Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Korean Culinary Carousal, Part II

I love jjiage: Korean stew, served boiling hot in a stone pot. I love all varieties of jjigae, including chamche jjiage, made with tuna, sundobo jjigae, with tofu, eggs, soybean paste, and clams, and kimchi jigae, made with kimchi (duh). However, this post shall be devoted to the most peculiar of all jjigaes: budae jjigae.

Budae jjigae confuses me. It revolts me, but delights me. I find myself craving it at odd moments in the day like no other food I've had since I've been in Korea. I hate it, but I love it.

What could produce such a reaction? Live, wriggling octopus? Dog meat? Silkwork larvae?I think I can explain the bizarre feelings I have towards budae jjigae, but it involves confessing a humiliating secret which will embarrass me and bring shame to many of my veggie friends (and former compatriots). You see, when I was a vegetarian, people would always ask me if I missed eating meat. If I ever craved it. I would usually tell a small lie and say no, and truthfully, when I was completely veg, I never craved chicken, or sirloin steak, or lamb, or any meat indicating culinary savvy. What I really missed was the gross stuff: hot dogs, Spam, frozen corn dogs. The stuff that clogs your arteries and gives you Mad Cow. As for why I missed hot dogs, well, that I can't explain. Maybe it's the delectable baby-food like texture of finely ground pork innards? Or my subconscious attachment to "American" food? I'm sure Freud would be all up in my hotdog obsession. Insert joke here about phallus/hotdog parallel. It's a shame I don't care more about psychology.

So anyways, now it's on the table: when I was meatless, I would fantasize about the perfect sauerkraut-heaped hotdog, not Kobe beef cooked medium-rare. Which might explain my affection for budae jjigae. You see, budae means "army" in Korean: the was stew created during the Korean War when most people only had canned Army-supplied meat to live off. So budae jjigae is chock full of sliced Spam, hot dogs, and ramen noodles, all mixed up with good 'ole blood sausage, tofu, green onions, spinach, spicy red pepper paste and tteok (rice cakes).

My favorite thing about budae jjigae is the way it's served. The raw ingredients are brought out on a huge shallow platter and set upon a big burner. Everything is then doused with boiling water and heated into a big bubbling hellbroth, then served communally. This is serious food: every time after I've eaten budae jjigae, I've felt like I've eaten a colossal, prickling brick.

Cool fact about where I live: Uijeongbu is budae jjiage's birthplace, stemming from the many army posts around here. There is actually an offical "budae jjigae" street here in town lined with official tourism-board approved budae jjigae restaurants. It's hard to find the dish outside of the area where I live, actually.

Just a bit of (culinary) evidence of Korean-U.S. fusion/friction, which I continue to see everywhere here.

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