US troops brought South Korea democracy, hot dogs, and Spam

The Korean War is long over, but the very American food staples of hot dogs and Spam were left behind, and have become the base for one of South Korea's most popular dishes. 

Yang Hee-Seok/Reuters
South Korean marines eat dinner during a military drill near Seoul.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Of all the cultural curiosities to emerge from the Korean War, the ominously named popular lunch option known as Army Base Stew figures prominently on the list of must-try adventures for most visitors.

For locals, the dish they have come to know as budae jjigae has morphed from being a food of the poor into a culinary favorite as cherished as native stews dating as far back as the 1500s.

Featuring hot, sharp, and tangy flavors, it shares much in common with the likes of kimchi jjigae and dubu jjigae. Its main distinguishing feature: hot dogs and Spam.

Army Base Stew is the byproduct of the harsh fratricidal warfare that obliterated the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s. The organic interplay of a US military presence, food shortages, and local pragmatism combined to produce this incongruity on the Korean culinary landscape. 

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