A broken ankle, snow on the ground, Facebook status updates on various Christmas activities. A year and four months in Korea, and I’m really missing home. Thankfully, I know just what to do (or eat) when the homesickness strikes: Budae Jjigae and Samgyetang.
Budae jjigae, also known as army base stew, became popular after the Korean War. Quality meats were hard to find, so to make due, Koreans started using surplus foods from the U.S. Army bases, such as hot dogs and Spam, and incorporating them into a traditional spicy soup seasoned with red chili paste and kimchi. Today, the stew is still very popular and includes anything from instant ramen noodles, ground beef, onions, tteok (rice cake), chili peppers, tofu, garlic, mushrooms, zucchini and cabbage. It’s like what we Americans call “everything but the kitchen sink soup,” but better.
I was actually appalled at myself for liking this dish. I mean, for God’s sake, it has Spam and hot dogs in it. But there’s something about the way the salty meats mix with the fiery chili broth and seasonal vegetables that makes me unbutton my pants for more.
Then there’s Samgyetang, the Korean’s take on chicken soup. Rich, tender chicken in a salty broth–very similar to the American staple, although its appearance could scare off a few non-adventurous eaters. A whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice in a bubbling broth of Korean ginseng, dried jujube berries, chestnuts, garlic and ginger comes to your table in individual pots. The server gives you a small pitcher of ginseng wine and a small trash can for the bones. (Sidenote: Do not eat Samgyetang on a first date…or the sixth date for that matter. Spitting out bones while sweating out ginseng is not becoming.) Think chicken and rice soup, only made by a Korean Emeril Lagasse. They have really kicked it up a notch. Seriously, I would bathe in this stuff.
Traditionally, Samgyetang is served in the summer months for its nutritive properties, replacing those lost through excessive sweating. And according the last Korean man I dated, most Koreans enjoy the soup on three days a year–the hottest days in summer. Never taking anyone’s word for anything, I googled it. And according to the all-knowing Internet, the three hottest days of the year even have names: Chobok (초복), Jungbok (중복) and Malbok (말복).
But I don’t care. Let the Koreans sweat it out in the summer. I’m completely fine with being the stupid blond girl, stuffing her face with a whole young chicken, wearing a cast, in the corner, by herself, watching the snow fall out the window. This is the holiday season after all.