Budae Jjigae, Korea’s Soul Food No. 1

Budae jjigae is a Korean traditional spicy stew that incorporates Western ingredients such as ham, representing a fusion of flavors. It serves as a culinary reflection of the significant events in Korean modern history, including liberation, the Korean War, industrialization, and democratization. This dish truly encapsulates the soul food of Koreans.

I’ll provide a brief history of budae jjigae, along with tips on how to enjoy it, and introduce some easily accessible restaurants for foreign visitors.

Budae Jjigae, Korea's Soul Food No. 1

Budae jjigae – The History of the Soul Food of Koreans

Budae jjigae, or “army stew,” had its origins in the aftermath of the Korean War when it began with the inclusion of ham and canned goods from U.S. military bases. At that time, South Korea, which was one of the world’s poorest nations, heavily relied on the assistance of the United States. The original budae jjigae was created when Koreans added red pepper paste and vegetables to the ham and canned goods shared with them by U.S. soldiers, given to young beggars.

As a result, Uijeongbu, which is still renowned for its budae jjigae, was a city with a significant presence of both U.S. and South Korean military bases. Today, South Korea has become an advanced nation, ranking 8th in the world’s GDP, and is even providing aid to other countries. Nevertheless, budae jjigae, with its poignant history of receiving rations during those difficult times, remains the soul food of Koreans.

Budae jjigae: Two Main Varieties, Jeongol and Jjigae

Budae-jjigae can be broadly categorized into two main types: “jeongol” and “jjigae.” These terms may be unfamiliar to foreigners, so let me simplify it for you. Think of jeongol as a rich and hearty stew with plenty of broth, much like what we commonly refer to as “soup.” On the other hand, jjigae is a dish where the broth is reduced, allowing you to savor the true essence of the ingredients.

In budae-jjigae jeongol, you’ll find a generous amount of wide and thin bacon-like ham, while in budae-jjigae jjigae, you’ll discover lunch meat ham, similar to Spam, which deepens the flavor of the broth. Therefore, the choice between the two largely depends on your preference. However, for our foreign guests, I would recommend the jeongol variety, which accentuates the flavors of the ingredients more prominently.

How to Enjoy Budae jjigae to the Fullest

First, bring a wide skillet or pot to a boil with plenty of vegetables and ham. When you order budae-jjigae in a restaurant, they typically provide a wide bowl, which is convenient for eating. Pour the piping hot budae-jjigae over rice in the bowl and mix it well. Be sure to let it cool a bit before you dig in, as it can be very hot.

An essential ingredient in budae-jjigae is instant ramen noodles. Koreans love to add ramen to their budae-jjigae, creating a delightful combination. The spicy and savory broth from the ham pairs wonderfully with the ramen noodles, making it a fantastic combination. One common mistake made by budae-jjigae beginners is adding ramen right from the start. Whether it’s jeongol or jjigae, adding ramen too early will cause the noodles to become overcooked and mushy. So, initially, boil the stew on its own, and then add the ramen later in the cooking process after you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the main stew. This way, you can savor a variety of flavors in a single meal.

Budae Jjigae, Korea's Soul Food No. 1

Recommended Budae jjigae Restaurants

Famous budae-jjigae restaurants in South Korea are mostly located on the outskirts of Seoul, in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Local eateries like these can be challenging for foreigners relying on public transportation to access. Therefore, instead of these local spots, I recommend checking out the large budae-jjigae franchise restaurants available at various tourist locations in Seoul. Budae-jjigae is one of the most beloved dishes by Koreans, so you’ll find major franchise chains much like McDonald’s, Burger King, or Pizza Hut. They use similarly spicy seasonings and ingredients, so you can expect above-average taste and satisfaction at any of these chain locations.

Here are some of the well-known budae-jjigae franchise chains in South Korea, listed in order of popularity. If you have trouble finding the English names, try searching for these names on Google Maps, and you’re likely to find at least three budae-jjigae places in any bustling area of Seoul. Just visit the one that’s closest to your travel itinerary.

Korean NameEnglish Name
빅쭌부대찌개Big Chun Budae Jjigae
놀부부대찌개Nolboo Budae Jjigae
박가부대찌개Parkga Budae Jjigae
땅스부대찌개Ts Budae Jjigae
킹콩부대찌개King Kong Budae Jjigae
송탄부대찌개Songtan Budae Jjigae
모박사부대찌개Mobaksabudae Jjigae
부대찌개마을Budae Jjigae Village
부대찌개나라Budae Jjigae Nara