11 articles Articles posted in noodle soup

The Story of Budaejjigae, Korea’s “Army Base Stew” (부대찌개)

While preparing for our trip to Seoul in November, I came across an interesting Korean dish called budaejjigae (부대찌개), which translates to “army base stew.” Being a fan of Shin Ramyun, the Korean instant noodles with an almost cult following of Asians around the world, the idea of a spicy stew composed of Korean ramen and a mishmash of crazy toppings, including Spam, instantly appealed to me. I know — that either sounds very right or very wrong to you. Let me get to that in a moment.

Regardless of whether this is a dish you think you might ever want to try, suffice it to say that budaejjigae has a fascinating history. And during my time in Seoul, I was fortunate to meet the lady whom many believe to be the creator of this stew. She’s still making it to this day! You can find out more about her and the origins of budaejjigae in my story in the Washington Post’s travel section today. 

Now, as for whether this dish is worth trying… If you’re a fellow Shin Ramyun devotee, let me just say — one taste of budaejjigae, and you will understand the true meaning of Shin Ramyun. But if you’re balking at the whole idea of paying for a bowl of instant noodles at a restaurant, or asking why you would want to go to Korea to eat Spam — let’s just start over, shall we? This is not a bowl of glorified instant noodles. This is a Korean feast. So: think bubbling Korean stews cooked at the table with fresh ingredients — onions, scallions, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), kimchi, tofu, leafy greens. Then, yes, add Spam and ramen and whatever else you like — it will all simmer in the rich, spicy broth, soaking in the flavors of the stew. To eat, serve with kimchi and rice. If you truly are not an adventurous eater, I suppose you could substitute in “real” meat (in Korea, Spam is made with real meat!) and maybe some Korean glass noodles. But if you don’t eat kimchi, I can’t help you there.

This is also an easy dish to recreate at home. It’s not quite the same as digging into a big black cauldron of budaejjigae in the dish’s native Uijeongbu, where each chef each has his/her own take on the stew. But it’s a nice, hearty meal that comes together quickly, especially for a cold winter weeknight.

Budaejjigae (Korean Army Base Stew): A Non-Recipe

This can be made quickly in a pot on the stove or cooked in a deep electric skillet or wok at the table, where it continues to simmer while you eat. You can have it as a one-pot meal on its own, or serve it with kimchi and rice.

Sticking to the rustic origins of this dish, here I offer you my non-recipe. Use this as a general guideline. Adjust amounts to your liking. The ingredients to this dish are very flexible, but generally it’s the gochujang, kimchi, Spam, and Korean ramen that make it, so try not to skip those. (Korean ramen has thicker noodles than other instant noodle brands. Don’t use the seasoning packets, though, as the flavor of the stew will come from the other ingredients.) Even if you just tossed everything into a pot and boiled it, it would turn out fine. The only thing I’ll mention is that if it comes out a tad too sour for you, due to the kimchi, try adding a dash of sugar. And you’ll want to eat the noodles as soon as they’re done, to avoid them getting soggy.

BASE: gochujang, kimchi
AROMATICS: onion, garlic, scallions
MEAT: Spam (additionally, sliced hot dogs and ground beef are also common)
BROTH: enough chicken or beef broth (homemade, canned, or even water would work) to just cover all the ingredients; add water if it boils down too quickly
VEGETABLES: leafy greens like garland chrysanthemum are popular (I’ve used pea sprouts in the photo), as are various mushrooms like enoki or shiitake
NOODLES: Korean ramen, such as Shin Ramyun noodles (skip the seasoning packets, though); some people like to also add sweet potato noodles
OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: baked beans, tteok (rice cake), bacon, tofu, and American cheese

pho ga (vietnamese chicken noodle soup)

When you’re feeling under the weather, nothing soothes you more than a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup. When it’s cold and rainy outside, hot soup is especially satisfying!  I was actually a bit sick this past week, but because we don’t live close to any Vietnamese restaurants anymore and I didn’t feel like cooking, we just went to Souplantation (also called Sweet Tomatoes in some places). They have, hands down, the best “American” chicken noodle soup ever. The broth is clear and rich, and you just feel healthier eating it! It’s funny because every time we go, all the Asians get bowls of just soup, while all the Caucasians get bowlfuls of just chicken and noodles. Mom always taught me the nutrients are all in the soup!

The Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup, pho ga, is something that my family made quite often because of its humble ingredients that were always readily available. Pho ga is often overshadowed by it’s richer, more flavorful counterpart, pho bo (or just referred to as “pho“), beef noodle soup. On cold or rainy days though, nothing hits the spot more than a piping bowl of pho ga. Its flavors are a bit more subtle than pho bo, but I think that it has its own complexities and subtleties that don’t hit you over the head quite as much as eating a bowl of pho bo.

Pho ga is pretty simple to make, especially if you have the poached chicken technique down pat. I simply use the stock that was left over from making poached chicken and throw the bones back in after removing all the meat, along with some spices. Sometimes I add in another pound of chicken bones if I happen to have any (or you can always purchase chicken necks from Asian grocery stores too).

Pho Ga
serves 4-6
adapted from various sources

Try to purchase fresh banh pho noodles found in the refrigerated section of Asian supermarkets. If those are not available, the dried ones will do as well. We sometimes also use fresh noodle sheets, which can be found in sheets or pre-cut into 1/2″ strips (the same sheets and strips used for banh uotand beef chow fun). If not cut, simply use a knife to cut to the desired width.

1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs)
1-2 lbs chicken bones (not necessary, but adds richness to the broth)
1 whole onion, unpeeled and cut in half
chunk of ginger, about 3″, unpeeled
2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar (or rock sugar)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
small bunch of cilantro stems, tied
salt, to taste

1 pack banh pho (flat thin rick stick noodles)

Herb plate:
bean sprouts
onions, thinly sliced
lime wedges
Vietnamese herbs such as Thai basil and culantro (sawtooth herb)

1. Toast the onion and ginger in the oven, with the temperature set to broil. Toast until the onion and ginger have a nice charred skin. This can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. You can also toast them directly on your oven range, either with an electric or gas stove. Just be sure to watch them carefully, turn often, and have the exhaust fan on.

2. While the ginger and onion are toasting, you can also take the coriander seeds and lightly toast them in a pan until they are fragrant.

3. After the ginger and onion are cooled, rinse them under water and rub off all the skin. Use a peeler to peel off all the skin from the ginger. Cut the ginger into thick slices.

4. Before doing anything with the chicken or chicken bones, fill a pot with water to parboil the chicken.  This helps get rid of all the impurities and ensures a clear broth.  Heat water until it boils.  Place chicken and chicken bones (if you are using any) into the pot and boil for about 5 minutes. Discard the water and rinse the chicken and chicken parts. Then poach the chicken according to the directions here, but subtract 5 minutes from the timing. Also place in the extra chicken bones. Add the ginger, onion, cilantro stems, coriander seeds, star anise, and cloves to the water as well. This will help flavor the broth and chicken while it cooks. Make sure there is enough water to entirely cover the chicken.

5. After you have removed the chicken and have cooled it in an ice bath, detach all the meat from the bones. Using a large butcher knife, break all the large bones to expose the marrow. Throw all the bones back into the pot.

6. Gently simmer for another 1-2 hours. Be sure not to let it boil too hard, or else the soup will become cloudy.

7. After 1-2 hours, strain the broth to remove all the bone shards. Add in the sugar and fish sauce. Add salt to taste.

8. Prepare noodles according to direction on package. If using fresh noodles, they shouldn’t need to be cooked for more than 1-2 minutes. You will want to err on the side of the noodles being more firm, because they will continue to cook as they sit in the broth. Our family also likes to use flat noodle sheets, as these are sometimes available fresh (and still warm!). They are oftentimes wider and have a smoother texture to them.

9. Prepare the bowls by placing noodles and shredded chicken pieces into a bowl. Ladle in the hot broth. Top with onions and cilantro.

10. Serve with herb plate and Sriracha and Hoisin sauce, if desired. I try to stay away from these sauces, as they tend to overpower the delicate flavor of the broth.

taiwanese beef noodle soup (niu rou mian)

Happy birthday to my wonderful husband!

He is in Istanbul today, probably stuck in meetings. I hope they are at least feeding him well!

I figured he probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the day as much being on the job, so I made him an early birthday meal this week to celebrate before he left. After his comment a few days ago about needing more meat, I decided to do something meat-inspired for the occasion. Grilling is not so much of an option where we live. And given that our schedules were pretty tight this week, I wanted to try and make do with what I already had on hand. I had been saving this beef shank in the freezer, so I thought I’d try to make Taiwanese beef noodle soup with it. Despite his earlier comment, lucky for him it takes a SE Asian not to balk at the idea of making a hot noodle soup in the middle of a DC summer. I think he didn’t mind eating it either. :)

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Adapted from Viet World Kitchen
Serves 3

Normally I’d make this in a Dutch oven or stock pot, but to cut down on some of the heat from the stove in the summer, I browned the meat and pan-fried the aromatics and spices in a skillet before transferring everything to a thermal cooker to slowly stew. Ideally I’d let it sit overnight, but since I didn’t start this until the day of, I just waited a few hours. The meat could have been more tender, but it was still flavorful. I’ve kept the recipe’s original instructions for cooking in a pot here but incorporated a few of the modifications I made. Next time I would use chicken or beef stock instead of water for fuller flavor.

1.5 lb bone-in beef shank
1 Tbsp canola oil
5 garlic cloves, bruised
1-inch fresh ginger, cut into 3 slices, each one bruised
2 scallions, halved crosswise
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 star anise
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 Thai bird chili, split lengthwise (seeds and ribs removed if you want less spice)
2 Tbsp chili bean sauce (doubanjiang)
1/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine
1 oz yellow Chinese rock sugar
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
5 cups water or chicken or beef stock

1/2 lb broccolini, broccoli, or baby bok choy, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 lb Chinese wheat noodles
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Pat the beef dry and then season all over with salt. In a 5- or 6-quart pot, heat the oil over high heat. Sear the beef on both sides until there is some browning, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.

2. To the same pot, add the garlic, ginger, five-spice, star anise, peppercorns, chili, and bean sauce. Stir for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the rice wine. Scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Add 1 teaspoon salt, rock sugar, both soy sauces, and water.

3. Bring to a boil, skim off the scum that floats to the top. Lower the heat to medium-low to gently simmer. Cover and cook for about 2 hours, until the beef is tender. The broth will simmer under cover.

4. Turn off the heat and move the lid askance so that there’s about a 1/2-inch opening. Let the soup cool. The beef will finish cooking to fork tenderness as the broth cools and concentrates in flavor. (If you make the soup in the evening, let it sit overnight.)

5. Remove the meat and set aside. Strain the broth into another pot. Discard the solids. Skim off the fat if desired. Reheat the broth over high heat.

6. Meanwhile, cook the vegetable and noodles in a large pot of water. Divide among soup bowls.

7. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick pieces; if it the beef is cold, use a mesh strainer or skimmer to warm it in the hot broth. Divide it among the bowls.

7. Bring the broth to a boil, taste and adjust the flavors. Ladle the broth into the bowls. Top with cilantro and serve.

instant noodles, part 1: cheesy MAMA pork flavor noodles

Really, instant noodles on the food blog? Why, yes. And let me assure you, these are no Top Ramen noodles. If you’re Asian, you probably need no convincing that instant noodles from a bag is nothing to scoff at. But for others who remain dubious or who may have consumed too many 5-for-$1 Top Ramens in college, please give me a chance to change your mind!

Of all the different kinds of instant noodles out there — Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, etc., many of which are quite good — there is one that is near and dear to me, and that is the MAMA pork flavor noodles that come in an orange bag. (A separate post will be devoted to everyone’s favorite instant noodles… Shin Ramyun.)

Me and these MAMA noodles, we go way back. There are two ways I like to eat these, and the first is distinctly a childhood thing. It doesn’t even involve turning on the stove. On Saturday mornings in Toronto, when my parents hadn’t gotten up to make me breakfast yet, I often liked to grab a bag of these noodles, crush them while they were still in the bag, then open them and add some of the dry seasoning, twist the top of the bag closed and shake it, and then munch on these while watching my Saturday morning cartoons. I particularly like the MAMA brand noodles because even when you eat them uncooked like this, they don’t have the raw taste and texture that some of the other instant noodle brands do. Eaten raw, crushed, and with a sprinkling of seasoning, they are crunchy and salty and as satisfying as a bag of chips or popcorn. Occasionally, whenever I felt particularly lazy (just leave it to me to get even lazier than instant noodles), I’d crush the noodles like this before cooking so I could eat the noodles and soup with a spoon.

The second way comes from childhood as well, but unlike the first method, has stuck with me well into adulthood. For as long as I can remember, melting a slice of Kraft singles cheese into the broth is one of my family’s favorite ways of eating instant noodles. I honestly don’t know how this started, but my dad often bought Kraft singles slices to include in my lunch sandwiches (an unfortunate and rare lapse in judgment on his part, but more than made up for with these noodles), and so I can only imagine it being one of his concoctions, though in recent years I have encountered others who enjoy their instant noodles this way as well. The cheese just creates this rich and creamy soup that coats the noodles. Even now, I think of it as my childhood in a bowl.

What are your favorite instant noodles? How do you like to eat them? I would love to know!

Cheesy MAMA Pork Flavor Instant Noodles
Serves 1

Having tried this with a few different kinds of instant noodles and cheeses, I still think it works best in this particular combination. If you like, you can try using other pork- or chicken-flavored noodles (something like beef may be too strong, but who knows?). You can also try other types of cheeses, but processed cheese tends to work better for this because it melts completely into the broth and isn’t as strongly flavored. I also like to cook my instant noodles twice to get rid of some of the wax and grease it gets coated in during the manufacturing process.

1 bag of MAMA pork flavor noodles
1 slice of Kraft singles cheese
optional: your favorite ramen toppings (leafy greens, mushrooms, egg, etc.)

1. Put dried noodles in a small sauce pan with just enough cold water to cover the noodles. Place on high heat. At the same time, boil about the same amount of water separately in a kettle. When the water with the noodles comes to a boil, immediately drain the noodles. The noodles should be loosened but still tough at this point.

2. The water in the kettle should be boiling or close to boiling around this time as well. Add the drained noodles back into the pot, set on medium heat, and pour in just enough hot water from the kettle to cover the noodles. Immediately add the dry seasoning packet and the flavored oil packet (and the chili packet if desired), and stir to combine. Since the noodles are already partly cooked, you want to add the seasonings right away so that the noodles have time to soak in some flavor while they finish cooking. Then add the slice of Kraft singles cheese. When the cheese melts, stir it into the broth. You can also add whatever else you like to eat your noodles with at this point. The noodles are ready when they are soft but still have some bite to them.