Iconic Budae Jjigae Recipe (Korean Army Stew)
Budae Jjigae, also known as Korean army stew, is an iconic Korean-American fusion dish. This recipe is made with canned processed meats such as Spam, but with the Korean flavor of kimchi and instant ramen noodles. It’s not high-class fare but tastes extremely good–a perfect dish to cook on the table and share with family and friends.
“Made the stew a few days ago. It was a total hit. Pan was licked clean in no time. We will definitely be having this again. Extremely convenient. Perfectly spiced, the umami was oooooo mama”SuZQ
It’s not an unusual scene in Korea to see a pot of steaming hot stew in the middle of the dinner table. This budae jjigae, known as Koran army stew, is another popular Korean stew to add to your repertoire.
The dish is typically made by boiling a variety of ingredients such as spam, hot dogs, canned baked beans, sliced rice cakes, and ramen noodles in a spicy broth. It is often served with rice and other side dishes.
The history behind Korean army stew
Why is it called Korean army stew (budae jjigae)? Budae (부대) means army, and jjigae (찌개) means stew. The name of the stew is the direct translation of army stew.
When the Korean War resulted in an armistice in 1953, the land of Korea was devastated and the economy collapsed. Food was scarce and many people relied on relief aid from the U.N and the United States to survive during the next several years.
People living near the U.S army base were able to access the surplus processed meats from the military bases, and they made good use of them.
Budae jjigae began as a very humble stew mixing American canned food with local Korean flavors, making it the very first Korean-American fusion dish. Since then, this army stew gained popularity during Korea’s period of rapid growth, and evolved to become an iconic Koran culinary dish.
Who would have thought this post-war humble stew would gain such popularity around the world? Anthony Bourdain, the famous cook and TV personality on Food TV, shared a budae jjigae recipe with Andrew Cooper on CNN’s Parts Unknown.
To be honest, I never tried this stew until I was in my 20’s. My parents never wanted to eat army stew as I was growing up. I think that for them, it brought back memories of the miserable post-war period that they had to suffer through.
But for most other Koreans, this military stew, along with the popular dalgona candy, brings a feeling of childhood nostalgia. It teaches a lesson–to stay humble even in your abundance and to acquire strength to protect our freedoms and democracy.
This recipe might seem to have a long list of ingredients, but you can make it as simple or as hearty as you want. I am just offering you the options. So play with what’s available and the ingredients you like. It’s the best!
1) Must-include ingredients
- Spam: I prefer low sodium
- Pork & beans: The original budae jjigae always includes this canned food. It brings the unique flavor of this stew.
- Hot dogs and/or sausage: more processed meat to make it hearty and add umami flavor.
- Kimchi: Sour kimchi is what makes this stew “fusion”
- Stock: Try it with chicken stock. It adds more depth to the broth. Some people use anchovy kelp stock. Either one is fine, but I prefer chicken stock for this recipe for Korean army stew. Using just plain water won’t bring the flavor you want.
2) Other popular ingredients to add
- Pork belly or ground pork: additional protein
- Tofu: I recommend using soft tofu for its delicate texture. It absorbs the broth and holds the taste better than firm tofu.
- Instant ramen noodles: Use Korean ramen noodles if you can
- Cheese: You can use American cheese, but I prefer cheddar cheese.
- Onion/green onion: additional aromatic ingredients
- Mushroom: Any mushroom of your choice. I used oyster mushroom.
3) Extra add-ins you might like
- Frozen Korean dumplings, rice cake rounds, cabbage, bok choy, Korean glass noodles (dangmyeon)
Budae jjigae seasoning sauce
Since all the add-ins are the typical ingredients, what makes the best budae jjigae is in the seasoning sauce you flavor the broth. Try mixing up the following ingredients to make the best tasting army stew.
- Korean chili flakes (gochugaru)–you can adjust the amount depending on your heat tolerance
- Korean chili paste (gochujang)–adds savory taste and thicken the broth
- Korean soup soy sauce–adds umami and seasoning
- soy sauce–more flavor
- garlic–savory addition
- pepper–to taste
Recipe success tips
- Make your budae jjigae in a large, shallow pan to hold all the ingredients. I used a brasier pan.
- Cook your Korean stew on a portable burner right at the table, and have people pick out what they like to eat while the stew is simmering. (Most of the ingredients don’t take long to cook.)
- Try to eat the instant ramen noodles sooner rather than later, since they get soggy quickly once cooked.
- Have extra soup stock and jjigae ingredients nearby while eating so that you can replenish the stew if more is needed.
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How to make budae jigae
Step 1. Prepare the sauce.
Mix together Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), gochujang, soy sauces, garlic, and pepper in a small mixing bowl; set aside.
Step 2. Arrange ingredients in a pan
Put slices of onion on the bottom of a shallow pan. Arrange the jjigae fillings (Spam slices, hot dogs, sausage, tofu, mushroom, kimchi, and etc) as you please.
Step 3. Add noodles and stock.
Add instant ramen noodles, cheese and the seasoning paste. Pour in enough stock to barely cover everything.
Adding plain water results in bland tasting broth. I recommend using low-sodim (or no-salt) chicken stock instead of water to add more umami and depth to the flavor.
Step 4. Bring to boil.
Place the pan on the stove (I recommend using a portable burner right on the table) and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir the seasoning paste to distribute it throughout the stew. Stir ramen noodles to cook evenly in the simmering stock.
- Korean army stew doesn’t take long to cook since most of the meat is already cooked.
- When the ramen noodle is soft and chewy, enjoy the noodles first on individual plates or bowls before they get soggy. Then you can serve the stew hot right at the table, dishing out a portion.
- You can also serve it with rice, drizzling the broth over the rice to soak up all the wonderful flavor.
More Korean Fusion Dishes
If you want to explore Korean flavors mingled in other global cuisine, these recipes will satisfy your taste palettes:
- Philly Style Bulgogi Cheesesteak
- Crispy Kimchi Fried Rice with Cheese
- Kimchi Tomato Spaghetti
- Kimchi Chorizo Shrimp Paella
Iconic Budae Jjigae Recipe (Korean Army Stew)
For Budae Jjigae sauce
- 3 tbsp Korean chili flakes (gochugaru)
- 1 tbsp Korean chili paste (gochujang)
- 2 tbsp Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
For Budae Jjigae stew
- 12 oz can Spam, sliced
- 8 oz can pork and beans
- 4.6 oz can Vienna sausage, drained
- 3 hot dogs, sliced in half
- 1 lb firm tofu, sliced
- 2/3 cup sour kimchi, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 3 oz mushroom, sliced
- 4 cup chicken stock, low sodium
- 1 instant ramen noodles, noodles only
Optional stew ingredients
- 1 slice cheddar cheese
- 1/3 lb ground pork
- 6 frozen dumplings
- 3 oz rice cake rounds
- 1/2 Asian leek, sliced
- To prepare Budae jigae sauce, mix together Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), gochujang, soy sauces, garlic, and pepper in a small mixing bowl; set aside.
- To arrange ingredients in a pan, put slices of onion on the bottom of a shallow pan. Arrange the jjigae fillings (Spam slices, hot dogs, sausage, tofu, mushroom, kimchi, and etc) as you please.
- Add instant ramen noodles, cheese and the seasoning paste. Pour in enough stock to barely cover everything.
- Place the pan on the stove (I recommend using a portable burner right on the table) and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir the seasoning paste to distribute it throughout the stew. Stir ramen noodles to cook evenly in the simmering stock.
- Serving Tip: When the ramen noodle is soft and chewy, enjoy the noodles first on individual plates or bowls before they get soggy. Then you can serve the stew hot right at the table, dishing out a portion.
Made the stew a few days ago. It was a total hit. Pan was licked clean in no time. We will definitely be having this again. Extremely convenient. And the onions retain a nice crunch nestled under everything else (I used a bit more 🙂 )
Perfectly spiced, the umami was oooooo mama 🙂
Thank you for sharing!
I am so happy to hear that. Thank you for the comment.
Anything with tofu I love!!! This is gonna be yummy!!!!!
Thank you for sharing this recipe and for sharing the history and meaning behind it.
My step-grandfather served with the US Army in Korea and he never understand why I had such admiration for Korea. He never saw the vibrant and prosperous South Korea that I visited, all that he remembered was the suffering and privation of the Korean people as you describe above. It pained him for years to remember the hunger that he saw.
My mother cooked recipes from the Depression and from the rationing years of WWII that she learned from her mother. And I cook them too and explain to my children where they come from.
On a lighter note, I love natural “fusion” recipes like this. Sharing, adapting, and finding something new – I think this is why we all meet on blogs like this!
Tamar, what a sweet story that is? It is so nice that you were able to hear from your grandfather about the Korean war and what he experienced. I also had my grandmother-in law who grew up in depression time and helped raising 8 brothers. She was one of the most frugal person I have encountered. I learned a lot about being thrifty and frugal. We live in time of abundance and often forget about tough time that previous generation had gone through. A lot of lessons to learn for us.
This is an amazing Stew Holly, I’ve cooked it countless times at it is always so comforting. Thanks for sharing your version! Hope you are doing well.