What is more American than Budae Jjigae?

Okay, well, much. But hear me out.

It is basically spam and hot dog stew. In English, it loosely translates to “Army Base Stew.” From what I’ve gathered from different sources, it was created during and soon after the Korean War, where the locals used U.S. Army surplus meats (notably spam and hot dogs) in their traditional stews. It sounds disgusting, but it has to be the best recipe for spam in the world.

Another story is that it was created as a cheap familiar-tasting food for American and Korean soldiers off-base. This is likely why the Itaewon area near the U.S. Army base in Seoul is known for having the best budae jjigae. And it tastes very American.

Think about it. It was one of the first East-West fusion foods. It was created from America’s involvement in its first Asian land war. How can it not be included in Independence Day, Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day festivities?

Making it is pretty simple.

Start with a base of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) mixed with minced garlic and onion.

Add water, but not too much. Turn the heat to high.


Add chopped onion, garlic, and chiles, and bring the fiery hell broth to a boil. Include some sliced leeks if you have some.

At this point, add the meats. The tradition is hot dogs and spam. Yet who says you can’t throw in some more premium items like kielbasa, bratwurst, and smoked Virginia ham? Really, a few sites and forums say that you need spam in it to make it taste authentic.

Keep boiling. Now it’s time to add the vegetables. I think these are chrysanthemum greens in the picture, but throw in any hearty dark green veggies like kale, turnip greens, or collards. You can also do the traditional thing and toss in some baked beans and tofu.

At the end of cooking, toss in some noodles. Ramen noodles (Korean: Ramyeon 라면) are popular, as are clear Korean japchae noodles. If the water is low, add more. Throw in a dash of soju if the mood strikes you.

Serve the stew bubbling with plenty of rice to counter the intense heat and flavors. Wash it down with a good beer and soju. Watch some fireworks. Enjoy your Fourth.

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Joe McPherson founded ZenKimchi in 2004. He has been featured and sourced in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN, KBS, MBC, SBS, Le Figaro, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Harper’s Bazaar Korea, The Chosun Weekly, and other Korean and international media. He has consulted for "Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain," The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, the PBS documentary series “Kimchi Chronicles,” and other projects in the UK, Canada, and Australia featuring celebrity chefs such as Gizzi Erskine and Gary Mehigan.Mr. McPherson has written for multiple Korean and international publications, including SEOUL Magazine, JoongAng Daily, The Korea Herald, Newsweek Korea and wrote the feature article for U.S. National publication Plate magazine’s all-Korean food issue. He has acted as dining editor for 10 Magazine and was on the judging panel for Korea for the Miele Guide.He spoke at TEDx Seoul on Korean food globalization, at TED Worldwide Talent Search on the rise of Korean cuisine, and in New York City on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. The company ZenKimchi International organizes food tours for tourists and corporations and acts as a media liaison for foreign and Korean media and local restaurants and producers.
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