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.


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.

North Korean Restaurants Abroad

I was helping my students with their class presentation for next week on identity and I came across this NYT article on North Korean restaurants in Cambodia.

Read the full story and make sure you check out the photos: Where Koreans go to Reunify

I instantly remembered my trip to Beijing with my dad in the winter of 2005 when we went to one of the famous North Korean restaurants. We were told that the women had been hand selected by the government to represent the country and that most of the income from the restaurant went directly back to North Korea.

I remember looking at the glossy photos of various dishes on the menu and recognized most of the dishes. We ordered pheasant dumplings and ate while a North Korean waitress sang for us.

It wasn’t quite like this clip but it gives you a sense of what type of performance goes on at these restaurants:

The song that she chose to sing was a song about reunification that I had learned in every music class since the age of six.

The song had an eerie effect. It was the first time I actually felt an intimate connection with the North.

Of the same language, physical traits, and culture. Yet, the underlying message of the reunification song was completely different.

Honey bread

One of my resolutions for this year is to try more food/products.

While I was in Seoul earlier this month, I discovered that honey bread has become
as popular as waffles at coffee shops all around Korea.

At first, I thought it was something similar to a coffee cake or pound cake.
But I was told that it had a completely different texture and taste.

I had to try it for myself! I dragged my cousin to Zoo Coffee on New Year’s day and we ordered two cappuccinos and an “original” honey bread. (The other options were garlic honey bread, berry honey bread, and ice cream honey bread.) The staff told us that the honey bread would take 10 mins to be ready.

We sat and looked around. It really felt like we were at a zoo.

Inside Zoo Coffee

Me-20= Little girl

The cappuccino was tasty!

Ta-da~ The original honey bread

It was basically a thick piece of fluffy white toast with a very  crispy crust
dusted with sugar and soaked in butter.

And it tasted just like that.

We barely finished it because the bread + sugar + butter combo
was too heavy and filling.
Next time you hear Koreans tell you that most Koreans
don’t like sweet and buttery stuff, remind them of honey bread.

 The best part: the crunchy wall!

Bacon Strips!

You’re so over hearing about my nyc trip, right? Well, I’m kinda over telling you about it.

All in all, I was able to go to Murray’s cheese, Murray’s bagels (twice), Jung Sik, Danji, and Rosewater. I was meaning to go to many more spots but the snow storm really impeded my mission.


Nothing is better than ending a long day with a bit of ridiculousness.

Have you heard of Epic Meals?

Well, they are a bunch of guys who claim: “We make your dreams come true, and then we eat them.”

To me, they define foul play when it comes to cooking. They basically use fast food to create dishes and layer in bacon strips to everything like it’s their job.

It’s absurd and gross.

In this clip, they are making fast food lasagna.
Start watching at 2:36 if you get bored with the food ordering process.

Surprisingly, they have a massive following ( 10,975,025 views on this clip on youtube) and there are 24,900 related clips on youtube. They are so popular that there are even spinoffs and parodies featuring young males.

Why is this appealing to men?

Is it the combination of fast food, bacon, and alcohol?

Or is it the way the main guy barks at you?

The interesting thing about the latter part of the clip is  the way it is filmed. Close ups and step-by-step procedures are similar to the generic cooking show formula. Also, the guys seem to be knowledgable of a wide range of cooking techniques.

So is this a social commentary about America’s obsession of fat, unhealthy food or are they for real?

First snow of the season!

This weekend has been all about hitting my fav spots.
My goal was to hit 7 spots in 60 hours. 
Do you think I successed? Well, you’ll have to tune in for the next week to find out!

One thing I can tell you is that I almost gave up at the start because of the snow storm that hit nyc yesterday. 
But I didn’t let the windy/slushy/frigid weather get in the way of my mission.

{I’m writing this remotely so I will upload photos when I get home!}

I got so excited about public transportation again that I took the subway 5 times in 7 hours just to get to as many food venues as possible!

Aren’t you curious to know what I ended up eating?

I Will fill you in on all the details starting tomorrow!

living on the edge

Did I ever tell you that I’m allergic to tree nuts?

And I do mean deathly allergic. You know how Will Smith’s face gets all swollen in the movie Hitch?  Yup, that happens to me if I eat large doses of tree nuts.

How do I know? I once had a quarter of a slice of chocolate torte, which had ground hazelnuts in the crust. The reaction was so bad that my facial features disappeared and I became a glob.

Don’t believe me? Ask my sister, the sole witness of my near death experience.

I usually have to ask people to tell me if there are nuts and to remove them for me (proven to be not a very reliable method!). What I actually end up doing is relying on my tongue to determine if I’m allergic to something in the food. But it takes time to taste a little and wait for the slight tingle, which signals the presence of an allergen.

Could my life become hassle free with this allergen detector?

My guess is not but I’d be willing to try one out for a bit.