Once a humble dish, buddaejjigae is now less about making the most out of leftovers, and more about excess.
Buddaejjigae, literally "army base stew," has its roots in the Korean War, when hungry chefs had to be creative with their limited resources.
They'd cook stews from U.S. Army base leftovers like hot dog sausages, Spam and American cheese, adding Korean ingredients such as dropwort, ddeok, ramyeon noodles, kimchi and condiments like gochujang to create a spicy fusion sensation.
Buddaejjigae is sometimes referred to as "Johnson tang," tang being the Korean word for stew.
According to the book "About Korea's Representative Foods," it's named for U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who's said to have raved about the taste during a visit to Korea.
Buddaejjigade spread especially rapidly in Uijeongbu, which had a high concentration of U.S. Army bases.
Today there's a "buddaejjigae" street (Gyeonggi-do Uijeongbu-si Uijeongbu1-dong) in Uijeongbu with a high concentration of buddaejjigae restaurants.
4. Chuncheon dakgalbi and makguksu, Gangwon Province
Which gochujang-covered chunk is chicken? And which is cabbage? Doesn't matter, it's all dakgalbi now.
Chuncheon, Gangwon-do is known for two things: dakgalbi and makguksu.
Dakgalbi started out as a dish of grilled chicken bits in an area where chicken was cheap.
Today, dakgalbi is seasoned and deboned chicken stir-fried with sliced tteok, sweet potato, perilla leaves and cabbage.
Makguksu is buckwheat noodles in a chilled kimchi stock, often with additional flavors in the form of sugar, mustard, sesame oil or vinegar. The noodles are topped with whatever vegetables strike the chef's fancy.
These perfectly matched dishes form the yin and yang of a frugal and filling meal.
We say frugal because noodles were traditionally the sustenance of the poor, and because dakgalbi was historically the favorite of the poor -- at a mere ￦100 (10 cents) per serving in the 1970s, it was popular with soldiers and students, thus gaining the nickname "commoner's galbi" or "university student's galbi."
Dakgalbi is a recent invention, created in the 1960s.
It's spicy, sweet and meaty, served hot on the same table it's cooked on.
Makguksu, on the other hand, has been around since the Koryeo Dynasty.
It's spicy, savory and wheaty, served chilled.
The harmonious taste of these two dishes together is for the diner to decide -- the 20-odd dakgalbi restaurants in Chuncheon's "Dakgalbi Alley" continue to serve them together.
Unlike generic street sundae, the casing is real intestine, not fake translucent stuff.
Sundae, at its most basic, is a type of blood pudding: pig or cow intestines stuffed with glass noodles, ground meat and vegetables.
And congealed blood.
All steamed into coils of unassuming but tasty meaty goodness, ready to be sliced and served -- usually with other pork parts, like lung and heart, on the side.
Supposedly, Ghengis Khan's army embraced sundae as a portable and nutritious meal on the go.
In Korea, the dish has spawned regional variations -- sundae stuffed into squid, sundae made exclusively with large intestine, sundae made with small intestine, sundae of multiple shades of cooked pork blood and finally Byeongcheon sundae, notable for its "especially black color," finely ground meat and soft, juicy consistency.
Try it at:Doejine Sundae, 166-16 Byeongcheon-ri, Byeongcheon-myeon, Dongnam-gu, Cheonan-si, South Chungcheong Province, +82 41 564 1077
Agujjim looks like salad from the depths. And it is.
Before the blackmouth angler's, or the agu's, meteoric rise to main dish status at meals as the "meat of the sea," it was considered ugly and unfit to eat.
Instead, it was used as fertilizer.
Now, agu is the main ingredient in agujjim, a dish of braised blackmouth angler on a bed of bean sprouts and minari (dropwort), saturated in a marinade of chilli pepper powder (gochugaru), soy sauce and garlic.
This glorious, fiery (in color and taste) seafood favorite is eaten all over Korea.
Agujjim was born in in the 1950s in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do, in a bar in Odong-dong, Masan, when a poor fisherman brought this lowly fish to the cook who ran the bar and asked her to cook it.
Initially, the cook rejected the fish for its extremely ugly appearance and chucked it away in her kitchen.
But a month later, while desperately casting around for ingredients, the cook discovered the now dried-up agu and decided to braise it.
It was an instant hit.
The period of lonely dehydration that the abandoned agu had gone through in the kitchen had given the meat an incomparable chewiness.
Eonyang bulgogi skips the pan and goes straight to the fire.
Ulsan, Korea's seventh-largest city, is an industrial center.
It's more Manchester than London.
More Detroit than Chicago.
And it's better known for its sprawling factories than its fine dining.
Yet some of the nation's best bulgogi can be found there: Eonyang bulgogi.
Bulgogi, literally "fire meat," is thinly sliced beef grilled in a distinctive marinade of sugar and soy sauce, sometimes pear juice and usually onions.
It's everywhere -- from fancy franchises to pan-ready kits at local Lotte Marts.
It sounds delicious and easy to make, and it's delicious and easy to make.
But Ulsan's arguably superior Eonyang bulgogi requires more than a simple stir and fry.
Hailing from a district known for its many butcher shops, Eonyang bulgogi isn't just another regional take, it's a region-specific brand.
Noted for the freshness of the meat -- all meat is served within 24 hours of butchering, and comes only from cows who have calved fewer than three times -- Eonyang bulgogi is cooked in a specific way: with white coals, made by patting dirt over reddened coals preheated in a charcoal kiln.
The best part is that this meticulously prepared dish, somehow a product of oil-rig-ridden Ulsan rather than yang-ban-ridden Jeonju, really caught fire only after it was "discovered" in the 1960s by construction workers who were in Ulsan to build the highway.
Try it at: Eonyang Traditional Bulgogi, 167-6 Seobu-ri, Eonyang-eup, Ulju-gun, Ulsan-si; +82 52 262 0940
11. Yeongdeok daegejjim, North Gyeongsang Province
Delicious quirk of nature.
Daegae is the Korean word for "snow crab," a delectable crab with a thin shell and long legs -- legs which apparently resembled bamboo to Koreans of old, because the "dae" in daegae means "bamboo."
Yeongdeok Daegejjim isn't so much a dish -- after all, it's simply steamed snow crab -- as a lucky biological quirk.
Due to a variety of environmental factors, Yeongdeok happens to be prime crab breeding ground, and there's not much you can do to improve the taste of steamed crab meat, which is tender, juicy and fluffy.
But food is food, and no less delicious because it's not slathered in a complicated sauce.
Today, Yeongdeok celebrates its snow crab with a festival.
Highlights are exactly what might be expected from a festival celebrating delicious seafood: sampling delicious seafood.
Try it at: Any of the restaurants on Ganggu Harbor, such as Myeongga Daege, 408 Ganggu-ri, Ganggu-myeon, Yeongdeok-gun, North Gyeongsang Province; +82 54 734 5525
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