Since I didn't get the chance to eat budae jjigae when I was in Seoul, I sought it out when I returned to New York City. Or rather, the opportunity conveniently landed in my lap when a friend said, "Hey, we should go to Pocha and get their budae jjigae."
The story behind budae jjigae, or "army base stew," is that it came about after the Korean War. Due to the scarcity of meat, Koreans took surplus U.S. Army foods such as hot dogs and Spam and incorporated them into a spicy gochujang-flavored stew. Even though there's plenty of meat to go around today, this hearty fusion of Korean and American ingredients continues to be a popular dish. It's certainly easy enough to make at home, but it's even more fun to go to a dive bar/restaurant in Koreatown with a bunch of friends and eat it there.
One order of budae jjigae from Pocha 32 is enough to feed three or four people, depending on how hungry everyone is. In addition to hot dogs and Spam (or some other processed pork product), their version also includes ramyun (ramen), cheese, rice cakes, slices of pork, cabbage, tofu chunks, carrots, watercress, and more in a vat of thin, sweat-inducing spicy broth. It's a lot of stuff in every bite, stuff that I wouldn't think to dump together in one giant bowl, but it works. It's just a bit odd to pull away a spoonful of the stew and see gooey cheese strings left behind in its path. The only ingredient I thought it could do without was the hot dog component; the stew's other proteiny ingredients tasted way better.
15 W 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001 (b/n 5th and 6th; map)