Like tteokbokki (떡볶이), jjigae (찌개) is considered a staple of Korean cuisine; an easy to make dish that is highly customizable and available all year round. The dish is similar to Western stew, and is usually served boiling hot, with rice and many side dishes. Usually, a big pot is served and family and friends eat together.
The staples of jjigae are different condiments like gochujang (고추장; red chili paste) or doenjang (된장; fermented soybean paste). Pretty much any vegetable can be used, according to your personal preferences. Typical additions include vegetables such as kimchi and radish, and tofu or mushrooms. For meat, usually slightly fattier pork meat is used as it gives the stew a very rich flavor. Jjigae is comfort food that you can quickly whip up (really, you just season the stew however you'd like and toss all your desired ingredients in, let it simmer for a while and voilà, you have the perfect jjigae). Generally, most of them have a lot of ingredients in common so that you can easily make many, many types of different jjigae with just a handful of ingredients at home.
Here are some jjigae that is very popular and enjoyed all year round - and that you can make at home as well!
- Kimchi Jjigae
By far, the most popular is the kimchi jjigae (김치찌개). Rule of thumb for the preparation of this stew is the more fermented the kimchi, the better, as it has reached a softer consistency. If you don't like the sour taste, however, you can simply add a bit of sugar or gochujang. Of course, less ripe kimchi can be used, it just has to cook for a little longer.
- Doenjang Jjigae
Doenjang is a fermented soybean paste that makes the stew a savory and a non-spicy one, perfect for people who prefer milder stew. The paste can also be made at home as it only requires a mix of crushed soybeans and salt that are then left to ferment for a month (a lengthy process… so if you’re impatient, Asian supermarkets usually sell little boxes of doenjang).
- Sundubu Jjigae
Sundubu (순두부) is extra soft tofu, also called silken tofu. It is “freshly curdled soft tofu (which has not been strained and pressed)”. This type of tofu is very creamy and soft, which is why it is added last so that it doesn’t fall apart and is only boiled for a short amount of time.
- Budae Jjigae
Budae jjigae (부대찌개) is special in that it contains various types of food (a Frankenstein of jjigae, if you will). It is prepared with instant ramen and topped with ham, sausages, spam, cheese, creating a hearty and delicious dish.
Have any of these sparked your interest? Be sure to try to make them at home or try them at a Korean restaurant near you! Let us know what you think of jjigae!
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Written by Tran Trieu