There is a dish here called budae jjigae, which literally translates into “army base” stew. The devastation of the Korean War left South Korea as one of the poorest countries in the world, and food became dangerously scarce. Some families resorted to scavenging for edible weeds, while others sought foreign food donations.
The story goes that in areas around US military bases, people made a stew out of American leftovers they found, including hot dogs and spam, and called it budae jjigae. Today, budae jjigae remains a popular dish and preserves the legacy of post-war hardship in a rich and shiny new Korea. Each restaurant serves it a bit differently, and the one I tried had kimchi, fishcake, ddeok (rice cake), some processed meats and kraft cheese cooked, in a spicy soup. Sometimes you can find ramen and baked beans among the mix too. I didn’t take a picture, but I pulled this one from a Korean cooking website.
I can’t say it was my favourite meal here, or anywhere near really, but I like what it represents, and it makes try harder to not waste what was once so precious in my fridge. So sometimes I make things that I say are “budae jjigae” inspired, when I have to use things that are on the brink of being thrown out, like these stir-fried noodles, made with udon noodle, enoki mushrooms, fish cake, some lettuce and onions.
I flavoured it with this awesome sauce that I came up with, derived from bulgogi marinade, made of soy sauce, sesame oil, a tiny bit of vinegar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, chilli powder and pepper. It pretty much works with everything or a combination of. I’ve used it on meats, noodles, rice cakes, tofu and veggies and it always tastes great.
So in times when I have simply have to make do with what I have, I think about budae jjigae, whip up some awesome sauce, and we are usually good to go.