Soup season is upon us, and boy do Koreans have you covered!
by Rachelle “Roach”
The country has perfected the art of stews, known as jjigaes, as well as soups, which often have the suffix tang or guk. Snacks, fried chicken, and Korean BBQ get most of the Western attention when it comes to Korean food, but hearty stews date back centuries in Korean cuisine.
Like many countries with cold climates, Koreans developed several recipes for stews and soups that used affordable and accessible ingredients like animal bones and doughy rice cakes.
A menu full of Korean soups will have it all, from the seriously-spicy that will knock a sinus infection right out of you, to the gentle, steaming broths that can make even the dreariest of days a little more bearable.
Here are some of our favorites:
You didn’t think you were going to get a list of Korean soups that didn’t include kimchi, did you?! This is a simple but delicious Korean classic, blending some of the best of what the country’s cuisine has to offer — spicy kimchi, fatty pork belly, spicy gochujang (the spicy red pepper paste that gives many Korean foods their distinctive flavor), a bit of fresh green onion, and tofu that has absorbed all those flavors — into one bubbling, delicious earthenware bowl. If you’ve got a head cold, this is your cure.
Here’s a close cousin to kimchi jiggae. It’s what you should order if you want more tofu and less kimchi in your bowl of spicy red soup. The tofu in soondubu jiggae is remarkably smooth because none of the water has been removed, as opposed to fried tofu. The result is an impossibly silky mouthful of rich, easy-to-swallow bite of tofu in every bite. You can order a bowl with just the tofu, or try it with other add-ins like shellfish, beef, or pork.
Doenjang Jjigae (Fermented Soybean Paste Stew)
Another classic jjigae with a very strong and distinct flavor. Fermented soybean paste is quite pungent, but once you acquire the taste, you’ll always come back for more.
Tofu again makes an appearance here, and other common veggies include zucchini, green onion, potato, and regular onion. To add even more flavor, you could also add beef, pork, or seafood.
Want a soup with a history lesson? Order a bowl of budae jiggae.
This ultimate-comfort stew was developed during and following the Korean War, when food was scarce. Some of the little food that was available included cheap, surplus rations from the U.S., like hot dogs, Spam, American cheese, baked beans, and instant noodles.
Today, ingredients like that are mixed in with Korean staples like gochujang, garlic, silky or fried tofu that has marinated in the spicy red broth, green onions, and whatever vegetables might be around, like mushrooms or Korean spinach.
It’s a dish that looks like something a kindergartener with access to a pantry might throw together, which makes it a little surprising that it’s stuck around for 60+ years. But it holds a special place in a lot of Korean hearts, and you know what? Get it at the right mom-and-pop shop, surrounded by some Koreans happily slurping it, and it doesn’t taste half bad.
Not feeling the spicy red broth so common in jiggaes? Get yourself some seolleongtang. It’s a comforting noodle soup made from an ox bone broth and left to simmer for hours, enhancing the rich flavor. Thanks to the hearty animal broth, noodles, and brisket, this is a filling soup, best eaten on those cold and rainy days where you could use a little extra meat on your bones.
Why just get a side of dumplings when you could get a whole dumpling soup? Manduguk pairs some dumplings with a unique broth often made from anchovy paste, mushrooms, onions, and beaten eggs for an added creamy richness. Between the savory broth and filling dumplings, this is a great bowl of soup for the hungriest of days.
Tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is a delicious and hearty soup traditionally eaten on New Year’s as a symbol of good luck. The soup’s broth makes or breaks this dish, and you can spice things up a bit with black pepper, green onion, and a bit of meat.
You can also combine rice cakes with dumplings for tteok-manduguk!
Got any favorites from the soups above, or ones we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!