Guys! This is one of my favorite things ever.
Okay, so I have a long list of “favorite things ever” — mostly involving cheese, chocolate, or not leaving the house — but seriously, this. This is a favorite of favorites.
I first had budae jjigae in a little upstairs joint in K-town, underneath a sea of fairy lights and soju caps dangling from a net-draped ceiling. It was in weather not unlike the kind we’ve been having this week, and the bubbling pot that appeared in front of us was all my winter-comfort dreams come true — spicy, noodly, Spam-y melty-cheese heaven.
Since then, budae jjigae has been a staple of every winter I’ve spent up North, the kind of droolworthy dish that had me waiting for the bus in snowy single-digit Boston weather and struggling through skyscraper wind-tunnels on frigid Manhattan evenings to find. It’s classic comfort food, one that gets its name from harder times, and true to its namesake, it’s loaded up with all things plain but wonderful — instant ramen, salty Spam, chewy rice cakes and silky-soft tofu. The broth is thick and rich, laced with earthy umami tones from kombu and anchovies, dyed fiery-red with kimchi and gochujang, spicy enough to make you sweat even when your fingers are still thawing from the cold outside. It’s a humble, hearty stew, a stew for sharing, and I associate it with the best memories of warm friends on cold winter nights.