One of my favourite sections of the Korean Cultural Center of Canada’s website is the webtoon Gom-Gom’s Journey to the K-Food. It features delicious food and teaches you some cultural background at the same time. Recently, Gom-Gom taught us a Budae Jjigae recipe and I immediately knew I wanted to try making it.
History of the Budae Jjigae Recipe
First, Gom-Gom taught me the history of how Budae Jjigae, or Korean Army Stew, came to exist. You can read the full webtoon over here (it’s in English) but let me give you the basic concept. After the war ended, there was sadly some food scarcity, especially meat. The American army base shared rations of non-perishable items including Spam. No, seriously, Spam! Korean people were able to use the canned meat with other ingredients that they had on hand, and the concept of Budae Jjigae was born!
Language note! 부대 / Budae =Army Base and 찌개 / Jjigae = Stew, so 부대찌개 / Budae Jjigae literally means Army Base Stew! (If you want to learn more about the Korean language, I have a list of free resources for language learning over here)
A lot of people apparently consider Budae Jjigae to be a serious comfort food. Now that I’ve eaten it once I can absolutely see why. It’s delicious, yes, but it really is comforting, like a warm hug in a bowl.
As a bonus, it’s very easy to make! I took a look at the recipe basics that were in Gom-Gom’s webtoon to get an idea of what I would need. However, although I’m a cook-by-taste kind of person, I do need measurements when I’m trying something new to me – I can’t cook by taste if I don’t know what it tastes like! So, I browsed around the Internet, looked at a handful of recipes, then checked my fridge to see what I had on hand.
That being said, I find this is very much a recipe where you can be really flexible and play with the amounts of most ingredients. From what I’ve read, as long as you have Spam, kimchi, and ramyeon noodles, it’s a Budae Jjigae!
It all came together quickly, easily, and tasted amazing. I already can’t wait to make it again.
Here is my combined recipe that I ended up using. Please let me know if you try it out and what you thought!
Budae Jjigae Recipe / Korean Army Stew / 부대 찌개
2 Cups of Kimchi (the older the better)
1 can of Spam
Sliced sausage (cooked), ham, hot dogs, etc (I used pepperoni because it’s what I had)
4 ounces of firm tofu, sliced in 1/2″ pieces
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
A handful of mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms)
2 scallions cut in 2″ pieces
1/2 red pepper, sliced (optional but I happened to have one)
4 Cups of water or both (common broths used are chicken, beef, or anchovy; I used dashi)
Ramyeon noodles (toss the seasoning pack, you only need the noodles)
1 tbsp Gochugaru (add more if you want a kick)
1 tsp Gochujang (one of my favourite things in the world)
Salt and pepper to taste (with the dashi I didn’t find I needed any additional salt)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1-2 tbsp broth or water
떡 / Rice cake
Prepare all your ingredients; basically you want most of them to be in bite-size pieces. Arrange them in the bottom of a medium-sized pot.
Mix all your seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.
Pour your broth or water in the pot and stir the seasoning paste in.
Cook over medium-high heat, bringing it to a low boil. Let it bubble away for about 10 minutes until the kimchi is soft and all ingredients are heated through well (you may need to adjust your cooking time slightly if you use any uncooked meats like bacon or uncooked sausage).
You can add the noodles straight to the pot but a lot of people cautioned against that because they can absorb a lot of liquid quickly, making them soggy. I followed suggestions to boil them separately and add them at the end to avoid that and it worked well.
If you are using any optional add-ins put them in near the end as well. I used a cheese slice just because I saw a lot of photos using it.
Top with the sliced scallions. Serve with rice on the side and your favourite 반찬 / side dishes. Enjoy a delicious meal that is still a comfort food in South Korea today.
It was a definite hit!
Things I would do differently next time:
I loved this meal so much it was ridiculous, and even my two kids who are very skeptical of firm tofu enjoyed it. However, there are a couple of things I will change next time I make it. One, I would not use the cheese slice. It wasn’t terrible but I didn’t really care for the flavour of it when combined with everything else (it actually tasted a bit bitter in that one bite).
Two, and this is the big one for me, I would not add the ramyeon noodles to the pot at all. They were fine for the supper itself, but I had made a big batch and had leftovers for lunch the next day. I couldn’t eat the noodles because they were so bloated and soggy. It didn’t matter, I just pulled them out as I ate. However, next time I would probably place the noodles directly into each person’s bowl and make fresh ones at lunch the next day just to avoid that issue.
Overall, this is truly a comforting meal. It’s already spring here, so there is a time limit on how long I will want to eat a hot bowl of stew. However, spring is also notoriously rainy and damp where I live (why did I move to the Atlantic coast??) so I will definitely be making it at least a couple more times before summer heat hits.
Have you tried a Budae Jjigae recipe before? What are your favourite things to add in?
This post is part of the KCC Canada Honorary Reporter project.