The ultimate Korean comfort food, and one of the most famous fusion foods in Korean cuisine. Budae Jjigae, or army base stew, is a mix of both culture and flavours. It’s filled with ham, sausage, spam and baked beans, combined with the more traditional Korean flavours of gochujang and kimchi. Sounds like a strange mix-up, right? But it’s stood the test of time, now a popular meal to have with drinks, and also appearing frequently in restaurants of college neighbourhoods in Seoul.

Budae is the name for a military unit, or troop, in Korean. In the context of Budae-jjigae, it refers to the US army bases that were present after the Korean war. During that period, food was relatively scarce, so people had to get creative. Those living around the bases used the leftover food from the US military, which was known as Budae gogi, or military base meat. This contained delicacies such as hot dogs, spam and other canned items. It wasn’t the most high class of ingredients but combined they were eventually turned into something special. It’s said that it started off as a snack rather than a stew. Ham, cabbages, onions and sausages were all stir-fried up together and usually eaten with makgeolli. The broth was added later, making the dish closer to what it’s known as today.

Another name for the dish comes from a US president who enjoyed the taste when he tried it on a trip to Korea. Jonseun-tang comes from the name of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Given that most of the ingredients couldn’t be legally purchased by Korean’s at the time, and therefore scavenged, it’s interesting that this became one of the food’s that introduced Korean food to visitors. During Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship, items like Spam were so illegal, obtaining them was punishable by death.

Nowadays, the dish is far more refined, widely eaten, and definitely legal. It usually contains an assortment of different ingredients, including, but definitely not limited to pork, sausage, bacon, beef, rice cake, noodles, mozzarella, garlic, mushrooms… There’s no real limit. It’s the combinations that really make Budae Jjigae what it is and the combining of Korean and Western flavours. There have been attempts to change the name of the stew the remove its connection to the military, the restaurants have rarely followed suit. Such a well-known dish is hard to rename when there’s so much history behind it.

Have you ever tried Budae Jjigae? What did you think of the flavour fusions? Check out this video recipe from Future Neighbour to try making some for yourself!

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