Budae Jjigae

Budae Jjigae—sometimes spelled boodae chigae—is a hotpot dish with a dark past. Today, this strange mix of spices, vegetables and lunch meats is enjoyed all across the world, particularly in restaurants in South Korea. It’s extremely popular with the young college crowd, who have no idea of its wartime origins and tragic inception. ‘Budae Jjigae’ literally translates to ‘military base stew’, and, as the name suggests, arose from the American military bases established during the Korean War (1950 – 1953) and became a staple for the Korean people during the tumultuous years that came after the Division of the peninsula.

The Korean War left 10% of the indigenous population dead and completely destroyed civilian life. Korea was starving and meat was incredibly rare—fresh food in general was scarce—so preserved meats and canned goods were valued very highly. There arose rumours that the American soldiers had so much food—and in such huge portions—that they could afford to throw the excess away. What’s more, the American bases were stocked with Spam, hot dogs, cheese and other processed foods, which would keep without spoiling for months. So Koreans started to gather around the bases, stealing scraps and trying to buy excess stock from the troops. The scraps were often barely edible, a mess of various leftovers mixed in with cigarette butts and trash, but it kept the people alive. It was from these scraps and leftovers that the first iterations of Budae Jjigae arose.

The desperation that drove the people to such lengths was only exacerbated by the fact American foods and supplies were not legally available to the local population. In fact, during the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee, Spam smuggling was punishable by death. Yep, possessing Spam was a capital crime! But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and a thriving black market for processed American foods soon arose. A November 9, 1959 Time article titled “The PX Affair,” suggests Korean women with access to the post exchange—army stores where soldiers could buy goods—often through their associations with American soldiers—either husbands, boyfriends or johns—were largely responsible for this illegal trade. These women were rejected by Korean society for working on the bases—called “Yankee whores”—and still risked life and limb to pass these valuable foodstuffs on. Soon Spam smuggling was being committed by mothers, teachers, priests and parishioners.

The first version of Budae Jjigae was a buttery stir-fried snack made of sausages, ham, cabbages and onions washed down with makgeolli (rice wine). But soon, anchovy broth flavoured with gochujang and kimchi was added to create a stew more similar to what is eaten today. The salty meats and anchovies suited the local Korean palate and available ingredients, and the stews popularity steadily grew. After President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Korea in 1966, the stew was nicknamed Jonseun-tang, or “Johnson soup”, as he apparently raved about the taste of the dish.

Today, all those wondrous salty goods are available on the shelf of supermarkets and stores across South Korea, but Budae Jjigae is still a popular dish thanks to its taste and its low cost. You’ll find all sorts of ingredients in the modern version, like Vienna sausage, bacon, tofu, pork, ground beef, instant noodles, macaroni, tteok (rice cake), American cheese, mozzarella, and seasonal veggies. The city of Uijeongbu, a place surrounded by army bases, is the modern day home of Budae Jjigae. In the late ‘90s, the city stipulated that the dish be referred to as ‘Uijeongbu-jjigae’ to remove any military or war-time connotations, though so far only a few restaurants have adhered.

The reason for the name change is twofold. First, they want to distance the dish from its sad past and the ostracisation of the women who worked on army bases and who were responsible for providing these goods to the populace in the first place (if you’re interested in reading more, there’s a fantastic post written by Grace M. Cho here). The second is the backlash against militarism—specifically the expansion of American military bases inside South Korea—and the damaging impact these huge blobs of America are having on the surrounding people.

But, despite its sad past and contentious present, Budae Jjigae remains a delicious dish and one that’s worth trying and learning about. If you’ve got a favourite version of this delicious stew, please let us know!

Inspirational Stories

If you love food, chances are you discovered your passion at home with your parents. As we head towards Mother’s Day, we asked some AI employees about their favourite stories about their mums and food, and the journey that it started them on.

Mother's Day


My mum never cooked during my younger days because my grandma is a fantastic cook and ruled the kitchen. We had to cook over charcoal, and my job was to fan the fire. I loved watching the embers fly out of the terracotta stove. All us kids would take turns taste testing, then dodging mum as she yelled at us for tasting so much there would be barely any food left for dinner!

Our family specialities were Lotus Root and Peanut Soup, Steamed Pork Ribs with Shrimp Paste, and Choy Geok – which literally means “meal legs”. It is a one pot stew made from leftovers cooked in a tamarind base soup.

We were typical Asian family. My mum and her siblings gathered weekly at Grandma’s for a feast. They always requested their favourite dishes and always got them! My grandma is still the best cook out of everyone, and now whenever I try a new restaurant I will always compare it to my grandma’s cooking!


I loved baking all sorts of Chinese New Year cookies (because I get to eat as I make them!) with mum. My Mum’s a last-minute kind of person, so we’ll be rushing cookie production 2-3 nights before Chinese New Year. We’ll bake, pack and seal the cookies (mostly for gifts) till 2-3am in the morning. We’ll always say that we’ll do it earlier the following year, but it’s always the same!

My favourite dish to cook with her is either Peanut Cookies, Moist Chocolate Cake, or her signature Mini Sausage Rolls and ‘Mi Ku’ (Steamed Buns).

“Everything you see out there can be made at home”. That’s what she’s said all my life, but we usually end up getting takeaway anyway!

But having said that, she’s still a much better cook than me!


My mum likes to think of herself as an excellent home cook who can recreate anything she sees at a restaurant except better. After one restaurant visit, we tried to make Salted Egg Yolk Chicken Spare Ribs. Not bothering to listen to my advice that we should look at recipes online before attempting the dish, we tried making it and it went horribly wrong. But of course, we still ate it.

Growing up, my mum would always be watching cooking shows on TV and, slowly over time, I started to enjoy watching shows like ‘Masterchef’ and ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ and developed a passion for all kinds of food.

I don’t really like cooking with my mum because she likes to hog all the space on the kitchen bench, but my mum, my sister and I often roll spring rolls or make gyoza together. We all have a job and work like an assembly line.

Am I a better cook than mum? I think it depends. If we’re talking about traditional Vietnamese food and family dinners, my mum definitely has it in the bag. However, I’m definitely better at baking and making desserts.

If you’ve got a story of cooking with your mum you’d like to share, let us know!

Children's Day

Family Holidays

Like in many Asian cultures, the family unit is a very important part of Korean culture, so much so that they have a day to celebrate children, and another to celebrate their parents.

Children’s Day

Observed every year on May 5th, families typically celebrate by taking their children on excursions – maybe to a zoo or a museum or a fun park – and give them presents. It’s essentially another birthday!

Children's Day

Children’s Day was the brainchild of Korean students and social activists as a way to promote the March 1st Movement – a Korean separatist protest against the occupation of Korea by Japan – by encouraging adults and parents to teach their offspring about Korea’s lack of sovereignty. In 1923, May 1st was designated Children’s Day, but due to a clash with Labour Day, it was later moved to May 5th.

Prominent intellectual Bang Jeong-hwan greatly contributed to the popularization of the holiday, coining the modern Korean word for children, eorini.

Until the outbreak of WWII, Japanese authorities openly tried to suppress the movement and stopped Korean social activists congregating for the festival, but the holiday continued to be observed even after independence was won in 1945. The day was finally made official in 1961 when the children’s welfare law was written into the Korean constitution, officially designating 5th May as Children’s Day.

Parent’s Day

Celebrated only a few days after Children’s Day on May 8th, Parent’s Day is a public holiday and even has awards handed out by the government.

Parent’s Day is spent making a fuss of the parents. The carnation is the official flower and is traditionally given by the children, and families often congregate over a big meal.

Parents day

The roots of Parent’s Day trace back to the 1930’s and Christian communities celebrating Mother’s Day. In 1956, Mother’s Day was made an official holiday, but, as always, men felt left out and wanted Father’s Day to become a recognised day. So, in an effort to placate the male populace, May 8th was designated as Parent’s Day in 1973.

Easter Jelly Eggs

Far-east Easter

Hot-cross buns and chocolate bunnies are synonymous with Easter, and, let’s be honest, a little boring. Why not think outside the box and get your kids involved in the process? We’ve got some fantastic Asian ideas for Easter that taste delicious, look great and are a heap of fun to make.

Tea eggs

Marbled Herbal Tea Eggs

This first recipe comes from one of Asian Inspirations own. Liz made tea eggs with her mum all through her childhood, and she loves them so much she wants to share the joy.

Find the recipe for Liz’s family egg-loom here.

Jelly eggs

Easter Jelly Eggs

These great looking eggs are made with all natural colours and flavours and are an easy and fun alternative to chocolate that still satisfies the sweet tooth.

You can join in the fun here.

Steamed custard bunny buns

Easter Bunny Custard Bun

The cutest Easter buns around! No boring crosses here. Delicious, fluffy and they look a bit like a certain electric pokemon!

Catch them while you can here.

Fish For Good Friday

Like many religious traditions in this increasingly secular age, eating fish or seafood on Good Friday has fallen out of popular culture. The tradition stems from the Christian practice of abstaining from eating meat as a way of remembering Jesus’ sacrifice. Luckily seafood is delicious, so even if you’re not in any way a Christian, it’s a good excuse to try something delicious from the sea over the long Easter weekend. Here are 2 of our favourites to get you started.

Chinese Steamed Fish



4 x 200g skinless blue-eye fillets 5cm piece ginger (thinly sliced) 100ml chicken stock ¼ cup (60ml) Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing) 4 baby bok choy (quartered) 2 tbsp light soy sauce 1 tsp caster sugar ½ tsp sesame oil 2 tbsp peanut oil 4 spring onions (thinly sliced) Coriander and steamed rice (to serve)


  1. Place fish on a plate and sit in a bamboo steamer. Scatter over ginger, then pour in stock and rice wine. Cover and set over a pan of simmering water for 5 minutes, then add bok choy, cover and steam for a further 2 minutes or until fish is cooked.
  2. Meanwhile, combine soy, sugar and sesame and peanut oil in a pan over medium heat for 2 minutes or until warm.
  3. Serve fish and bok choy with dressing, spring onion, coriander and rice.

Cereal Butter Prawns



500g prawns (medium to large size) 3 tbsp butter 3 stalks curry leaf Chilli (sliced thinly, optional) 1 tbsp cornflour Salt Instant cereal butter prawn pack


  1. Clean prawns by trimming off legs and feelers with a pair of kitchen scissors. Cut along the back of the prawn and devein them. Wash, pat dry and marinate the prawn with salt and cornflour.
  2. In a wok, heat up enough oil to deep fry the prawns. When the oil is hot, deep fry the prawns for 1-2 mins. Set aside.
  3. Heat up wok in medium heat and melt butter in it. Add in the curry leaves and chilli if you want a bit of a kick. Stir fry until fragrant.
  4. Return prawns into the pan and add in the cereal mixture. Stir fry for about 2 mins, ensuring the prawns are well coated with the cereal.
  5. Serve and enjoy immediately.

The 15th Day of Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year might have been two weeks ago, but festivities are just wrapping up as we enter the 15th day of Lunar New Year and the first full moon of the lunar year. With the Lunar New Year based on the traditional lunar calendar, it is no surprise that the first full moon would be commemorated with its own festivals.

Lantern Festival The 15th day of the Chinese Lunar New Year is also known as the Lantern Festival.

In China, the 15th day is known as the Lantern Festival, not to be confused with the common name Moon Festival goes by in many Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. This day is marked by vibrant lantern displays with several cultural performances such as lion dances and folk dances. Families also celebrate the occasion by preparing yuan xiao glutinous rice ball soup, also known as tang yuan, which is a symbol of unity and a treat also served during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

R00642_Tang-YuenTang yuan (glutinous rice balls in ginger soup) symbolises ‘unity’.

For the Hokkien community in Malaysia, 15th-day celebrations are a little different. Known as Chap Goh Mei, the day is celebrated by families coming together to mark the end of the Lunar New Year with thanksgiving prayers and offerings. Chap Goh Mei is also celebrated as the Chinese Valentine’s Day where young unmarried girls will throw mandarin oranges into the sea or river in hopes of finding true love.

Chap Goh Mei - OrangesGirls throw mandarin oranges with their contact into the sea or river to find love.

As for the Vietnamese, they end the 15 days of Lunar New Year with Tết Nguyên Tiêu. Taking after Chinese influences over several centuries, the Vietnamese hold similar regard to the first full moon of the new lunar year. During Tết Nguyên Tiêu Vietnamese families would go to temples and pray for the coming year, as well as celebrate the day with lantern displays and lion dances. Similar to the Chinese yuan xiao, the Vietnamese have their own version, which is known as Chè trôi nước, a special dessert soup of glutinous rice balls with sugar sauce, and carries a similar symbolic meaning of family unity.

Chinese and Vietnamese communities around Australia will still be hosting Lunar New Year festivities today. Look up our list of Lunar New Year celebrations in Melbourne, Sydney, and the major cities of Australia to see if there is one near you and join in the festivities.

Make Vietnamese Mut Tet for friends this Lunar New Year

Get your Lunar New Year off to a sweet start by embracing the Vietnamese tradition of Mut Tet. Known as Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnam, the celebrations are held on the Lunar New Year. Tet is celebrated as a time for visiting family and friends, and as such Vietnamese households would always have a platter of mut tet at the ready.

Much like Malaysia has its yu sheng, Japan has osechi ryori, and Korea has yang jang pi, Vietnamese mut tet is a collection of ingredients that have been specially chosen for their symbolism. But, while yu sheng, yang jang pi, and osechi ryori are savoury creations, mut tet, or ‘tet jam’ is an assortment of sweet foods, often served with tea.

It’s not just the ingredients of the mut tet that are symbolic. Its assortment of sweet treats is prepared in the colours of red, gold, and white, which the Vietnamese considers to be auspicious.

Mut TetVietnamese Mut Tet.

Candied fruits
When you mention the word ‘jam’ to a westerner, chances are they’ll think of the fruit spread for their morning toast. For the Vietnamese, ‘jam’ is an assortment of dried, candied fruits, made using a sugar syrup to preserve and enhance the natural sweetness of pineapple, kumquat, mango, orange rind, and coconut. All of those golden hues are sure to bring good fortune.

Candied vegetables
Take slices of pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot, boil them in a sticky sugar syrup, and you’ve turned your favourite vegetables into sugary treats. Roots such as ginger and lotus root can also be given the sugar syrup treatment.

Roasted seeds
The Vietnamese like to paint the town red during Tet – quite literally. Red is symbolic of good fortune, so you’ll see crimson lanterns, scarlet envelopes filled with money, and ruby-hued accessories throughout Asia during Lunar New Year. On the mut tet platter, you’ll also spot melon seeds that have been dyed red. But before you scarf down a handful of seeds, you need to crack them open first. To do this, hold the seed vertically between your teeth, then slowly bite down until the shell cracks and peel back the shell to reveal the sweet seed within. Slightly easier on the teeth are the creamy coloured roasted pumpkin seeds, which are symbolic of growth.

Candied nuts
Another Tet staple that will induce a sugar rush is the candied nuts, including caramel-glazed peanuts and candied water chestnuts, which have a crystallised exterior that contains a moist, juicy flesh within.

Take a trip down memory lane by grabbing a handful of cellophane-wrapped lollies from the mut tet platter. These sticky, oozy sweets are flavoured with custard apple or tamarind and are then shaped into a toffee-like lolly that will bring back memories of your childhood.

Learn more about the symbolism of Chinese Lunar New Year dishes across Asia, or share a Lunar New Year banquet with friends.

Lunar New Year Superstitions And Taboos

Though the Lunar New Year celebration started more than a week ago, we are still midway through some of the traditional festivities. If you have had the good honour of joining a family for Lunar New Year celebrations, you might have noticed some traditions being observed around this season.

Superstitions and taboos are part and parcel of the Lunar New Year tradition, which has been passed down over several millennia. Just as Lunar New Year shares the same meaning across the many Asian cultures who celebrate it, the superstitions and taboos are broadly similar to one another.

Key to understanding Lunar New Year superstitions are what the festival represents; the start of a new year and discarding of the past. The traditional belief is that what you do, or what happens to you, on the Lunar New Year serves as an omen for the rest of the year.

photo-1517097473408-c0d7983cb95cRed and yellow is seen as auspicious colours for the Lunar New Year.

With that in mind, it is unsurprising to learn that one of the first taboos is sweeping the house on the first day of the Lunar New Year as it is said to be “sweeping away one’s wealth”. The more traditional of families believe it is also taboo to wash your hair or clothes on the first and second day for the same reason.

Just as a number of festive foods are meant to be symbolic of wealth, happiness, and togetherness, the Chinese believe that eating congee for breakfast on the Lunar New Year is a bad omen as it is the food of the poor and you don’t want to begin the new year with it. Instead, there are a wide variety of Lunar New Year dishes to try out.

Just as red and yellow is seen as auspicious colours for the Lunar New Year, white and black are taboo as it is usually worn in funerals and associated with death and bad luck.

If you are planning to get your hair done, do it before the Lunar New Year as the Chinese character for ‘hair’ sounds the same as the word for ‘prosper’. Thus, washing your hair on the first day of the New Year is seen as washing your fortune away and cutting it off would mean a less prosperous year ahead.

Cutting or washing your hair is seen as washing or cutting away your fortune.

Besides being mindful of the formalities, you have to be mindful of your language during the Lunar New Year as speaking ill or harm of one another is believed to reflect back on you poorly for the rest of the year. Instead, it reflects well on you to be cheerful and congenial during this season.

Pay all your debts before New Year’s Day. The belief is that if you start the year off owing money to someone else, then it is likely that you’ll end the year in debt as well.

Give Ang PauIt is auspicious to give out ‘ang pau’ (money packets) in even figures.

When giving out money to the younger generation, the elders would give out money in even figures as it is considered auspicious, particularly the number 8. The only exception to this rule is the number 4, which sounds similar to ‘death’ in Chinese.

Cooking Utensils Breaking kitchenware is considered bad luck.

Breaking tools or kitchenware is also considered bad luck as these would usually indicate a loss of wealth or a broken year ahead, particularly if you are tradesperson who needs those tools for work.

So be mindful of these age-old traditions as to not offend your hosts or view it in an odd light this Lunar New Year.

Lunar New Year Symbolism

“New Year, New You” as the saying goes, and the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans take this seriously when it comes to the Lunar New Year as it is the start of a brand new lunar year. It is believed that these festive traditions are essential to start the new year off on the right foot.

Don the Right Colour

Any Chinese and Vietnamese community would be covered in red decorations during the Lunar New Year period as the colour is seen as auspicious and said to bring good fortune and prosperity. This is why most Chinese and Vietnamese families are seen wearing red outfits during Lunar New Year celebrations.

For the Koreans, however, red is related to passion and is often only worn in sporting events. Instead of being draped in red, Koreans would often celebrate Seollal, their Lunar New Year, by wearing a traditional Hanbok with bright colours, as bright colours are said to symbolise hopes for a bright future.

traditional-775512_960_720Korean children wearing the traditional hanbok.

If there is one taboo colour to steer clear from during the Lunar New Year it is black as it symbolises death and ill omen. White clothing among the Chinese and Vietnamese communities is mainly seen as a colour of mourning, particularly during funerals. However, if you really must wear that favourite white top it is admissible to wear it with other red accessories or clothing.

Bringing the Bang

What does New Year’s Day have in common with the Lunar New Year? Fireworks. Lots of fireworks. The tradition, which can trace its origins back to ancient China, has to do with the belief that the loud ‘bang’ would scare away evil spirits that would otherwise spoil the fortunes of the new year.

LNY FirecrackersScare evil spirits away with the loud ‘bang’ of firecrackers.

To keep the tradition alive the Chinese created the ‘Legend of Nian’ folklore, but nowadays it seems you don’t need stories of legendary beasts to keep this fun tradition of igniting rockets alive.

Another tradition rooted in the belief of warding off evil spirits is the lion dance and the dragon dance. This tradition, which the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans all share – each with its own unique design and dance routine – is seen as a symbol of power, wisdom, and good fortune.

shutterstock_509965885Dragon dance – a symbol of power, wisdom and good fortune.

Cook Up Some Luck

More than just the decorations and traditions, Lunar New Year festivities also extend onto the sort of food to prepare. The Chinese have a whole comprehensive list of food, dishes, and fruits that are symbolic of many auspicious aspects of the Lunar New Year from family unity to good fortune and wealth

Family unity is the most important aspect of Lunar New Year, and for the Chinese roundness is symbolic of unity, which is why the all-important reunion dinner has to take place over a round table and oranges and pomelos are presented during the Lunar New Year.

Reunion DinnerReunion dinner. Image credit: @urbanlistmelb and @michellejarni

In Chinese, the word for fish, 鱼 or ‘Yú’, sounds similar to ‘surplus’, which makes it a dish that symbolizes prosperity. Another popular Lunar New Year dishes is dumplings and spring rolls, which are wrapped and prepared to look like ingots of silver and gold respectively.

Reunion Dinner - FishFish is a dish that symbolises prosperity. Image credit: @urbanlistmelb and @michellejarni

For the Vietnamese, there is xoi gac, a special sticky rice dish that is red in colour, which befits the Vietnamese tradition of using red as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

As Seollal is also symbolic of the day of everyone’s birthday, Korean families would enjoy a special rice cake in beef broth dish known as tteokguk, which symbolises happiness and good fortune.

chinese girl wishing1

Traditional Lunar New Year Greetings

No matter where you are from, or where you reside, languages connect you with the heart and soul of any culture. Even though Lunar New Year is celebrated by many Asian cultures and communities in many different languages, it would be a welcomed blessing to wish and greet one another in the native language of their culture as a celebration of togetherness; which is what Lunar New Year is all about.

Here are some key greeting phrases for the Lunar New Year in Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean.


Chinese wishing

恭喜发财 (Gōng xǐ fā cái): “Happiness and Prosperity”
This is one of the most commonly used greetings in Chinese New Year, which is a wish for one to receive happiness and prosperity.

新年快乐 (Xīn nián kuài lè): “Happy New Year”
The “Gōng xǐ fā cái” greeting is usually followed up by this Happy New Year phrase.

大吉大利 (Dà jí dà lì): “Lots of luck and profits”

身体健康 (Shēn tǐ jiàn kāng): “Enjoy good health”

阖家幸福 (Hé jiā xìng fú): “Happiness for the whole family”

工作顺利(Gōng zuò shùn lì): “May your work go smoothly”

吉祥如意 (jí xiáng rú yì): “Good fortune according to your wishes”


Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (chook-moong-numb-moi): “Happy New Year”
This is the easiest and most commonly used greeting during Tết.

An khang thịnh vượng (ang khang tinh vuoung): “Security, good health, and prosperity”
This phrase is usually added onto Chúc Mừng Năm Mới

Sức khỏe dồi dào (suok kwea yoi yao): “Plenty of health”

Vạn sự như ý (vant-su-nhu-ee) “May all your wishes go according to your will”



새해복많이받으세요(sae hae bok manhi bah doo seh yo): “Happy New Year”
To be more specific, this phrase means “Please receive lots of luck this New Year”, but it is generally understood among Koreans as the standard Lunar New Year greeting.
희망찬새해되세요 (hee mang chan sae hae dwe se yo): “May your New Year be filled with hope”

새해에는가정에행복이가득하길바랍니다 (sae hae e neun ga jeong e haeng bok i ga deuk ha gil ba ram ni da): “Wishing you abundant happiness within your family”

New year in KoreaImage courtesy: Republic of Korea used under creative commons licence