Eat this Korean Spam Stew, just in time for the Winter Olympics

Canned Spam is a common and revered ingredient in Korean dishes, including Budae Jjigae, or Army Stew. Here's where to find it locally.

click to enlarge Budae Jjigae, or Army Stew, is made with Spam, ramen noodles, kimchi and other ingredients like baked beans or hot dogs.
Budae Jjigae, or Army Stew, is made with Spam, ramen noodles, kimchi and other ingredients like baked beans or hot dogs.

In advance of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, we thought we’d do a little round-up of local Korean cuisine. And instead of focusing on our typical favorites (hi, dolsot bibimbap), we wanted to highlight some dishes you might not typically order.

Yeah, there’s the “weird” seafood stuff and offal, but there’s also Spam. Yes, that Spam.

In Korean culture, Spam — that blue tin of processed, canned goobie gel ham — has almost the opposite identity as it does in the United States. It’s considered a sort of luxury food (see commercial below) versus a low-class filler.

During the Korean War, Spam was introduced to the country by the United States army. According to a story from NPR, “Its revered status here dates back to the 1950s, when U.S. soldiers introduced it on the peninsula during the Korean War. Spam and other canned foods — such as beans and corn — were sought out by some Koreans, whose postwar food supplies ran low. By the end of the 1980s, Spam had become a popular part of the Korean diet.”

One of the most popular Spam dishes is called Budae Jjigae, or Army Stew. It’s a fusion hot pot dish made with Korean and processed American ingredients including Spam, kimchi, other pork products, ramen noodles and even baked beans in a reddish sauce.

Here’s where to find Korean and fusion Spam dishes locally:

click to enlarge Spam and eggs from Quan Hapa - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Spam and eggs from Quan Hapa

  • Riverside Korean Restaurant: Bu Dae Zhi Gae hot pot dinner for two ($37.95) —The menu describes this dish as a spicy kimchi stew with pork, hot dog, Spam, tofu, rice cake, zucchini, mushroom, hot pepper, onion and ramen noodles. You can add extra Spam, hot dogs or noodles for $3 more. 512 Madison Ave., Covington,
  • SuRa Korean:  Boodae Jjigae ($15-$30) — A mixed and assorted “meat chowder” with sausage, Spam and ramen noodles. 7876 Mason-Montgomery Road, Mason,
  • Quan Hapa: Musubi ($6) and Spam, eggs and rice ($5) during weekend brunch — Musubi is a little Hawaiian/Asian-fusion snack made of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped in nori. Like a modified Spam sushi. And Spam, eggs and rice is a self-explanatory brunch dish, available on Saturdays and Sundays.1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine,
  • Dai Trang Bistro: Musubi ($8) — This West Chester fusion spot also has musubi. 4970 Union Center Pavilion Drive, West Chester,
  • E+O Kitchen: Loco Moco ($18) during weekend brunch — Another Asian-fusion brunch dish, the Loco Moco features Spam fried rice, grass-fed steak, fried egg and gravy. 3520 Edwards Road, Hyde Park,

And here are some similar traditional Korean stews/hot pots (aka “jjigae” or “chigae”) that dump the Spam for ingredients like pork belly and tofu:

  • The Korea House: Kimchi Chigae ($13.95) — Kimchi, pork, tofu and scallion in a kimchi-based soup.11371 Montgomery Road, Harpers Station,
  • HARU: Kimchi Chigae ($9.99) for a lunch special — More kimchi! A kimchi-based stew with pork, tofu and scallion. 628 Vine St., Downtown,
  • 3501 Seoul: Dwenjang Chigae ($13.95) — Beef, tofu, onion, zucchini and jalapeno in a spicy bean paste. 3501 Erie Ave., Hyde Park,
  • Dolsot Bistro: Sundubu Jigae ($16) — Soft tofu soup with egg, cabbage, squash, mushroom, onion, green onion and bell pepper in a clam broth. 5893 Pfeiffer Road, Blue ash,
  • Izen’s Drunken Bento: Dwen Jang Chi Ke ($9.50) — Clams, potatoes, mushrooms and tofu in a soybean broth. 212 W. McMillan St., Clifton, 513-381-5905.
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