Korean Fusion Cuisine: Want to Try Some Army Stew?

Some types of fusion cuisine can remind you of Frankenstein's Monster, bizarre mashups of various unrelated favourites to create something that's little more than a dining novelty. Sushi pizza anyone? No? Fusion cuisine can be born from genuine culinary creativity, a chef's instinct that some types of seemingly disparate styles can exist in delicious harmony. Fusion cuisine can also have its origins in necessity, which is the case when it comes to Budae-jjigae, a popular type of Korean food

An Army Stew 

You might see Budae-jjigae on the menu at your local Korean restaurant, and it might or might not be listed under its English translation, which is army stew. Restaurant owners might opt to omit the dish's English name since it could potentially raise a few too many questions. Is this a typical stew that was fed to the army? Not quite. This stew originated as a result of the Korean War, and it's essentially a dish that combines traditional Korean flavours and cooking methods, supplemented with ingredients that reflected the scarcity of options at the time.

US Ingredients Meets Korean Cooking

Many of the typical ingredients for Budae-jjigae were acquired from US army bases in Korea, combining standard US fare with local Korean flavourings and methods of preparation. It might seem unusual for this form of Korean hotpot to contain ingredients such as cheese, baked beans, sausages and manufactured meat, but it was a case of using what was available at the time. Still, it's not as though these American ingredients were readily accessible, and they would often be sourced on the black market or smuggled out of the US army bases by Koreans who worked there. 

Stood the Test of Time

Budae-jjigae has become a mainstay of Korean cuisine, although the necessity of the dish has long since passed. You'll still see more-or-less the same types of ingredients stewed together in the hotpot, although it's not as though these items are difficult to source anymore. Consider it a culinary adventure to try Budae-jjigae, complete with melted cheese and sliced hotdog sausages. Different restaurants will have their own variations on the dish, and all the additions are likely to be listed on the menu.

Budae-jjigae remains a testament to culinary ingenuity of the Korean people during a dark time in their nation's history. Although the taste might not be quite what you were expecting from a Korean dish, it's rather darn delicious!