U.S. Army Stew

U.S. Army Stew Budae Jjigae Serves 4

Along with kimchi, Spam (yes, Spam) and hot dogs make their way into this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stew. Budae jjigae (which trans­lates as “army stew”) has its origins in the rations of luncheon meat that American GIs received during the Korean War. With the addition of instant ramen and mozzarella cheese, which were also introduced to Korea, this stew has become a late-night dish or hangover restorative throughout South Korea, especially at pochas, which are tented street food stalls. I was introduced to this dish in Manhattan’s Koreatown, a one-block strip of 32nd Street that feels like Seoul, with its vertical buildings filled with karaoke bars, massage parlors, and restaurants. Pocha 32 is one such joint, and as the evening (or morning) wears on, you’ll find watermelon soju (see page 181) and a bubbling-hot cauldron of budae jjigae on every table. This stew is quite delicious (and tastes even better after a couple of shots of soju!).


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ medium onion, chopped

Up to 4 tablespoons gochujang chili paste

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine (mirin or mijiu)

1 bunch scallions (green and white parts), chopped

1 medium zucchini, chopped

5 to 6 white mushrooms (caps and stems), quartered

1 cup kimchi 

½ can Spam, chopped

2 hot dogs, sliced into ½-inch rounds

½ cup frozen sticky rice cake, thawed (see Note)

1 package instant ramen noodles, seasoning packet discarded

½ pound firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 bunch fresh watercress, chopped (optional)

Perfect Steamed Rice, for serving

In a large stockpot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until just softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the gochujang to your preferred level of spiciness. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Stir in the fish sauce, rice wine, scallions, zucchini, mushrooms, kimchi, Spam, and hot dogs. Cook at a low boil for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables have softened.

Add the rice cakes and ramen noodles and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until both are cooked through. Nestle the tofu chunks into the stew, and top with the mozzarella cheese. Cover the pot and cook for another 2 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Top with the watercress if desired, and serve table-side with hot rice and a large ladle.

Note: Sticky rice cakes are popular across Asian cultures (called nian gao in Chinese, mochi in Japanese, and tteok in Korean). They can be found packaged and pre-sliced in the frozen food section of Asian groc