Sunday, February 1, 2009

Budae Jjigae in Mok-dong

Budae-jjigae is an ancient Korean traditional food dating all the way back to the 1950s. Okay, so it's not ancient, but it is traditional. It's also really yummy.

During the lean war years and after, meat was hard to come by, so many Seoulites augmented their diets with SPAM, sausage, hot dogs and whatever else they could scrounge from the US Army bases; together with gochujang (red pepper paste), vegetables in season, beans, ramyeon noodles or rice, it's all piled into a hot pot and cooked up in some vegetable stock.

Budae-jjigae literally means "army base stew" and is also called Johnson-tang. It should be fairly easy to replicate at home; there is a recipe here. But if you don't have any particular thing, just go ahead without--SPAM is probably the only absolute essential (never thought I'd see that in print, much less write it myself). While it arose from needful times, today, I went with Karen to a nice restaurant in the basement of the CBS building in Mok-dong to give it a shot.

The restaurant was busy, with numerous middle-class families sitting around the hot pot, paying good money to eat what was survival food for their grandparents.

Step 1: set the jjigae on to cook. Ours had the usual suspects, plus potatoes, mushrooms and salami; unlike a western stew, you don't cook it for hours to let the flavors meld, you just get everything cooked through.

Budae jjigae, step 1
Step 2: The waitress comes back and removes the lid to reveal the finished jjigae.

Budae jjigae, step 2
Step 3: Ladle some into your bowl. With this particular style, you add rice from the standard metal rice bowl. In other styles, the waitress will drop in ramen noodles at just the right point before completion.

Budae jjigae, step 3
Step 4: Repeat.

Budae jjigae, step 4
As you can see, it was seriously delectable.

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