Some Korean dishes have a sad history behind. This spicy looking stew called Korean army stew, aka “budae jjigae (부대찌개)”, is one them. During and after the Korean war in the early 50’s, Korea was known for the world’s poorest country. Millions of civilians were killed, orphans were wondering on every street, farmlands and the roads were destroyed, majority of Korean people suffered with lack of food and medicine. Many had to scavenge for anything that they can eat. People had to depend on relief aide from the UN and other nation.
Korean army stew is made with various canned foods that came from the U.S military base in Korea. Typically they were the cans of Spam, pork and beans, and Vienna sausages (or hot dogs). They offered valuable animal protein which were so lacking among to Koreans at those difficult time. Koreans mixed the American canned food with local Korean flavor and made into very unique dish of on its own. Perhaps Korean army stew would be the very first Korean-American fusion dish.
To be honest, I never tried this stew until I was in my 20’s. After the war was over, situation had improved and Korea became prosperous again in a very short period of time. “Budae jjigae” had been somewhat forgotten until decades later. People began to crave for this army stew again. The stew brought a nostalgia and reminded what the life was like in those days after the war.
Although this stew might not be so appetizing to look at, it is actually very tasty. In fact, Anthony Bourdain, the famous cook and TV personality on Food TV, has shared this Korean army stew for Andre Cooper’s on CNN’s Parts Unknown.