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At first glance, budae jjigae looks like a dish that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It consists of sausages, spam, ham, tofu, kimchi, instant noodles, an assortment of vegetables, and sliced American cheese all thrown together in a spicy red chili paste soup. It is the very definition of a modern dish, fusing together unlikely ingredients to create one of Korea’s most popular stews. Yet, unlike most contemporary fusion recipes, budae jjigae finds its roots in post-war Korea.
In the immediate aftermath of the Korean War, food was very scarce. It was in this time of scarcity that budae jjigae was born in Uijeongbu. Uijeongbu hosted numerous U.S. army bases and thus the people in the area took whatever leftover meat they could get from U.S. army bases and mixed it with kimchi and red chili paste soup. This is where the dish received its name; budae means army and jjigae means stew.
Perhaps it is a testament to Korea’s success that much of its youth mistakenly believes that budae jjigae is a dish that was made by Korean soldiers serving in the army. Nonetheless, the dish is a symbol and a mirror that reflects the transformation that both Korea and the Korean people have undergone. Similar to the dish, Korea was reborn in the rubble of the Korean War. Moreover, similar to budae jjigae, which attains its popularity in the diversity of tastes, Korea too has grown by fusing different ideologies and cultures in creating a new and more global Korea.
Please make sure you try this dish the next time you find yourself in Korea.