In last Sunday's episode, a scene showed the two lead characters - Vincenzo (Song Joong-ki) and Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been) ― having instant bibimbap cups together. But as the camera zoomed in on the cups, the brand of its Chinese sponsor, Zihaiguo, an unfamiliar name to most Koreans became visible.
* bibimbap 拌饭，石锅拌饭
The actor also added a line says that "don't forget to eat something nice while watching something interesting."
The product placement backfired with many viewers slamming the drama for featuring the Chinese appropriation of the Korean dish.
Some Korean netizens seemed focused on the meal's packaging, claiming they were repulsed by the Chinese characters printed on it, while others busied themselves emphasizing that the "stirred rice dish" is a Korean dish. And some others mentioned that they do not want to see South Korean stars eating food to promote Chinese brands on TV.
"What is this Chinese bibimbap product placement? Now they (Chinese) are going to argue that bibimbap is a Chinese dish," a viewer wrote online.
* placement 植入
Another viewer wrote, "If the network just sells placement to Chinese companies for quick money, wouldn't (foreign) people who watch this series think bibimbap's Chinese food? This is a serious issue … I know money is important but this is taking it too far."
Some viewers defended tvN for its effort to cover the 20 billion won ($17.6 million) budget of the show.
The Chinese food company has an advertising agreement with Vincenzo, which stipulated the instant meal should appear a total of four times in the series and be eaten by the leads at least twice.
According to entertainment web portal Koreaboo on Tuesday, tvN has contacted Zihaiguo, to discuss cancelling the contract.
This is not the first time tvN has raised domestic viewers' collective ire through controversial product placement deals with Chinese companies. The comedy romance series "True Beauty" has recently come under fire for excessive advertising of Chinese products and brands, placing banners of the e-commerce firm JD.com in bus stops and showing characters eating Chinese instant hot pot.