A meal of fried chicken and beer, usually served with pickled radish and cabbage salad.
Chimaek is a portmanteau–portmanteaux abound in colloquial Korean–of ch’ik’in (치킨), meaning chicken, and maekju (맥주), which means beer. Each of these words comes from a very different source, so let’s take them one at a time.
Chicken is English, of course. Naturally, Korean has its own words for Korean–talk/dalg (닭) being the most common–but fried chicken is usually referred to as chicken, and it’s been used in Korea for a while.
Maek-ju has also been around for a while, and the word comes from Chinese. Maek (맥, 麥) is from the Classical Chinese word for barley–the native Korean word is pori/bori (보리). Barley is, of course, the main ingredient of decent beer, so with ju, “alcohol,” maekju means beer.
While I knew that ch’imaek was not part of ancient Korean culture, I figured the word must have at least predated my arrival in Korea in 2007. After all, there was a chicken and beer place just down the street from my first apartment.
I turned to KINDS to check. The first few entries are unrelated (e.g., a person’s name in an article about increasing numbers of foreign workers) or database mistakes (e.g., a piece dated 2009 about current discount food events during the 2012 London Olympics). But I was completely surprised to find that the word in its current sense was first printed in a mainstream news source on June 15, 2010. The piece is a KBS feature on frequently searched terms, which apparently included at that moment chewing ice and ch’imaek:
혹시 ‘치맥’이라는 말 들어보셨나요?
치킨과 맥주를 합친 신조어가 등장할 정도로 월드컵을 보면서 닭을 찾는 분들이 많습니다.
Have you by chance heard the word “ch’imaek?” To the same extent that this new confluence of words is appearing, people have been looking for chicken while watching the World Cup.
(Before we go on, let me note that the first appearance of a word in print does not indicate the first time it was used–but it does often suggest a high level of acceptability and societal penetration, which is why etymologists are always searching for earlier references of contestable words.)
It had appeared in headlines nearly 30 times by August 12, when an article on the start of the English Premier League’s season was titled “치맥의 시즌 왔다”–“Ch’imaek season has come.” Even then, the writer still defines the word at the beginning of the story.
This gives us another clue that the term was only just entering universal parlance and, again, in relation to soccer. This association–chicken, beer and soccer–began in 2002, when Korea cohosted the World Cup with Japan. To celebrate, a lot of chicken and beer establishments, or hofs (호프, a future post), had promotional events. Even now, a ch’imaek joint is a not unusual place to catch the Korean national team on TV–I’ve watched them there on a number occasions.
In the not-so-many-years since ch’imaek reached saturation, the pattern has been copied for words like ch’i-pap (치밥, chicken + rice) and ch’icol (치콜, chicken + cola), the sober man’s (or more likely, minor’s) alternative to ch’imaek.
Another presumably related word is somaek (소맥), a dangerous mix of the ubiquitous Korean liquor soju and plain old beer. I was unwilling to filter through all 5,714 results for the term on KINDS–most of them were about the import of wheat, which is also somaek–but I did go through the 326 entries in which the term appeared in a headline. Its first appearance there was in a January 2002 Donga Ilbo piece on how new combinations of alcohol have become a part of Korean drinking culture. Somaek is one of them, so it’s not a bad hypothesis that maybe the word provided a model for ch’imaek. (I’m pretty sure people were mixing soju and beer for a while before 2002, though, and I’ll write more about somaek in a future post.)
I’ve gotten pretty deep into context already, but there’s always more–in this case, ch’imaek in pop culture and in social life.
Let’s look at pop culture to start. One of the most popular recent dramas, My Love from the Star (별에서 온 그대, 2013-2014), included ch’imaek as part of the main character’s background story: as a child, she and her now-estranged father always ate fried chicken together (I hope not with beer) upon winter’s first snowfall, and as a lonely adult, she yearns (even begs) for ch’imaek at the first snow, too.
This drama became wildly popular in China, causing ch’imaek sales to skyrocket–and almost causing a miscarriage for one pregnant woman after she spent several nights in a row staying up late to binge-watch and eat fried chicken with beer.
People do eat ch’imaek alone in their rooms–I know some of those people–and it’s also a common home delivery food (although I’ve heard the government is starting to crack down on the beer delivery). However, I’ve usually eaten it in ch’imaek restaurants, where the gender ratio tends toward the masculine. It’s a common first or second stop on a group outing with school or work colleagues: When I studied at Korea University, one of my professors regularly took us to the iconic Samsung Tongdalk (삼성통닭) after class, and other times, with work colleagues, we stopped at a ch’imaek joint for round two (이차) after a Korean barbecue work dinner (회식).
And people insert ch’imaek into the most significant life events: My husband and I stopped for the meal on the way home after he formally proposed to me at Changgyeong Palace, and a friend of ours, relieved that she no longer needed to watch her diet, went for ch’imaek with her husband immediately following her wedding.
Revised romanization: chimaek
Folk: ChiMc (also the name of a restaurant chain)
“[검색어 톡톡] 얼음 깨먹지 마세요! 外.” KBS. 15 June 2010. Korea Integrated News Database System. 23 March 2016.
“맥주.” 네이버사점. n.d. Web. 23 March 2016.
조은지. “EPL/‘치맥’의 시즌이 왔다.” 서울신문. 12 August 2010. Korea Integrated News Database System. 23 March 2016.
이은주. “술특집 / 폭탄주 오십세주 소맥 산상군주…’섞어酒’ 기호? 호기?” 동아일보. 17 January 2002. Korea Integrated News Database System. 24 March 2016.