Budae Jigae (Miltary Base Soup)

Spam stew.

yes, Spam stew.

Many people have written about budae jigae, a very popular dish in Korea.
It’s considered to be the “first” fusion Korean dish, the attempt to Koreanize American Spam.

The legend goes like this:

Spoiled Spam and other “mysterious” meat products from US military bases were thrown out. Koreans living around the bases went dumpster diving to salvage the “spoiled” meat and made a spicy stew out of it. Apparently the spice camouflaged the rancid taste of the meat. It fell out of popularity as Korea became more wealthy but in recent years there has been a huge resurgence. You can find this stew in specialty restaurants and grocery stores (please refer to previous post) all around the country.

You can read more about them here:

Joe McPherson teaches you how to make it!


What’s in it?

Ready to eat budae jigae

Usually spam, hot dog, instant ramen noodles, a spicy kick, and some assortment of vegetables.

Budae Jigae have various names. It is often called GI stew, army camp soup, and piggie soup.

In her book, Cuisine, Colonialism, and Cold War, historian Katarzyna Cwiertka describes the stew as “a legacy of the militarized reality of South Korean life during the decades of the Cold War.” (2012: 117)

The fact that this stew is now available at megastores as a convenience food speaks volumes of its significance in the average Korean’s everyday life.

So I want to ask:

What does it mean to crave a stew that represents  poverty, struggle, and domination?

What is the meaning of eating and celebrating food that was invented during political turmoil?

Is this nostalgia for the past rooted in cherishing the efforts of those who made the best of their circumstances?

If you are interested in learning more about how Spam has gained cultural significance in places that underwent US occupation read:


Email me if you can’t access the article!


Adventures in a Korean Megastore

If you had 2 hours to kill, what would you do?

My go-to activity is grocery shopping. I head straight to the nearest market I can find and comb through every aisle with precision.

I hadn’t done this for awhile as my schedule has been packed the last few months.
But I found myself stuck near a train station with nothing to do.

I spotted a HomePlus (owned by Tesco) in the distance!

I was curious to see whether the displays and products were similar to the Tescos I used to frequent in the UK.

Kimchi, kimchi, and more kimchi.



Tricolore rice cakes with cheese. Yes, cheese. Notice the image of a pizza on the package. 
What could this imply? The rice cake will be as stringy as a pizza?!



My horror mounted as I came face to face with a whole section of dried squid.
The flavors ranged from original, bulgalbi (marinated bbq short ribs ), butter, pizza, peanut butter, and beef jerky.
It’s pretty common to see people eat original and butter flavor dried squid in movie theaters.
I can also understand the peanut butter flavor because a popular bar snack is dried squid and peanuts.
However, pizza flavor was beyond me.


To calm down, I turned around and bumped into Edward Kwon, the first Korean celebrity chef.

Thanks Chef Kwon! I now can make crab stew and spicy stir fried octopus at home and get props for cooking like a celebrity chef!
Just seeing your face makes me certain that whatever I make will taste good.


In the meat section, more friendly directions guided me.
Not only did the packages tell me what to make with the cuts but how much of it I should make. 
I could make baby food (top), bulgogi (marinated grilled beef-middle), or jangjorim (slow braised beef-bottom).

Loads and loads of options! What great selection and choice! 
Wait…but what if I wanted to make something that’s not suggested here?!
Oh, I guess I just have to settle for what is on offer. No need to think outside the box, right?
Why make life difficult when it doesn’t need to be?

The security and comfort provided by this grocery store was so intoxicating that I realized that I had been browsing for 45 mins. I needed to speed up if I wanted to cover the entire store. I still hadn’t examined the pre-prepared food and shelf stable goods!

Tune in next time to hear more about the rest of my explorations!

Here’s a teaser:
Budaejjigae: Military base stew




The Stuff in Foodstuffs: Food Diary

I attended the 11th summer food school hosted by the European Institute for the Histories and Cultures of Food in Tours, France. We were locked up in an old chateau on top of a hill  pondering, discussing, and debating the materiality of food and foodways.

The days were long and intense but very rewarding as we spent 99% of our waking hours with the group. I managed to take as many photos of the meals we had during the week to leave a record. I missed a few because I was so caught up in conversation or struggling to make conversation in my broken french.

The daily schedule went something like this:

7am wake up

8am breakfast

9am-12:30pm lecture

12:30-2pm lunch

2-5pm lecture or presentations

5-7:30pm lecture or workshops

7:30-9:30 dinner

9:30-11:30 drinks in town

*The only reason why I am divulging these details is to highlight the long hours of sitting in a given day.

Day 1- Welcome Dinner


Day 2- Lunch



Day 2- Dinner


Day 3- Lunch



Day 3- Dinner


Day 4- Lunch



Day 4- Dinner



Day 5- Lunch @ the Chateau Villandry



Day 6 – Lunch


Here are some of my observations from these meals:

1. The French paradox is NOT a myth.

I was certain I would gain weight because I wasn’t getting enough exercise and was eating very rich foods but I’ve managed to maintain my weight! Some of my classmates even have claimed that they lost weight on this “diet”!

2. The use of salt was very minimal in all of these dishes.

I really liked that no one was complaining about the lack of salt and I was surprised to find that all the meals I had in France were  undersalted. Also, I observed that almost no one reached for the salt shaker. Are Europeans less addicted to salt than Americans?

3. Although I did not take any photos of the desserts, the rich ones were only served at lunch while fruit and cheese was served at dinner.

Paris Inspiration

Last night I had a dream.

It was the kind of dream that jolts you awake. No one was running after me and I was in no danger. 

I must have been replaying the fantastic meal I had in my head over and over until I had an epiphany so strong that it woke me.

It’s no revelation that Paris is the epicenter of gastronomy but a small bistro called Le 6 Paul Bert completely blew my mind.

Maybe it was because it was my first night in Paris after a long flight. Maybe I was slightly delirious because my biological clock was telling me it was 3am.

Whatever the reason, in my dream I shouted: This is to die for!

First Course: Raw mackerel, yogurt sauce, cucumber, and peashootsImage


Second Course: Squash blossom, ricotta cheese, and tapenade Image

Third Course: Sweet Breads, roasted eggplant, hummus, and pickled red onionsImage

Fourth Course: Wild black berries, chocolate ganache, and beetroot sorbetImage

The flavor combination of the dessert was mesmerizing. I probably will remember this dessert for a lifetime.


Korean Fusion Cuisine

This morning, I received an e-mail from Jeffery Pilcher, the esteemed Mexican food historian. He was curious about the Korean taco phenomenon in the US, which started in late 2008 with Roy Choi’s Kogi Truck.

I was so thrilled that he reached out to me because I’ve been following Dr. Pilcher’s work since I was in college. One of my favorite food articles of all time is his piece titled “Industrial Tortillas and Folkloric Pepsi: The Nutritional Consequences of Hybrid Cuisines in Mexico” published in Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies (2003). In this article, he discusses the neoliberal market forces that transformed consumption practices and national identity in Mexico. He shows how globalization leads to hybrid cuisines with the incorporation of new ingredients and food processing techniques.

Once I wrote Dr. Pilcher with my initial thoughts regarding Korean tacos, I began thinking about the different dishes that have become more mainstream in the US in recent years. Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) and bibimbap instantly came to mind. I’ll post more on each throughout the week but I first want to share my most recent Korean fusion meal.

I was at University of Michigan last weekend for a conference for next generation Korean Studies scholars.IMG_1010

I was on a panel titled:”Production of Nation” and presented on my research on gastro-nationalism and plastic food models in Korea. I was the last person to go before lunch, which might have led to torturing the audience. I showed various photos of fake food models to explain their diverse social functions in promoting gastro-nationalism. Many told me over lunch that looking at my photos made them very hungry.

Here’s an example: Bibimbap and abalone and bulgogi stew

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 1.32.08 PM

Once the session was over, we all rushed to the next room where we were greeted with this spread from Seoul Street, Ann Arbor, MI.IMG_1006(The offerings: Bulgogi + chicken tacos, kimchi cheese fries, kimchi fried rice, hot and sweet Korean fried chicken, creamy corn salad, and pickled daikon)

IMG_1007My plate!


New discovery: Kimchi cheese fries!

As a faithful anthropologist, I closely observed others while they ate. The group was divided largely into two camps about the food. The Korean scholars from Seoul National University generally commented that they did not consider this “real” Korean food but were tickled by the mexican fusion twist. The scholars based in the US were more comfortable with the hybrid/Americanized food and talked about how much they love Korean tacos. The Korean scholars told me that they were finding it difficult to eat bread and non-Korean foods at every meal. I made sure to pass the kimchi to them during dinner at a more conventional Korean bbq restaurant.

Can Korean tacos be successfully exported to Korea? How can this American fad be translated into Korean culinary culture? What will be the process of naturalization for it to be accepted as Korean?

Do you know of any places in Korea that serve Korean tacos? I’ll report back in a few months once I’m there!


Hi everyone! I’ve been on mute for awhile but I’m back!

Why have I decided to return to writing my blog?

Short answer:

My inspiration was reignited through the Future of Food Studies workshop.

Long answer:

The Food Studies Program at Indiana University hosted a summit of the movers and shakers of the Food Studies world (May 9-11, 2013). This meeting was the grand finale of the full year Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Foundation Seminar on Food Choice, Freedom, and Politics.

I thrive on meeting new people and talking about food and food related issues. So you can imagine how much fun I had at the Future of Food Studies Workshop this week!

We were very fortunate to have a diverse group of people in attendance. Call me a Food Studies nerd but I have to admit that many of these participants were on my top 10 “Must Meet” list.


Rachel Black (Gastronomy Program, Boston University)

Simone Cinnotto (The University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy)

Jonathon Deutsch (Hospitality, Culinary Arts, and Culinary Science Drexel University)

John T. Edge (Southern Foodways Alliance, University of Mississippi)

Lisa Heldke (Gustavas Adolphus College)

David Kaplan (The Philosophy of Food Project, University of North Texas)

Susan Levine (Food Studies Working Group, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Lucy Long (Center for Food and Culture)

Fabio Parasecoli (Food Studies Program, The New School)

Krishnendu Ray (Food Studies Program, New York University)

Analiese Richard (University of the Pacific)

Peter Scholliers (Vrije Universiteit Brussels)

Amy Trubek (Food Systems, University of Vermont)

Michael Twitty (Culinary Historian)

Harry West, (Food Studies Centre, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK)

Stephen Wooten (Food Studies Program, University of Oregon)

The major themes that were covered during the workshop were:

1) strategies for undergraduate and graduate training

2) incorporating new fields and managing interdisciplinarity

3) academic and professional training

4) the job market for food studies graduates

What was truly inspirational was the shared enthusiasm about critically engaging with food issues and the willingness to collaborate to ensure a brighter future for food studies.

Are you interested in pursuing a undergraduate or graduate degree in food studies? Would you like to know what your options are and what you can do after?
If so, drop me a line so I can share some of my thoughts with you!


Swedish Fish

I ate lots of sushi in Stockholm.


Because the fish was so fresh and delicious!

The distinctive characteristic of localized Swedish sushi was the a dollop of mayo based “sauces.”

Assortment of sushi at Sushi Samba in Slussen. This place was a casual take out place filled with locals.

15 pieces of Scandinavian sushi at Rakultur, a trendy restaurant.

I watch as my Swedish neighbors spread the dollop of sauce over the fish with their chopsticks before plopping it into their mouths.

 I spotted cod roe tempura with kimchi remoulade on the menu!The kimchi sauce was a letdown. It tasted like kochujang (Korean red pepper paste) rather than kimchi. And it left an oily mouthfeel.

But can sauces like this be the key for Korean food to become more widely accepted?

There’s a lot of potential because it can impart flavors that are associated with
a particular cuisine and be culturally appropriate (for local consumers) as well.

I would have to think twice about having another kimchi remoulade but I think it might be a good way to appeal to the masses.


Mayonnaise Nation

Mayo is one of those things that some people absolutely adore and others despise.
While I was in Stockholm, I was struck by the amount of mayo used to flavor food.
Here are some examples of mayo-love I found during my sightseeing adventures:
1. At the famous food hall: Pre-prepared main meals
Where does mayo start and where does it end?
2. At the supermarket: Flavored mayo tubes
This display really made me want to paint!
In most cases, the flavor was indicated by the drawing on the end (shrimp, ham, smoked salmon, bacon, etc.) but at breakfast I encountered a tube with a picture of a little boy. …What flavor could this be?
(It turned out to be ham.)
3. At Marcus Samuelsson’s Airport Cafe “Street Food”: Mayo “frosting”
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this three tiered cake (sandwich)
laced with heaping amount of frosting (mayo).
Could mayo be a defining taste for Swedish cuisine? Does it make food taste more Swedish? I believe so!
Next time I’ll share my reasoning but in the mean time, just take a moment to imagine what it would be like to eat this cake/sandwich!

The Plate Makes the Dish

What color plates do you eat from?

I usually use my hand-me-down black plates but they are really unphotogenic. I also don’t know if my food necessarily looks tastier because of the black background. I would rather have different colored plates but I guess I’m stuck with them until they all break.

A study has shown that the color of your plate can dictate how much you eat.

Check out the article and mini experiment recreated by ABC News: Plate Color

Tonight, I decided to test how a bi-colored plate would make me feel about my dinner.



(This is a plate my dad made! Isn’t it lovely?)

Menu: tomato basil salad with arugula.

Ingredients: 2 handfuls of baby arugula, 2 handfuls of heirloom baby tomatoes halved, a smashed garlic clove, 2 whirls of olive oil, 7 leaves of basil, and salt and pepper to taste

I tossed all the ingredients (sans arugula) together and left it standing for about one hour and then dropped in the arugula right before plating.



I grilled some herbed focaccia to go along with this salad. I made sure that I topped the pieces of bread with the tomatoes that have been marinating in garlic and basil so that the juices would seep into the toasty focaccia.

This was one of the most flavorful, light, and crisp dinners I’ve had in awhile. Perfect for a late summer evening!

But apart from what I actually consumed, eating off a plate made by my dad really made me savor each bite.

Breakfast in Stokey

One of the eeriest feelings I’ve had recently was visiting my old neighborhood in London.

Stoke Newington aka Stokey has become the hip place to live since I moved out. A lot of the Turkish shops have transformed into restaurants and small boutiques. I also saw a lot of Über Hipsters cruising around.

One thing that remains the same is the corner French bakery Belle Epoque.

I used to frequent this place with my dormmates for study breaks. We used to each order a quiche, salad, coffee, and a dessert and spend our precious time away from the books talking about our worries, discussing concepts we learned, and gossiping about our fellow dormmates.

For old times sake, I went to Belle Epoque for breakfast during rush hour on a Thursday morning.Image

Sipping a cafe latte amidst the hectic flow of people going to work made the drink taste more luxurious.


I ordered a vegetable and goat cheese quiche with salad. The quiche had just exited the oven so it was warm and jiggly.

Although the breakfast was very satisfying, I did regret visiting the bakery because it made me miss my former dormmates and the fun times we shared in the cafe.

Despite the familiar tastes, being there alone was chillingly unfamiliar.