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South Korea

Korean Fried Chicken, How Seoul Owners Are Winging It

South Korean fried chicken franchises are popping up all over the country. Tight competition is squeezing owners.

There are around 50,000 chicken joints in South Korea
There are around 50,000 chicken joints in South Korea
Jason Strother

SEOUL — The main difference between American and Korean preparations of fried chicken comes down to the marinades. Popular ones here are soy sauce, garlic and the quintessential Korean flavor yangnyum.

Lee Seon-young, who runs a chicken and beer restaurant in my neighborhood, squeezes the sweet and spicy sauce over a batch of crispy tenders that he just pulled out of a deep fryer. Unlike KFC's Colonel Sanders' original recipe, the ingredients for yangnyum are no secret.

"It's made of sugar syrup, pepper paste, ketchup and paprika powder, ah, and some other stuff," Lee says.

There are around 50,000 chicken joints in South Korea. Most are franchises and deliver to customers doors via motorbike. It's not unusual for dozens of these small restaurants to cluster together in a residential area.

Jeong Eun-jeong, an author of a book on the history of Korea's chicken industry, says these restaurants appeared on the scene 20 years ago after the Asian financial crisis, which took a big toll on Korea's economy.

"A lot of middle aged men were fired from their jobs then. And many of them opened chicken franchises," she says. "So these restaurants became popular not because Koreans like eating fried chicken so much but because suddenly there were just so many of these places and then Koreans started eating more chicken."

She explains there's a notion in Seoul that if you want to own your own business, you should open a restaurant even if you have no experience in the food industry. Entrepreneurs pay for culinary classes at chicken academies run by franchises.

Shin Hyun-ho runs one such school in Seoul. He teaches newcomers how to cook and manage a franchise. He says it's a competitive industry but still easy to be successful.

"Everyone likes chicken, so there are plenty of customers," says Shin. "The initial investment doesn't have to be that much, it's up to the new owner."

The low investment attracts entrepreneurs. Three years ago, Park Shi-kyung took out a $150,000 loan to open a chicken restuarant restaurant. The 45-year-old already ran his own sign-making company. But he says he needed to earn more money to support his family.

"I'm at an age when I need to earn more money so I can pay for my two kids' private education to get them ready for university. But running this kind of business was harder than I thought it would be," he admits.

Park's restaurant is one of about 50 chicken places in his neighborhood. He says the competition and lackluster economy is making it almost impossible to earn money.

"Ahhhh, well, on average, in a month, I don't make any money at all. After paying back the loan, buying ingredients, paying my staff and paying rent, my profits are zero. Right now, nothing," Park says.

Jeong Eun-jeong says Park's situation is typical. Most franchise owners never make a profit. She says they can't close their restaurant either because then they's lose everything.

"Most chicken restaurant owners use their apartments as collateral when they take out a loan to open their restaurants. So, they also lose their homes when the business fails," she says.

Jeong estimates that each year, about half of all chicken restaurants in Korea go out of business. But that's not stopping new entrepreneurs from entering the market. A lack of jobs for college graduates has seen restaurant owners get younger and younger.

Lee Seon-young, 31, owner of my neighborhood chicken joint, says he knew how tough the chicken business was when he opened his place six months ago. He tells me there's even a phrase to describe the competition between restaurants.

"We call it the chicken game. People lower their prices to be competitive and that ends up putting them out of business."

Lee says business is good. He's not playing the chicken game.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

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The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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