Thursday, October 18, 2012

Foodie Friday: Budae Jjigae

I haven't been much for blogging recently. My energy has been focused on cleaning, lamenting my imminent departure, spending quality time with friends, mailing things home, lamenting my imminent departure, figuring out where to keep my luggage for a month, and did I mention lamenting my imminent departure?

I'm having a really difficult time articulating this. I've deleted about half a dozen segues and even this one has been rather painfully eked out in two- or three-word spurts. But in a nutshell: I don't half-ass (most) things, especially relationships. I am, despite my well-honed tour guide persona, very stolidly introverted. I don't have the mental capital to be a dazzling, fabulous personality that everyone knows and enjoys. Unfortunately, being a dazzling and fabulous personality is kind of what you have to do to make friends.

Absolutely fabulous!

So the fact that I've managed to make friends—real friends—friends who would be my friends if we had gone to university or high school together—and that I now have to leave them has taken the wind right out of my sails. The prospect of having to repeat the Awkward Nerd Friendship Dance still another time bums me out. And when I'm bummed out I just don't have the time or motivation to update here.

But what about the fucking food? you ask. It says Foodie Friday. Well, that's the second thing that bums me out: the loss of delicious Korean food whose replication I have yet to perfect (or whose replication would be, for all intents and purposes, impossible).

Budae Jjigae is the perfect example of a Korean dish that I will never get to my liking outside of Korea. The ingredients are easy enough (if you have access to any decent kind of Asian market/Koreatown); it's the presentation. Cooking it at home and eating it out of my own little dolsot isn't the same as sitting on the floor at some hole-in-the-wall restaurant while everything simmers away on the distinctive large, flat metal saucer.

Anyway, budae jjigae!

Budae Jjigae

Budae jjigae is one of a variety of jjigaes, which are best described as spicy stews. All jjigaes have a spicy red chili pepper broth, tofu,and assorted vegetables like onions, zucchini, enokitake mushrooms ("팽이버섯" in Korean), and kimchi. Variations come from what you add to the basics and are reflected in the name. You have tuna jjigae, kimchi jjigae, soybean paste jjigae, and so forth.

Budae is army, or army base. The special ingredients in budae jjigae all come from American MREs. During the Korean war, Koreans would come across MRE leftovers and, not being a wasteful people, would add them to their own food. Budae jjigae can incorporate a variety of things, but the Uijeongbu Budae Jjigae that I know and love includes only ramen noodles, sausage, hot dogs, and SPAM in addition to standard jjigae ingredients. It's one of the few dishes I categorically refuse to add cheese to because that's just not how we do it up here.

I am a big fan of Aeri's Kitchen. I like her Korean vocabulary words with each recipe, and whatever I make from her turns out delicious. Here is Aeri's Budae Jjigae recipe, if you want to make this at home.

Some notes about the recipe:

It's no great shakes if you can't find kelp or sardines for your broth. I've made plain kimchi jjigae without those plenty of times and have been thoroughly satisfied with the results. What's more important is the rice starch water (and even that's not ESSENTIAL); if you want more flavor in the broth, you can use the kimchi juice.

I'm not a fan of the cheese or beans on this one, but everyone has different tastes. This is a super flexible recipe.

Adding glass noodles is also a very popular variation; I consider them pretty essential.

Despite Aeri's recipes and my typical DIY attitude, this the only way to eat budae jjigae, as far as I'm concerned. Cooked over a hotplate in what looks like a garbage can lid:

You'll always have a place in my heart, budae jjigae.

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