I Make My Mom’s Korean Army Base Stew When I’m Craving Comfort|Recipes Spots

  • on September 29, 2023
I Make My Mom’s Korean Army Base Stew When I’m Craving Comfort

Budae Jjigae (Army Base Stew) in a large pot boiling on a portable induction stove
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

There is no recipe that is a more direct representation of my two cultures—American and Korean—than budae jjigae, or army base stew. Budae jjigae is a spicy and hearty dish filled with savory meats, cheese, and whatever odds and ends are available to toss in.

My mom would often serve this when she had her sisters and their husbands over. She would use leftover hot dogs, ham, bacon, or whatever she could find to drop in the bubbly broth simmering on a portable gas stove in the middle of the table. She would also add some kind of vegetable, such as fresh cabbage or mushrooms to balance out the salty, fatty meats.

After we ate all the goodies from the pot, my mom would add rice to the remaining broth at the bottom and stir up the best fried rice ever and we would all dig in—again!

After I had my fill and was sent off to bed, I would hear them laughing and talking as they sipped soju late into the night. This is my homage to that memory and it’s a spicy pot of perfection.

Close-up: budae jjigae (army base stew) topped with a piece of melted cheese in a large pot
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

What is Budae Jjigae?

In Korean, budae means army base and jjigae means stew or soup. This dish came about after the end of the Korean War. Food was scarce, and what could be found was often Army rations that could be purchased from U.S. Army bases, found on the black market, or scavenged. 

Much of that food was canned meat such as Spam, processed cheese, instant noodles, and canned baked beans. Koreans are a resourceful people, and what we created with those odds and ends filled bellies in a most delicious way.

Budae jjigae is normally a fall or winter dish because the spicy broth warms you from the inside out. It’s also a great communal dish, made in a large pot or wok, with more ingredients added as they are consumed by everyone at the table.

How to Make Budae Jjigae

To make budae jjigae, Spam, sausages, beans, noodles, and so much more are boiled in a broth made spicy with a sauce of gochujang, gochugaru, and other flavorful ingredients.

In this version of budae jjigae, I add sliced Spam, tofu, and Vienna sausages (my mom’s favorite!), along with some kimchi and other vegetables to the edges of a large shallow pot. The spicy sauce goes in the center. Chicken or vegetable broth is added to the sides of the pot and it’s put on high heat to bring to a boil.

When the broth is at a rolling boil and the meats and vegetables are hot, ramen noodles are added to the center of the pot. When the noodles are done, you add a couple of slices of cheese on top, let them melt, and it’s ready to serve. The cheese isn’t cheesy in flavor, but it brings a creaminess to the dish and helps to reduce the spice just a touch.

Garnish with sliced green onions and serve with a hot bowl of steamed rice. All there is to do now is to pick out your favorite ingredients and add them to your bowl. Enjoy!

Chopsticks lifting some ramen from the pot of budae jjigae (army base stew)
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Ingredients and Substitutions

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to building budae jjigae. Mine is based on my mom’s version and hers was probably different from anyone else’s mom. She often added whatever she had on hand at the time, like rice cakes (tteok), beans, mushrooms, and kimchi. Below is a list of some of the ingredients in this recipe and options for substitutes.

  • Vienna sausages: You can use hot dogs, kielbasa, cocktail weiners, or any favorite sausage.
  • Enoki mushrooms: My mom used sliced button mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms, but I usually use enoki or trumpet mushrooms. The prettier the better.
  • Tofu: You can omit the tofu if you don’t like it.
  • Spam: Some recipes use pork belly sliced like bacon in 1 to 2-inch pieces. You may need to simmer longer to get them tender though. My mom would often use ham instead, especially after Easter.
  • Pork and beans or baked beans: The beans add a nice sweetness that offsets the heat of the broth, but my kids were skeptical of them. They actually still are, so you can omit them if you prefer.
  • Ramen spice packet: My mom would never waste the spice packets that came with the ramen, but you can save them for other purposes like adding to your flour dredge for fried chicken, popcorn seasoning, or to jazz up mashed potatoes. If you do leave it out, you’ll need to add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to your sauce for each packet omitted.

Vegetarian Substitutions

  • Vegan ramen
  • Vegetarian ramen
  • Vegan luncheon meat
  • Vegan cocktail sausages
  • Vegetable broth
  • Baked beans (look for vegetarian beans)
  • Add more slices of firm tofu
  • Use multiple varieties of mushrooms
  • Baby bok choy
  • Other vegetables such as kale, turnips, or sweet potatoes
Budae Jjigae (Army Base Stew) in a large pot boiling on a portable induction stove
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Morea Korean Stews and Soups

  • Kimchi Jjigae (Korean Kimchi Stew)
  • Doenjang Jjigae (Korean Soybean Paste Stew)
  • Galbi Jjim 갈비찜 (Korean Braised Short Ribs)
  • Mandu Guk (Korean Dumpling Soup)
  • Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

Make the sauce:

Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Budae jjigae sauce whisked together in a bowl using a pair of chop sticks
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Budae jjigae sauce in a bowl with a pair of chopsticks for Korean army base stew recipe
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Prepare the soup ingredients:

Soak the rice cakes in cold water for at least 15 minutes to help soften them and to remove excess starch.

Prepare the green onions by removing the root end and slicing on an angle into about 1/8-inch slices. Set aside for garnishing the budae jjigae at the end.

Chop the kimchi into bite-size pieces. Slice the napa cabbage into bite-size pieces.

Remove the base from enoki mushrooms and separate them into individual pieces, removing any excess dirt as you do this.

Slice the Vienna sausages into 1/4-inch diagonal slices. Cut the Spam and tofu blocks in half and slice into 1/4-inch slices.

Disk rice cakes soaking in a bowl of water for budae jjigae (army base stew) recipe
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Napa cabbage cut into bite size pieces for budae jjigae (army base stew) recipe
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Enoki mushrooms (with roots removed) separated into individual pieces for budae jjigae (army base soup) recipe
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Vienna sausage cut into slices on a cutting board next to some whole pieces of sausage for homemade budae jjigae (army base soup) recipe
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Tofu sliced into 1/4 inch thick planks for homemade budae jjigae (army base stew) recipe
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Assemble the soup:

Drain the rice cakes. 

In a large, shallow pot or wok, artfully arrange the rice cakes, kimchi, cabbage, mushrooms, sausages, Spam, tofu, and beans around the edge, leaving the middle of the pan empty. Spoon your sauce into the middle.

Canned baked beans added to pot of nicely organized budae jjigae ingredients
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Budae jjigae (army base stew) ingredients beautifly organized around the perimeter of the pot and in the middle is the budae jjigae sauce
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen


Pour the chicken broth in around the edges and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the mixture starts boiling, turn the heat down to medium-high and use long chopsticks or a spoon to blend the broth and sauce together in the center. Cover with a lid and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes to warm the proteins and cook the other ingredients.

Chicken broth poured around the edges of the pot, over the solid ingredients for Korean army base stew
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Chopstick stirring the sauce (in the middle of the pot) with the chicken broth. . The other ingredients are not mixed in.
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Add the noodles:

Remove the lid. Place the ramen noodles in the center space of the pot and cook them, ladling broth over the noodles and using chopsticks to loosen, until the ramen is soft and bouncy, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Ramen noodles added to the center of the pot as the budae jjigae ingredients boil
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen
Pot of budae jjigae (army based stew) cooking in a pot over a portable induction stove
Simply Recipes / Cynthia Christensen

Add the cheese, garnish, and serve:

Add cheese slices on top of the ramen and cover until the cheese is melted, about 30 seconds. Remove the lid and garnish your budae jjigae with sliced green onion. 

Use a ladle and tongs to serve everyone their favorite parts. Serve over hot rice, if desired.

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