Local grub to warm heart & soul: Budae & Kimchi Jjigae
As the snow collects outside and my balcony freezes under a layer of ice, my inner Californian further recoils into the fetal position. Are there really still two months left? The only thing that motivates me to crawl out of bed most days is the promise of hot Korean food - the best thing to take the sting out of winter. Here's a list of five must-have meals for the cold months.
BUDAE JJIGAE (AKA “SOLDIER SOUP”)
I'll admit it: I was completely skeptical at first. After hearing about its random assortment of ingredients, I put it on the back burner of things to try in Korea. That is, however, until a friend, raving about how delicious it was, convinced me to finally give it a try. I was first introduced in one of the back alleys near National Assembly Station, though this dish can be found all over Seoul.
The name "soldier soup" comes from the stew's origins during the years surrounding the Korean War. When food was scarce, people began taking what was offered by the U.S. Army facilities and threw it together with what little else they had; rations and leftovers were boiled together in one large pot. Because of its popularity, the stew has come into its own as a popular Korean staple.
Budae jjigae typically contains ramen, green onions, ground beef, radishes, garlic, mushrooms, macaroni, sliced sausages, tofu, chili peppers, baked beans, tteok (Korean rice cake), parsley, mushrooms and any other vegetables that are in season. Mine also had bacon, udong noodles, pepperoni slices and small pieces of kimchi. Itís often topped with slices of American cheese.
For all the conflicting imagery that comes out of the description above, this savory, spicy assortment of ingredients is surprisingly delicious. For a solid introduction to the dish, try one of the Nolboo restaurants that specialize in budae jjigae.
GETTING THERE: There are several branches around the city, but Myeong-dong is a good place to start. Walk out Myeongdong Station, exit 6. Turn left down the main pedestrian boulevard, then make another left at your first intersecting street. Nolboo Budae Jjigae will be on your left after a short walk.
One of Korea's most common stews, kimchi jjigae is made with tofu, scallions, onions, garlic and, of course, kimchi. After the kimchi is sliced, it is put into a pot with all the ingredients, boiled with water or anchovy stock and seasoned with bean paste and hot pepper paste. The result is a rich, sour, salty, hearty soup that stands out as one of the best Korean dishes, period.
It comes piping hot in a stone pot, often served with rice and other side dishes. While youíll find this staple in countless restaurants around Seoul, one established place that specializes in the stew is called Gwanghwamun Jip. It's located downtown, near Gyeongbok Palace.
GETTING THERE: Walk out Gwanghwamun Station, exit 1, and make an immediate U-turn. Just south of the exit there’s an intersection. After crossing the intersection, on the same side of the street, you’ll find a small alley. Gwanghwamun Jip is in the alley.