Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spam in Korean Food

Americans’ take on Spam is that it is a “poor man’s canned meat”. Just read this article I came across during the height of recession several years ago, encouraging Spam consumption to accommodate the economic downfall in uncertain times.,8599,1866043,00.html It is less than a delicacy that is an unhealthy choice, often ridiculed in the States, considered a “trashy” food item. Google “spam” and search engine will bring up a list of pages related to solicitation or internet abuse. Google “spam recipes” and you will find a list of recipes that are apparently made for “economically tough times”, - Spam Burgers, Spam Sandwiches, and countless ways of replacing Spam for Ham. And many of these recipes are far less than gourmet cooking.

Search for Spam in Korean recipes, and you will come across a number of appetizing dishes that Koreans rarely consume without in certain dishes. To Koreans, Spam is almost a valued ingredient that Koreans have almost made their own. Spam, shortened for Spiced Ham, is so versatile when it comes to Korean cooking. Koreans love Spam. They love it so much that it’s even given as gifts around the holidays, in packages. Spam in Korea is more expensive and tastes different (less salty and made of higher quality ingredients) than the ones we have here in America. There is such a huge variety of Spam, but there is only one type of Spam that I have known and grew up with.

Spam was introduced to Koreans through U.S. Army bases during the Korean War. During a time when food supply was futile, Koreans made Jjigae (stew) using the limited items that were available, including the newly introduced Spam. Budae Jjigae (Army Base Stew) is known to be one of the first dishes made by Koreans, incorporating Spam. Budae Jjigae is an ahnjoo (umm translated as “bar food”?) I like to have when drinking Soju. It’s good for a hangover too. The comforting taste of the spicy soupiness comes from the combined flavors of all the ingredients that are added in the stew. Personally (it’s commonly made this way but different folks have different strokes and can use whatever pleases their taste), the proteins I like to use are sausage and pork ground beef. And having Budae Jjigae without Spam is unheard of.

Spam is commonly used in other Jjigaes such as Kimchi Jjigae (Kimchi Stew) and Dwenjang Jjigae (Soy Bean Paste Stew). I just hate it when Spam is overcooked, giving it an unpleasant rubbery texture. I usually add the Spam last. The standing heat is enough to cook it just slightly without overdoing it.


When adding Spam to Fried Rice (such as Kimchi Fried Rice), I like to small-dice it. I love the salted “spamy” flavor that Spam brings to the fried rice. Sometimes (it varies with what type of meat I’m in the mood for) I also like to add Spam in Omu Rice or Curry Rice.

Spam is delightful even by itself. When I was a kid, fried Spam was side dish I can make on my own to eat with rice and Kimchi. I still enjoy this combo until this day! When packing doshirak (lunch boxes) fried Spam is one of the side dishes I include.  Since growing up, I cannot remember a time when Spam was not in our pantry, much like Kimchi. Spam is awesome in Kimbap as well.

Am I the only weirdo that likes Spam in Ddukbokki (spicy rice cake)? I have never seen anyone else do that.

Honestly, I have yet to have seen Spam in the homes of non-Asian Americans. And finding Spam incorporated dishes in American restaurants is unthinkable. I’ve never been in a restaurant that uses Spam in any of their dishes.


  1. I understand the concern that here in US are saying about spam but I never cared much. My kids love it as well as I so we do have always few cans :)
    Budaejjigae wouldn't be what it is without it, and I do often make for me breakfast with sauteed kimchi and eggs. Great post & delicious pics!

  2. Hi Sandra. Thanks for visiting. I know what you mean. I grew up with Spam and some things just wouldn't be the same without it. Spam rocks!


I don't even open anonymous comments (due to it mostly being spam), so don't even bother.