South Korea is known today as an economic powerhouse, but – unless you’re a hardcore history buff – the country was thrust into serious poverty at the end of the Korean War in 1953. There was precious little to eat save for rations supplied by the US Armed Forces in the form of processed meat products which weren’t really part of the Korean diet. However, it was this exact situation which gave birth to one of Korea’s best-loved winter comfort foods: budae jjigae.
Essentially, budae jjigae is defined as:
a type of jjigae (a thick Korean soup similar to a Western stew)… Some people made use of surplus foods from U.S. Army bases around the Uijeongbu area, Pyeongtaek area (also called Songtan) or Munsan area, such as hot dogs, canned ham, and Spam, and incorporated them into a traditional spicy soup flavored with gochujang (red chili paste) and kimchi.
Budae jjigae is still popular in South Korea. The dish often incorporates modern ingredients such as instant ramen noodles and sliced American cheese. Other ingredients may include ground beef, sliced sausages, baked beans, dropwort, onions, green onions, tteok, tofu, chili peppers, macaroni, garlic,mushrooms and other vegetables in season.
Commonly, the broth used for the dish is made with beef bones. Some families replace it with a broth made with fresh salted anchovies, making it less fatty yet more flavorful.
For many young Koreans, however, budae jjigae still involves all the easy ways out for eating on the cheap. Spicy-flavored instant ramyeun (ramen) noodles are cooked together with such things as frankfurters, Spam, convenience store dumplings, and such odds and ends of vegetables that are available to make a tasty, nourishing stew that goes well – too well, as a matter of fact – with rice.
If you want to try this yourself, do what I did yesterday: take a bowl of instant kimchi (or any other similarly incendiary-flavored variant) noodles and four or more convenience store dumplings (shown above are steamed sharksfin and crabstick siomai from Mini Stop). Add hot water, leave to steep for a few minutes, and enjoy. I should warn you, however, to have either a bowl of plain rice or a bottle of water close at hand – it’s quite a fiery DIY dining experience. 😛