Back in my college days, my friends and I would find ourselves at some Korean bar almost every weekend (and some weekdays). The alcohol was limited to only soju but the prices were cheap and the food always hit the spot. Now that I have grown up a bit, we like to think of ourselves a little classier and visit lounges with whisky and scotch on their menus. It was only recently when I was reminded of how good Korean bar food is and how cheap the drinks are. One of the classic dishes my friends and I almost always get is budae jjigae, also known as Korean army base stew. It’s a hodgepodge of ingredients thrown in together from spam to ramen noodles to kimchi to various vegetables and it’s oh so delicious!
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 3x3 inch dried kelp piece
- 1/2 onion, peeled, left whole
- 2 garlic cloves, whole
- 1 tbsp dried shrimp
- 5 dried anchovies, guts removed
- 6 cups water
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 carrot, sliced on a bias
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 can spam, sliced
- 4 ounces pork belly, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 cup kimchi, chopped
- 4 ounces tofu, sliced
- 1 cup rice cakes, fresh
- 1 package instant ramen noodles
- 2 tbsp Korean red chili powder (gochugaru)
- 1 tbsp Korean red chili paste (gochujang)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- Prepare dashi broth. Combine all ingredients from dried mushrooms to water in a medium stock pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain stock, discarding ingredients.
- Heat wide pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and saute onion, carrot and garlic. Cook until onions have softened, about 3-4 minutes. Arrange the spam, pork belly, kimchi, tofu and rice cakes in the pot. Pour in the dashi broth and bring to a boil.
- Mix together the seasoning spice from the red chili powder to the rice wine. Add to the soup and mix together. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add the ramen noodles and cook until done, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Budae jjigae is a poor man’s soup. People created the dish using leftover ingredients from the army facilities, hence the name Korean army base stew. Today, it’s served as a popular dish at Korean bars and restaurants. There are many different variations, some including rice cakes, others with hot dogs and some even with cheese, but this recipe is a combination of my favorite ingredients.
Create a flavorful broth as the base for the stew. Dashi is a Japanese stock that is commonly used in Korean soups and stews. If you can’t find all of the ingredients, you can also purchase dashi stock powder. The powder is similar to chicken bouillon; simply add water and you’re good to go.
Most people let the ingredients simmer in the broth but I like to saute the onions, carrots and garlic to add more flavor to the stew.
If fresh rice cakes aren’t available, purchase the frozen package. Rice cake ovalettes are most often used for stews but I like to use the oblong shape as well. Soak the frozen rice cakes in room temperature water for 30 minutes before cooking.
Once the ingredients are in the dashi, make it spicy with the seasoning mixture of chili paste, soy sauce, chili flakes and rice wine. Add more or less of the chili paste and flakes depending on how spicy you want your stew.
Add the ramen noodles last since they cook quickly.
Serve in the same pot the budae jjigae was prepared in and let the diners scoop out the soup themselves. They can pick and choose which fillings they prefer; that’s half the fun! Great for drinking, the day after drinking, or just a sober night of fun.