It’s the too-common fate of take-out to get a little dinged in transit, but a wave of disappointment still washed over me as I placed the slightly crumpled white box of Han’s Chimaek chicken on the lawn.
I’d arranged for a friend, who’d lived in South Korea, to join me for a socially distanced picnic—a test run for Boise’s newest chimaek, or chicken and beer, joint. When I opened the box, a savory smell wafted into the air. Reaching in, my friend grabbed a drumstick of yangnyum, but drew her hand back sharply.
“It’s still hot,” she said.
Han’s Chimaek officially opened its doors on April 30 at 1716 Broadway Ave. in Boise. It’s the former location of K-Fusion, another Korean food spot. Compared to its predecessor, which served a variety of soups and noodle dishes, the menu at Han’s is focused, specializing in Korean fried chicken, all the sauces and batters for which the owner developed recipes himself.
Chimaek is one of the most popular dishes in South Korea. Riffing on American-style fried chicken, Koreans started seasoning their batter and developing sauces to suit their own tastes, and pairing this new concoction with Korean-style beer to create a single menu item (“chimaek” is a portmanteau of the Korean words for “chicken” and “beer”), which people typically order at the end of a long night of drinking. In just a few decades, franchises serving the stuff have opened all over South Korea and around the world, and demand is so high that it’s the source of another portmanteau: “chi-neunim,” or “chicken God.”
According to my sources—namely a scant handful of friends who have visited South Korea, the internet and people who make it—chimaek should be maximally crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Under no circumstances should sauce cause the fried batter to become soggy.
After waiting a minute, my friend and I took another stab at the yangnyum, which had been tossed in a garlicky, spicy reddish sauce of Han’s own devising and dusted with chopped peanuts. It had more crunch than breakfast cereal right out of the box; more crunch, really, than pretty much anything I’d ever tasted. The chicken inside was piping hot, tender and juicy. It was absolutely delicious and addicting.
After stripping her drumstick, my friend said it was easily some of the best chimaek she’d ever had in America, comparing it very favorably with Vons Chicken, a franchise that sells its wares out of Mr. Wok in Boise, and where she had introduced me to the dish in the first place.
To our picnic I’d brought along some disinfecting wipes, which, I thought, would double as moist towelettes for scrubbing the yangnyum sauce from our fingers, but after unwrapping the provided utensils packages, we discovered a nod to chimaek culture in the form of a single plastic glove. Apparently in South Korea, the sauces are so spicy and caustic that extended eating sessions can cause people to develop rashes and burns on their fingers. The chicken before us was nowhere near that intense, but the gloves were still a gracious touch, cleanliness-wise.
Now that there are two spots in town serving Korean fried chicken, the stuff is far more plentiful. The same cannot be said, however, for Korean beer, which is difficult to find in Boise. Typically, Koreans will drink very light beer with their chicken, but I encourage folks here to experiment. I washed mine down with Boise Brewing’s Broad Street Blonde, but really any sessionable or lighter, German-style beer will do.
I genuinely hope Boiseans develop a passion for chimaek. It’s messy, and for the faint of stomach, a bit spicy; but it’s delicious and unpretentious. It does something more, turning the food you eat to soak up what you drink into an activity anyone would want to do.