The high cost of the chicken chains

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The high cost of the chicken chains

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The age of fried chicken in Korea announced itself with the opening of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Jongno in April 1984. The good Colonel Sanders, with his signature glasses and goatee, spread the new taste of fried chicken to Koreans.

The founder’s story only made KFC more appealing: at the age of 65, Colonel Sanders started the franchise with $105 and a secret recipe with 11 herbs and spices.

Before the arrival of KFC, Koreans would buy fried whole chickens cooked and sold by street venders. Some restaurants served barbecued chicken, but it was expensive.

In the 1980s, beer halls became wildly popular in Korea, and fried chicken became a favorite dish to savor with beer. The financial crisis in the late 90s resulted in a second fried chicken boom. After layoffs and corporate restructuring, the newly-jobless competed to open up small restaurants serving and delivering fried chicken. The business was a good start-up choice because it required a relatively small investment, a small space and a motorcycle for delivery.

In the olden days, chicken was served to sons-in-law as a sign of appreciation. Chicken wings were also believed to contain an anti-aging component that keeps skin healthy and it is for this reason that ancient Chinese beauty Yang Guifei loved steamed chicken wings. We even have a dish named after her - Yang Guifei’s Chicken.

Today, chicken is the second most consumed meat in Korea after pork. The fried chicken market has grown to 5 trillion won, with over 50,000 restaurants around the nation. Last year, each of Korea’s 50 million people consumed more than 13 chickens, an average of one bird per month.

But with the popularity of fried chicken has come an increase in competition, especially between large retail chains and smaller mom-and-pop outlets. And not everyone is playing fair. Critics say that the big corporations are stealing business for items such as pizza and chicken that are traditionally dominated by small restaurants. And I am afraid that this could render obsolete the heartwarming tradition of having a fried chicken delivered for a late-night snack.

A supermarket chain recently created controversy by introducing a 5,000-won ($4.30) fried chicken. Because local chicken restaurants price their chickens at around 15,000 won, small outlets are worried they will lose customers.

In the Three Kingdoms period, the Chinese warlord Cao Cao compared chicken ribs, which have no meat on them, to something useless yet hard to give up because we relish them for the flavor. It is worrisome that the local chicken restaurants could soon become like chicken ribs - and I don’t want to give them up.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Ko Dae-hoon
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