Korean TV show sparks chicken and beer craze in China

A poster of My Love from the Star Photo: Viki.com

Fried chicken has been falling out of favor with Chinese consumers, but a new hit South Korean TV show is bringing it back to life.

In “My Love From the Star,” a romantic comedy about a Korean actress and her extraterritorial boyfriend, the show’s main character (played by Korean A-lister Jun Ji-hyun) is crazy for chimek—“chi” is short for chicken and “mek” for “mekju,” the Korean word for beer. She specifically likes to partake in a meal of chimek to celebrate the year’s first snowfall.

That on-the-screen tradition is playing out in real-life fried chicken joints across China as fans of the show get their chimek fix.

“These days when my friends and I get together, we order fried chicken with beer,” said Ada He, who works for a real-estate company in Beijing and is a self-professed Korean drama lover.

The TV show, which is aired by the Seoul Broadcasting System, has been one of the most-watched TV series on two of the online video platforms where it’s available, iqiyi.com and LeTV.com. On iqiyi alone, it has been watched 14.5 billion times since its December debut.

Korean TV series have long been popular in China, and discussions about “My Star” are among the most-discussed topics on Sina’s Weibo microblogging platform. More than 3.7 million posts related to the Chinese term for chimek have been published on Weibo over the past few weeks, while Tencent’s WeChat is getting on the craze by displaying falling snowflakes or snowmen when users send messages to one another that include the Chinese expression for chimek, zhaji he pijiu.

Even some Chinese celebrities are fans of the show, fueling the craze. “The first snow arrives, where is the chimek?” Gao Yuanyuan, a prominent Chinese actress, posted on her verified Weibo account, earlier this month. “Did you have chimek on the day of the first snow?” the Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily asked on its verified Weibo account.

Sim June-bo, owner of Barsak Chicken and Beer, a Korean restaurant in Beijing’s Wangjing district, said he has noticed a significant increase in the restaurant’s Chinese clientele since the show began airing.

“I have been doing fried chicken business for eight years, but this is the first time I’ve seen so many Chinese clients coming to order fried chicken with beer,” he said.

“In the past, 40% of our clients who ordered fried chicken were Chinese and 60% were Korean. Now it is 80% Chinese and 20% Korean,” Mr. Sim said, adding that one day last week there were as many as 100 people waiting to get some fried chicken to go.

At another fried chicken takeaway joint in Wangjing, which is home to several Korean eateries, an employee surnamed Zhang said the restaurant also has seen a notable increase in business.

“Our daily revenue used to be about several hundred yuan, but since last month, it has grown rapidly and can reach as much as 3,000 yuan per day,” he said.

Even those who don’t follow the drama are falling for the chicken-and-beer craze.

“I am not a fan of the TV series or Korean drama, but I always like to have fried chicken,” said Li Zhe, who works for a media company in Beijing.

Mr. Li said he went to a Korean chimek restaurant last weekend with some friends who are fans of the drama and waited in line for about two hours to buy some fried chicken to go.

“After I posted pictures from the restaurant, I got calls from my friends to ask me how to get there,” he said.

Of course, what remains to be seen, and what major restaurants like KFC will be watching for, is whether the fad can cure slumping chicken sales amid the recent bird flu spike, or if it’s just a passing trend.

“I don’t usually eat fried chicken and I don’t like beer, as it is so unhealthy,” Ms. He said. “But it is such a trendy thing to do now.”

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