A few weeks ago we went to Maangchi’s meet & greet in Seoul. Maangchi is a Korean-American who runs a super-successful Korean-cooking vlog. Her informative videos about Korean ingredients and recipes have certainly made my trips to the grocery store much easier here in Korea.
Maangchi invited her fans to dinner at her friends Budae-Jigae (부대찌개), or Army Stew, restaurant.
Food, especially meat, was sparse during the Korean war. Therefore black markets formed around U.S. military bases and Koreans began using processed American foods in their cooking. This is how Army Stew was born. A unique mix of Korean and American products, Army stew is made by mixing hot dogs, spam, ham, baked beans, instant noodles, and American cheese with anchovy stock, noodles, gochujang, and kimchi. The soup eventually even earned the name Jonseun-tang (존슨탕; “Johnson soup”) because when Lyndon B. Johnson came to America he loved the stuff.
At our table were three other Americans, two Koreans, and one Singaporean, all affluent by global standards, feasting on something that was originally conceived and eaten out of sheer desperation.
How does that happen?
My strong opinion is that, without fail, the best food in the world is created by poor people who are forced to get creative with what little ingredients they have. If you disagree with me, go to any hipsterish yuppy restaurant in America. All they do is serve “organic,” blander versions of what was originally spicier, richer-tasting poor people food.
While we ate, Maangchi circulated around the room and poured everyone a drink. She was very enthusiastic to meet her fans and just as charming in person as she is in her videos. “I love you” she said to Jessye as she poured her drink. Jessye smiled at her. “Hey! You are supposed to say I love you too! That is how that works!” exclaimed Maangchi.
Jessye, with a face as red as gochujang, told her she loved her back.
“Nice smile, and happy cooking” she said to us as we walked out the door.
If you want to do some of your own “happy cooking,” here is a link to Maangchi’s website. She even has a recipe for Army stew on there!