A South Korean hot pot bubbling with spam, hot dogs, kimchi, instant noodles, and processed cheese! Budae Jjigae (aka Army Base Stew) is the recipe that tastes good any time of the year.
Budae Jjigae Food History
Budae Jjigae came from a time in history when Korea was rebuilding and recovering. The Japanese colonization (1910-1945) plus a bloody civil war (1950-1953) devastated the land. Newly occupied by American soldiers meant to “keep” the peace changed the social landscape. Everyone was displaced and jobless. Everyone was hungry. That’s when Koreans noticed that the US army bases had food — lots of it.
Koreans were not meat and potatoes people. They were not bread or cheese people either. What would they do with US army rations that included 20 lb. bags of flour, tinned meat, canned goods, and processed dairy products?
Koreans did what they always did — they survived. They took these strange food items and invented clever new ways to feed themselves and their families. Canned meat was diced and stirred into jjigaes. Noodles, made from flour and water, became post-war staples. Even processed cheese was embraced.
That’s how Budae Jjigae became a thing. Delicious and strange, it became one of those crazy tasty inventions made possible by the fusion of two cultures. What began as survival food in the city of Uijeongbu, Budae Jjigae is now a Korean classic. And changed the landscape of traditional Korean food as we know it.
I love that Budae Jjigae displays the ingenuity of Koreans in the most delicious way. When faced with starvation, displacement, and cultural subjugation (yet again), they found a clever and inventive way to keep their sense of identity and community.
Plus, there’s the flavor. Truly, there’s nothing better to eat. I like to eat Budae Jjigae in the dead of winter with a foot of snow on the ground AND in swelteringly hot summer weather with sweat dripping off my forehead.
The best part? Budae Jjigae is a recipe meant to be eaten communally. Celebrate the history of this dish and eat it with your friends and family!
Take off the lid and release a torrent of volcanic steam. Vibrant, crimson-red, vigorously bubbling Budae Jjigae — brimming over with all kinds of spicy goodness! Spam, hot dogs, instant noodles, kimchi, seafood stock, and processed cheese — what could be better? NOTHING!
How to Assemble Budae Jjigae:
Putting together this dish is simple, once you think of assembling in groups. Add each component one at a time.
Slice and shingle Spam in a hot pot.
Add kimchi. The older and stinkier, the better.
Add cut-up sausage and/or hot dogs.
Add sliced tofu.
Add rice cakes (dduk/tteok).
Add Korean sweet potato noodles (dang myeong).
Transfer to the table and add spicy sauce.
Add 4 cups/1L seafood stock (chicken stock will also work) and bring to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until sausages/hot dogs are cooked through and noodles are soft and pliable.
Add instant noodles and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add processed cheese slices. Turn off the heat. Dig in!
Serving Budae Jjigae:
Koreans typically serve this dish at the table, over a portable gas burner. I like to use an electric hot pot which plugs directly into the wall. Either way, everyone sits at the table and eats from the communal hot pot in the middle.
If you don’t have access to either option, cook on the stovetop until everything’s hot and bubbling. Then, bring it to the table. There will be lots of oohs and aahs. Dig in and eat!
There are a number of additions that make Budae Jjigae unique. But it MUST include processed food, be it hot dogs, spam, fish cakes, instant noodles, canned beans, ham, etc. And also, spicy sauce!
Every person loves their Budae Jjigae a certain way. For me, essentials include pam, hot dogs, and kimchi. Also, rice cakes, tofu, and two kinds of noodles — dang myeon + instant noodles. But you can add whatever you like! Enjoy!
Budae Jjigae aka Army Base Stew
- Portable gas burner and pot or electric hot pot that can be plugged in directly into the wall.
- 4 ounces Dang Myeon or a large handful
- 1 cup Korean rice cakes
- 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 sliced
- 8 links Hot dogs and/or Sausages, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup Kimchi with juice, preferably old and mature kimchi
- 1 package Tofu drained and cubed
Assemble on plate:
- 1 cup Crown Daisy or Spinach 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 Seafood Stock (chicken stock also works) more if necessary **see notes below
- 2 green onions sliced
- Pre-soak the Dang Myeonn and rice cakes in separate bowls, with enough cold water to cover. Set aside and let soak for at least 15-20 minutes, while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- Combine all spicy sauce ingredients in small bowl and mix well. Set aside.
- On a separate serving platter, arrange the crown daisy and/or spinach (optional), enoki mushrooms (optional), instant noodles, and cheese slices. Bring to the table.
- In a large, shallow pot, begin assembly. Slice and shingle Spam.
- Add kimchi. The older and stinkier, the better.
- Add hot dogs/sausages.*
- Add diced tofu. I used soft/silken tofu, but you can use any kind you like.
- Drain the Korean rice cakes and sprinkle evenly over everything.
- Drain and add the Korean Sweet Potato noodles or Dang Myeon.
- Add spicy sauce. Add 4 cups/1 L seafood stock (or chicken stock)** to the pot and using a portable gas burner or electric hot pot, bring to a boil. (If you don’t own either option, see notes below).*** Let everything simmer and bubble away for 10 minutes until the sausage is cooked through and the noodles are clear and pliable. You can use a set of tongs to mix around the spicy sauce into the bubbling stew.
- Add the instant noodle and let it simmer for 2 more minutes.
- Lower heat and add cheese slices. After 30 seconds, the cheese will melt and everything should be ready to eat. Dig in!
- Koreans typically serve this over a portable gas burner or electric hot pot. While it cooks in the middle of the table, guests can help themselves from the communal pot. Add more seafood or chicken stock (up to 4 cups/ 1 L) as needed. Add crown daisy/spinach and enoki mushrooms while it bubbles away, if using. You can also serve with additional instant noodle and cheese slices.Serve with rice. Eat immediately.