Tuesday, September 4, 2018

[Food] Budae Jjigae (부대찌개, General Infantry Stew / Army Stew)


Budae Jjigae

(부대찌개, General Infantry Stew / Army Stew)


Incoming call - 0. 1. 0. 4......

"Hello? Jerry speaking"

On one silent evening with pangs of hunger, a phone call interrupted my tranquil time of web-surfing. It was a number that I hadn't seen before, so I hesitated to pick up; but my curiosity got the better of me.

"Hello? Is this Jerry Kim?"

A very friendly voice echoed into my ears, but I had no idea who it was...let me think...Hmm...I tried hard to guess who the owner of that voice could be whilst hoping that it would not be the beginning of one mad spy movie.

"Yes, this is Jerry...and who is this?"

A very energetic and cheerful shout hit my ear drums.

"Hey! It's me, Vance! Vance 'I'm From Everywhere' Miller."

"What the...! Oh, my, no way! Aren't you supposed to be in Iraq now?"

"Yes, way! My brother. Long time no see. Guess, what? My new long-tour area has been moved to Yongsan in Seoul, from Iraq. I'm in Korea now! Yeah!!!!!! Yoohoo!!!"

It didn't sound like he would ever stop shouting into his phone (and his friend over the phone). As the reader of my article, you must be thinking that he had gotten so high off of drugs, but he was just being Vance 'I'm From Everywhere' Miller.

"Wow...I'm more than excited to see you. Welcome to Korea, bro! So where are you now? I'd like to buy dinner for you, buddy."

"Uhm...I'm at Seoul station.", Vance 'I'm in Korea now' Miller answered in a toned-down voice.

"Ok...then find the nearest entrance for Subway Line 1, take it and get off at Uijeongbu station. I will see you at the station in an hour. Cool?"

"What? I'm new to Korea. Do you think I'm the artificial intelligence for Google Maps?"

"Don't worry, Mr. I'm From Everywhere But Korea. I, Jerry kind Kim, hereby swear to send you a map with a Korean transportation guide ASAP."

"Copy that, catch ya later."

In high school, Vance, J.J. and I were the 'Three Weird Monkeys' of the school. Vance is half-German-half-N.American, I'm Asian (Korean), and J.J. is Malaysian of Sri-Lankan origin. You can imagine the camaraderie between the (white, yellow and brown) three boys who did countless funny, foolish, dangerous and weird things in school. It was so hilarious.

Vance was someone who had travelled to more than 20 countries. So when someone asked him 'Where are you from?' he would jovially say 'I'm from everywhere!' This is why we gave him his nickname.

After graduation, Vance left for America to join the U.S. Marine Corps so I could only talk to him through SNS or whenever he used his laptop. I was so glad to see him again because more than 10 years had passed since we had last seen one another in person.

One and a half hours later, I met him at the famous Budae Jjigae (General Infantry Stew / Army Stew) restaurant in Uijeongbu. He still had a pale complexion with golden-hair and a muscular build.

A typical menu board of Budae Jjigae restaurant. You can order and add more meats and noodles.

Uncooked Budae Jjigae. The yellow square is sliced cheese.

The restaurant was very noisy with the chattering of Koreans, and non-Koreans in U.S. Army uniforms. We sat in the corner and started to reminisce over school experiences and friends while waiting for the Budae Jjigae to be served. When we finished talking about what J.J. was doing in The Philippines, he asked:

"Anyway, what is this meat and veggie stew we are having tonight? Budae Jjigae? What’s that?"

"Well, 'Budae' means 'Unit’ or ‘Army' and Jjigae means 'Stew' in Korean. It is a very modern Korean food with sad origins, and it has never looked like a Korean food. Do you want to hear about it?"

"Yeah. What is it? Tell me."

The Korean War. The tragic war that caused the 2nd most casualties in world history (The 1st being World War 2). Koreans were divided into the North and South and killed each other because of democracy and communism. After the war, Korea was totally devastated and had to rely on supplies from the UN. With the exception of some powerful and rich people, it was very common for Koreans starving to death void of bags of corn powder, flour and powdered milk. Moreover, there were orphans flooding every street who could only speak the English phrase 'Give me chocolate, give me food' to foreign soldiers for their survival.

At that time, camps of wealthy foreign soldiers from the United States was a good place to scavenge for a meal. Binned leftovers from US Army bases including pieces of bacon, ham, sausage, corn, bread, biscuit, C-Rations etc....were all great foods for hungry Koreans. Although pieces of broken glass, cigarettes, saliva and plastic bags were found in 'good ingredients', that didn’t matter because Koreans had to survive for themselves and the country. They gathered remnants to make stew or porridge for supper. Koreans poured water, kimchi and American ‘stuff' into any pot they had, and boiled it. This is how Budae Jjigae began in Korean culture.

One day, an old woman who owned a restaurant near a U.S. Army camp in Uijeongbu, started to make Budae Jjigae as a side dish for alcohol. It then
became a very popular dish in Korea. It’s no wonder that Korean cities that have
U.S. army bases are very famous for Budae Jjigae.

The Budae Jjigae Street in Uijeongbu

Today's Budae Jjigae is slightly different from what people in the past had eaten :)

I continued to talk as Vance started to scoop a few pieces of ham with sliced tofu.

"Minced Pork, Korean Red Chilly Paste, Kimchi, Minced Garlic, Ramen Noodle, Bacon, Spam, Sausage and baked beans, tofu, onion, spring onion, cheese etc....you can put anything you want....but Koreans usually like spice, so spicy chilly paste is irreplaceable. Oh my...Vance, I like these Spam and sausages too. Please leave some of them for me. Are you a dinosaur or what?"

"O...ory....Ery...it eed tho gut doh (So...sorry...Jerry...it is so good though)"

Vance answered with chunks of sausage in his mouth. Yeah...I almost forgot he is a half-German meat-lover.

Cooked Budae Jjigae
This is called 'Johnson Tahng (Johnson's Soup in Korean)' - smaller version of Budae Jjigae.
This can only be eaten at Budae Jjigae restaurants near U.S. Army bases.

Various instant Budae Jjigae Noodles for 'homies' like me

These days, Budae Jjigae is one of the most popular foods in Korea, but not many people know why or how it appeared in our history and culture. Nevertheless, I think that Budae Jjigae is one of the many proofs of Koreans having overcome terrible hardships in their history. Stories of the Korean War about families being separated, massacred, sacrificed, victimised and missing cannot be heard without shedding tears. In spite of this, Koreans have navigated their course to what it is today, which is one of development and hope for peaceful reunification.

Furthermore, Koreans should not forget that the successful reconstruction of the country could not have been achieved without cooperation and support from the global community, like the delicious combination of ham and kimchi in Budae Jjigae......and....

A Korean soldier working alongside a U.S. soldier
"What's the name of this food again, Jerry?"

"Budae Jjigae. It's spicy and meaty, isn't it? Who would ever thought that western meats taste better with kimchi and chilly paste stew?"

"Absolutely, my brother. You Koreans are geniuses."

"Hahahaha...(Laugh Out Loud)..."

"So, what do we do now? I don't want to go home yet. I'm so lost without you, guide me please with your kindness."

"Well, there is a traditional Korean bar around here...do you want to try? I will drink a non-alcoholic drink, you know me."

"Jerry, Jerry, Jerry...are you still an underage? or do you think you are still a teenager? Let's get boozed up with a bottle of beer sometimes."

"Be quiet. I have to go to work early tomorrow."

"Ok, ok...fine. Let's move..."

"Oh, by the way, do you remember a girl whom I had a major crush on?"


.......like Vance and I :)

-Lest We Forget-

No comments:

Post a Comment