The other day we made a unique Korean stew incorporating the best of Korean and American staples: kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), rice cakes, Spam, and hot dogs. Yes, you heard me right, Spam and hot dogs are cooked alongside a healthy dose of kimchi and other “stuff” that make up a hearty dish called budae jjigae, famously known as Army Stew in Korean. This is a popular dish that conjures up memories of Korea’s distant past when the country was devastated by war and food remained a scarce commodity. Shortly after the war, there was a surplus of foods like canned ham, Spam, and hot dog varieties from the US Army bases, so a few food stalls put them to good use by making them into a spicy soup flavored with gochujang (red chili pepper paste) and gochugaru (red chili flakes). McDonalds and Burger King are common fast food fixtures for the young today in Korea, but budae jjigae has remained a nostalgic and sentimental dish favored by older generations. This soup has also attracted foreigners in recent time.
We made this dish specifically for our food blog, so it was fun scouring and purging the fridge and pantry for needed ingredients. For the more traditional stew, you will probably want to stick to Spam, hot dogs, kimchi, rice cakes (tteok), ramen noodles, and cheese. But as long as there’s canned ham or Spam along with kimchi in a spicy broth, you can be sure to say that you’ve eaten Korean-style Army Soup (or least a variation of it).
Here are the ingredients for our budae jjigae (spicy army stew) with the minced garlic, sugar, and soy sauce not pictured.
- 1 can Spam, cut according to preference
- 3, 4 hot dogs
- 4, 5 strips bacon
- 1 cup kimchi (+ 1/2 cup kimchi liquid)
- 1 instant ramen noodle (sauce packet optional)
- 1 cup rice cakes (tteok)
- 1/2 onion, thinly diced
- 2 tbsp gochujang (red pepper paste)
- 1 tbsp gochugaru (red pepper flake)
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 5, 6 cups water
- 1 package firm tofu (optional)
- 1 scallion/green onion, thinly sliced (garnish)