Have you heard of Kimchi Jjigae?
If you’ve spent any time in South Korea then the answer’s most probably yes. If not, here’s the lowdown on a must eat dish and Korea’s most popular stew.
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WHAT IS KIMCHI JJIGAE?
First the Kimchi
Most people have heard of Kimchi, Korea’s traditional staple food. Vegetables – usually cabbage, often radish, occasionally others – are salted and fermented in kochujang, Korean red chili pepper paste.
But you can eat it fresh too, before the fermentation stage. Our neighbour, making big basins of the stuff in her garden, crammed a couple of tongfuls into a bag and passed it over the wall one sunny winter afternoon for us to eat right away.
Our neighbours making their winter batch of kimchi – that bag’s for us!
Kimchi accompanies virtually every meal as a side. Even if you only get a couple of sides, Kimchi’s guaranteed to be one of them. But it also acts as a base for many other great Korean dishes, most notably, Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개).
Now the Jjigae
Kimchi Jjigae is the ultimate Korean comfort food – hot, spicy and filling. When the craving strikes, nothing else will do. Served with a covered metal bowl of steaming white rice, along with a bunch of side dishes, it always hits the spot. Jjigae (찌개) means ‘stew’, and this quintessential Korean stew is as hearty as they come.
Korean side dishes – known as ‘banchan’ (반찬) – are served with most meals
Egg banchan with a sprinkling of sesame seeds
Kimchi Jjigae’s main components are chunks of shredded pork, diced tofu, spring onions, kochujang and of course, kimchi.
The stew is boiled in water or some kind of fish or anchovy stock. Each region makes it a little differently; a lot depends on the kimchi – it’s commonly much more fishy in coastal areas for example.
Tofu, pork, kimchi, spring onions and a perfectly spiced sauce
The age of the kimchi makes a huge difference too. Kimchi Jjigae is most often cooked with older, more fermented, riper kimchi. It gives the stew a stronger, fuller flavour, and contains more ‘good’ bacteria than younger kimchi, delivering extra health benefits along with the deeper flavour.
And speaking of age, this delicious Korean stew has been knocking around since the mid-Joseon period, about 300-400 years ago, when chili peppers first arrived in Korea and kimchi became the spicy fermented food we know today.
So, fancy some Kimchi Jjigae?
WHERE TO GET IT
As with so many great dishes in Korea, you can get it in many different places.
The best way to experience it is as a sharing dish in a specialised Kimchi Jjigae restaurant. They serve it in a big pot on a gas burner in the centre of the table – the pot size depends on how many are eating. You get plenty of sides and individual bowls to ladle it into.
Kimchi Jjigae sharing style – the pot sits on a burner in the middle and you ladle out portions into your bowl
At our favourite Kimchi Jjigae restaurant in Tongyeong, Hanil Shikdang (한일식당), their speciality is serving it with ssam (쌈), loose lettuce leaves meant for wrapping. Simply pick up a leaf, deposit some rice, meat, kimchi and a bit of sauce on top, wrap it up into a bitesize parcel, pop it in your mouth and let the deliciously spicy flavours work their magic.
Prepping a lettuce wrapping leaf
More commonly though, Kimchi Jjigae comes in single portions. You can find it at almost any small Korean restaurant/takeaway in every town and city in the country. Places that sell kimbap plus noodle and rice dishes always have a jjigae section, on which Kimchi Jjigae is ever present. You’ll see it in pretty much every food court too. And finally, it’s not uncommon to see it among the soups and stews in a Korean barbecue restaurant, alongside Korea’s other most popular stew, Dwaynjang Jjigae ( 된장찌개).
HOW MUCH IS IT?
At a specialised restaurant with a sharing pot, expect to pay around 9,000₩ per person. For a single serve portion, at a small restaurant, food court or barbecue joint, it’ll cost between 5-6,000₩.
Your order is marked on the bill and left on your table – just take it up to the cash desk when you’re done and settle up
Loved by many, this classic dish is a must eat when travelling in Korea – don’t go home without trying it! And if you stumble upon a Korean restaurant elsewhere and find it on the menu, give it a bash, and let us know if it’s good – no doubt we’ll be craving Kimchi Jjigae long after we’ve left Korea…
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