27 (Mon) September 2010
-Suwon, Gyeonggi, Korea-
Budae jjigae is a Korean dish. It’s a hotpot hodgepodge consisting of American-style processed foods (e.g., SPAM, hotdogs, sliced cheese, baked beans) mixed with Korean ingredients (e.g., ramyeon noodles, kimchi, rice cakes) in a spicy broth, typically simmered at the table. According to one origin story, the dish emerged in the aftermath of the Korean War, when food was scarce and people turned to the black market for canned goods from US military bases. These and local ingredients were thrown into pots of boiling water to create makeshift stews, initially out of hunger, likely in haphazard combinations with whatever was on hand, but eventually developing into the form as it is today, arguably the first fusion of American and Korean foods. The name of the dish means “budae = base” + “jjigae = stew.” The dish is common throughout Korea.
Another story holds that a Korean chef working on a US military base invented the dish as a special treat for US President Lyndon B. Johnson during his visit to Korea. I find this impossible to believe. Anyway, some restaurants sell the dish as “Johnson tang.”
As I was how to post on it here, I realized just how terribly unhealthy the dish is. It has two sources of high fat, high calorie, high sodium, nitrate-saturated processed meat. The ramyeon noodles are processed flour, deep-fried in industrial oil. In cheaper restaurants, the rice cakes are most likely processed flour as well, with a maybe a small amount of rice ground into the mix. The only hint of freshness is the few slices of leeks tossed in at the last minute, more as a garnish than a source of food. And the broth, all salty and spicy from the kimchi and red pepper paste, is guaranteed to include some form of MSG for flavoring. This all may have been acceptable at time of famine, but we should know better by now. Local nutritional experts deploring the recent influx of unhealthy Western dietary influences should look back a bit further.