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Army base stew has been a go-to Korean dish for more than half a century.

Korean-food aficionado and former Food Republic editor Matt Rodbard has partnered with NYC chef Deuki Hong to release the best Korean cookbook you’ll find this side of the Hangang (that’s a river in Seoul). Dive into America’s famed Koreatowns with these two experts and find yourself in the kitchen with a hot wok, a lot of sesame oil and plenty of kimchi.  

Often referred to as “army-base stew,” budae jjigae is a story of desperation and ingenuity born out of necessity during the Korean War. During that tumultuous time, impoverished Koreans were forced to use leftover U.S. army rations for sustenance, sometimes even foraging through trash piles in the process. Ever since, and in far happier times, this spicy stew bobbing with Uncle Sam’s finest — Spam, hot dogs and processed American cheese—has remained in Korea’s culinary orbit.

Today, budae jjigae is popular among young Koreans for another reason: its party-prolonging powers late at night. Head to Koreatown restaurants like Chunju Han-il Kwan in Los Angeles or Pocha 32 in New York City, and chances are you’ll spot pots of jjigae (or a larger, more elaborate pot of jeongol) stationed at every other table. It’s delicious and dead easy to prepare: Just throw everything in a pot and let it bubble away. American cheese marrying with chile and ramen noodles with hunks of processed meat? You know that’s going to work well.

Reprinted with permission from Koreatown: A Cookbook