Budae Jjigae or Korean Army Stew is a tantalizingly delicious and spicy South Korean stew. A fusion dish that combines food items found at US army bases after the Korean War (spam, hot dogs, processed cheese) with distinctly Korean flavors (anchovy stock, rice cakes, tofu, and a spicy Gochujang-based paste). A one-pot meal that’s also an incredible feast to share with friends and family!
What is Budae Jjigae or Korean Army Stew?
Budae Jjigae or Korean Army Stew is a popular and unique South Korean stew that originates from the US occupation after the Korean War. What began as survival food in the city of Uijeongbu is now a Korean classic. Korean people staved off hunger and deprivation by taking surplus US army food supplies and cleverly innovating them with Korean ingredients.
The combination of Korean food items (rice cakes, tofu, sweet potato noodles, Gochujang, anchovy stock) with US army base food items (spam, hot dogs, instant noodles, processed cheese) creates a wonderfully delicious and truly irresistible flavor combination. I’m obsessed with Budae Jjigae! I think you will be, too!
As a bonus, it’s very easy to make. More assembly than cooking, this communal Korean stew is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family.
Combine all the ingredients in a shallow pot or braiser. Bring to the table and cook over an induction or gas burner with plenty of anchovy or seafood stock. While it cooks, people can help themselves to the bubbling and jiggling stew.
So much spicy goodness! So much communal feasting and enjoyment! Celebrate Korea’s resilience and ingenuity with this utterly addictive and very special meal!
For a 4-person Korean Budae Jjigae recipe that’s got that “wow” factor, I recommend a variety of ingredients and textures.
- Anchovy or Seafood Stock. A good anchovy or seafood stock makes a big difference. All that briny, seafood flavor makes Budae Jjigae extra delicious! Make your own anchovy stock or use anchovy bouillon or tablets, which can be found at the Korean grocery store. Or buy seafood stock which can be found at most regular grocery stores. Chicken stock is an acceptable substitute.
- Spicy Sauce: Gochujang (Korean chili paste), Gochukaru (Korean chile flakes), sugar, soy sauce, Mirin (sweet cooking wine), garlic. Mix together into a thick paste.
- Spam. Essential ingredient! The flavor of Spam is porky, rich, and fatty. There’s no substitute!
- Hot Dogs/Sausages. Choose one or both. Canned Vienna sausages are also a good addition.
- Kimchi. A little bit adds lots of flavor. Old, well-fermented kimchi tastes best for this recipe.
- Tofu. Soaks up all that spicy goodness! I recommend soft/silken tofu for that silky smoothness. But firm tofu is good, too.
- Rice cakes (tteok/dduk). Chewy + squishy, they are my favorite texture in this jjigae! Use sliced or tubular rice cakes or tteok.
- Noodles. I add two kinds: Dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato noodle) which are springy and bouncy. And instant noodles which are soft, slightly chewy, and cooks very quickly (2 minutes).
- Kraft Cheese Slices. Processed cheese is a must! Add at the end, with the heat turned off, so it doesn’t melt away.
- Vegetables: Crown daisy or chrysanthemum greens are often used in Korean cooking and prized for their herbal aroma and medicinal qualities. If you can find it, it’s a very nice touch. Otherwise, add 1-2 handfuls of mixed salad greens. Also, enoki mushrooms or sliced shitake mushrooms are nice additions.
- Assemble everything in a shallow cooking pot or braiser. Add items, one at a time: sliced spam, old kimchi, hot dogs, sliced tofu, rice cakes, and dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato noodle).
2. On a separate plate, add food items to be cooked at the table: crown daisy, enoki mushrooms, instant noodles, and cheese slices.
3. Bring the cooking pot to the table. Add the spicy paste on top. Add the anchovy or seafood stock and bring to a boil.
4. As the Budae Jjigae cooks, gently mix until the liquid is vibrantly red. When the sweet potato noodles are soft and pliable (about 5-6 minutes), add vegetables and instant noodles. Cook for 2 more minutes.
5. Turn off the heat and add the cheese slices on top. Enjoy!
- Add more stock. While the Army Base Stew cooks, the stock will thicken. Feel free to add more stock and/or water, as needed, up to 1 Litre (4 cups) more.
- Adjust heat while cooking. The communal cooking is a fun element of Korean Army Base Stew! While everyone sits and chats and eats from the communal pot in the middle, feel free to adjust the heat. After bringing it to an initial boil, turn down the heat and let it simmer gently or turn off the heat altogether. If it gets too cold, turn up the heat.
- Provide individual bowls + serving utensils for each person. That way, people can ladle food items to their own bowls. After they are finished, they can continue to eat and serve themselves.
How to serve:
There are 3 ways to serve Korean Army Base Stew:
- Portable induction or gas burner. Most Korean households own an induction (affilate) or gas burner (affiliate) that can be brought to the table for tabletop cooking. Use a shallow braiser or cooking pot that fits easily on top.
- Electric plug-in cooking pot. Not as popular or easy to find as portable burners. Simply plug in and cook at the table. Currently, I use a stainless steel plug-in skillet handed down from family members (pictured) but sadly, it’s no longer available. I also like the Zojirushi Electric Hot Pot Skillet (affiliate) for a modern update. FYI, the cord is usually short so you’ll need a longer extension cord to connect to an outlet. Also, watch pets and small children as the cord can become a tripping hazard.
- Stovetop. Cook on the stovetop in an enameled cast iron shallow braiser (affiliate) or stainless steel shallow braiser (affiliate) until everything’s hot and bubbling. Then, bring it to the table. Don’t forget the trivet! Dig in and enjoy. You may need to transfer back to the stovetop to reheat.
As you eat, the communal cooking pot will sit in the middle. People can chat and drink while the stew cooks and more food items are added.
Can I make this less spicy?
Yes, you definitely can! For a milder, less spicy Budae Jjigae, simply adjust the sauce ingredients. Notes are included in the recipe card below.
FYI, this Budae Jjigae recipe is not overwhelmingly spicy. I would say it’s moderately spicy. All the noodles, tofu, and rice cakes absorb the spicyness and make the overall flavor milder.
What’s the difference between Kimchi Jjigae and Budae Jjigae?
While both Kimchi Jjigae and Budae Jjigae are both Korean stews, they are very different.
Kimchi Jjigae is all about the kimchi. The flavor highlights old, well fermented, mature kimchi.
By contrast, Budae Jjigae or Army Stew is a thicker, chunkier stew flavored with Spam, hot dogs, instant noodles, and processed cheese. The addition of the processed meats make the flavor profile very different! As do the addition of noodles, rice cakes, and tofu.
What other food items are commonly added to Budae Jjigae?
Other food items are frequently added, such as dumplings, fish cakes (Eomuk), canned baked beans, and Vienna sausages. Feel free to substitute and add what you like.
More Korean Stews and Soups:
- Gamjatang (Korean Porkbone Soup)
- Korean Rice Cake Soup with Dumplings (Tteok Mandu Guk)
- Soybean Paste Stew (Doenjang Jjigae)
- Spicy Beef + Wild Vegetable Soup (Yukaejang)
- Korean Oxtail Soup (Kkori Gomtang)
Easy Budae Jjigae (Korean Army Stew)
- Portable Induction or Gas burner
- Large shallow braiser
- 4 ounces Dang Myeon or a large handful
- 2 Tbsp Gochujang Korean chile paste
- 1 Tbsp Gochukaru Korean chile flakes
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp Mirin or rice wine
- 3 cloves ground garlic
Assemble in pot:
- 1 can Spam halved then cut in 1/2-inch slices
- 8 links Hot dogs and/or Sausages, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup Kimchi with juice, preferably old and mature kimchi
- 1 package Soft or Silken Tofu drained and cubed
- 1 cup rice cakes
Assemble on plate:
- 1 cup Crown Daisy or Spinach or Mixed Salad greens optional
- 1 bunch Enoki Mushrooms optional
- 1 package Instant Noodle noodles only, do not use soup base
- 4 slices processed cheese
- 4 cups/1 Litre Anchovy or Seafood Stock (chicken stock also works) more if necessary **see notes below
- In a large bowl, add Dang Myeon (sweet potato noodles) and cover with cold water. Set aside and soak for 10 minutes, while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
- In a small bowl, add ingredients for spicy sauce. Mix well and set aside.
- On a serving platter, arrange the crown daisy and/or spinach, enoki mushrooms, instant noodles, and cheese slices. Bring to the table.
- In a large, shallow braiser, begin assembly by adding each component one at a time.
- Slice and shingle Spam. Lay down the middle of the braiser.
- Add kimchi and kimchi juice.
- Add hot dogs and/or sausages.
- Add diced tofu. I prefer soft/silken tofu, but you can use any kind you like.
- Add the Korean rice cakes and sprinkle evenly on top.
- Drain the Korean Sweet Potato noodles or Dang Myeon and add on top of everything.
- Add spicy sauce directly on top of the noodles.
- Bring the shallow braiser to the table and place on top of the portable gas burner. Add 4 cups/1 L stock and bring to a boil.
- If you don't own a portable burner, cook on the stovetop. When everything's hot and bubbling, bring it to the table. You may have to transfer back to the stovetop to reheat.
- When the sausage is cooked through and the noodles are clear and pliable, add the instant noodles and cook for 2 more minutes. The Budae Jjigae is ready to eat. Use tongs to mix around the spicy sauce into the bubbling stew.
- While the jjigae cooks in the middle of the table, guests can help themselves from the communal pot.Add crown daisy/spinach and enoki mushrooms while it bubbles away, if using. You can also serve with additional instant noodle and cheese slices.Optional: serve with rice. Eat immediately.