ceremony thanks the birds for giving them a living and asks for continued good business. By Kim Hyun-min
College students were screaming and grooving to the music in front of the main stage, where a hip-hop concert was going full blast. Kim Hee-eun, 21, who studies industrial design at Keimyung University, was one of them.

“I like this festival because I can enjoy music, chimac and the hot atmosphere at once,” Kim said.

Chimac, the ultimate combo of two imported foods

Neither fried chicken nor beer originated in Korea, but this combo was quickly Koreanized and soaked into Korean culture.

It is said that the heavenly combination of the two imports first got its Korean name during the Word Cup in 2002.

Chimac was easy and delicious comfort food for Koreans who enjoyed watching soccer matches at parks and pubs after work.

The popularity continued after the World Cup, resulting in more diverse chicken menus and the expansion of the chimac industry.

Korean chimac brands now export the menu to other countries. Some even say the most successful K-wave food is yangnyeom tongdak, deep fried chicken slathered with sweet and spicy sauce that was invented by the local fried chicken brand Pelicana in 1981.

Koreans’ most beloved late-night snack is now almost deified, often called by netizens “chineunim,” which means “my dearest chicken” by a process that need not be explained here. One person, one chicken is the way many Koreans enjoy their comfort food, chicken.

“When I feel blue, I do chimac with friends, “one person one chicken” is the rule. Nothing is better to refresh my mood than this,” said Kim Gwang-hyun, 22, a college student.

She was holding a cup of beer with yangnyeom chicken on the table before her at the ballpark.

The Korean drama series “My Love from the Star” which was wildly popular in China, was the biggest factor in the Korean chimac culture’s expansion there.

Riding on the popularity of the series, the combo attracted the attention of Ningbo, a city in China, which asked Daegu if they could hold a similar festival.

How to enjoy the festival

First, it ends Sunday. Get there this weekend. Then:

1. There are three main venues at the Chimac Festival: Dakdongjip Alley, Duryu Baseball Park and Duryu Park (outside the stadium).

Dakdongjip Alley is the closest to Dongdaegu Station where intercity trains stop. Duryu Baseball Park is the main venue and main stage where music concerts are held. If you want to feel the atmosphere of the festival, the baseball park has it.

Outside the stadium, there are hundreds of booths where you can enjoy chimac at prices lower than inside. If you have a limited budget, enjoy the music and tasting events inside the stadium and treat yourself at one of the booths outside offering good chimac at reasonable prices.

2. The only thing you should bring is a mat to sit on. Stadium seats are limited and often it is better to settle on the grass rather than in the rather small seats. You don’t want to be lugging equipment in the hot and humid weather.

3. The best night view can be found on the left side of the main gate of Duryu Baseball Park. It is the best spot to enjoy an awesome night view that includes E-world Tower, a Daegu landmark, and also the music concert on the main stage. Toilets are also nearby.

4. A can of beer is 2,000 to 4,000 won and fried chicken ranges from 7,000 to 12,000 won. A cup of dakgangjeong is 5,000 to 10,000 won. Bring enough cash as not all the booths accept cards.

BY KIM HYUN-MIN [kim.hyunmin@joongang.co.kr]

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