Koreans love Spam and Army Stew or Budae Jigae

army stew - Why Koreans Love Spam

Why Koreans love Spam - Army Stew

You are probably wondering why I am writing about this, however by the end of the post you will know why Koreans love spam and how this relates to you.  This first part was sent me by a friend and I felt it makes a good point.

Asia is celebrating the annual lunar thanksgiving holiday this week.  In South Korea, where it’s known as Chuseok, the holiday is celebrated by visiting family, paying respects to ancestors… and the giving and receiving of packaged cans of Spam.

The pre-cooked tins of pork meat are the stuff of jokes, lunch boxes, wartime memories and, here in South Korea, a low-key, national love affair.

Spam has become a staple of South Korean life, and the country is now the biggest consumer of it outside the US.

Since Spam was first launched in the US before World War II, more than seven billion of these chunky little cans have rolled off production lines – like the ones at Spam’s South Korean factory in Chuncheong Province.

….”Spam has a premium image in Korea. It’s probably the most desirable gift one could receive, and to help create the high-class image, we use famous actors in our commercials.

“Anyone who gets a Spam gift-set also gets a warm feeling in their heart.”

Spam does have a different image here, compared with the West. Where else would television commercials show a young couple ditching their romantic dinner to head home for a plate of Spam?

But its origins here are much more humble.

Why Koreans love spam-Smuggled spam

Spam was introduced to Korea by the US army during the Korean War, when food was scarce – and meat even scarcer.  Back then, people used whatever they could find to make a meal…..

But the appeal of Spam lasted through the years of plenty and it’s now so much a part of South Korean food culture, that it’s the staple ingredient in one of the country’s favorite dishes: budae jigae or army stew.

There are lots of restaurants specializing in it, but the most famous line one particular street, just around the corner from a US military base.

One of the restaurants there is run by Ho Gi-suk.

She claims to have invented Army Stew back in 1954, when someone brought her smuggled spam, sausages and bacon from the local army base.  Mrs. Ho made them into a spicy soup, and the rest is history.

“Back then,” she tells me, “there wasn’t a lot to eat.  But I acquired some ham and sausages… the only way to get meat in those days was to smuggle it from the army base.

“We had to make do with whatever the soldiers had left over; sometimes it was turkey, sometimes Spam. We’d make a stew with whatever came out, and my recipe was copied and spread throughout Korea.”

Army Stew is now well established, as part of South Korea’s culinary landscape – as traditional here as Spam gift-sets for thanksgiving.

“It’s salty, and greasy, and goes very well with the spices,” one customer told me. “Korean soup and American ham – it’s the perfect fusion food.”

Koreans love spam because they had to adapt to eat the foods that were available to them.  This started out as a food of survival and became something that they love.  This to me represents a example of adapting to a survival situation and making the best of it.  I hope we can do as well.

Here is recipe for Army Stew.

There is no exact recipe for army stew or budae jigae, but popular meats include Spam, hot dogs, ground beef, and sausages; popular vegetables are sprouts, scallions, onions, and chrysanthemum leaves.


  • 1 1/2 cups meat in small chunks (Spam, hot dogs, ham, small meatballs, or a combination)
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced vegetables (combination of any: mushrooms, bean sprouts, chrysanthemum leaves)
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp kochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
  • 1 package Top Ramen noodles (just noodles, not spice packets)
  • Kimchi (optional)
  • Sliced rice cakes (optional)
  • Canned baked beans (optional topping)
  • Sliced American cheese (optional topping)


Put all ingredients into a large pot.  Cover with enough water to just cover ingredients.  Bring to a rapid boil.  Reduce to simmer for 20 minutes.

Enjoy with white rice.

Now you know why Koreans love Spam.  I hope we can adapt as well to different types of food in a survival situation.


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