It’s no secret that kimchi jjigae is one of Korea’s most popular dishes. What may be less well-known, however, is the dish’s long and storied history. This article will explore the various innovations that have been made to kimchi jjigae over the years, from its humble beginnings to its current form. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at this iconic Korean dish!
The Origin of Kimchi Jjigae
Kimchi jjigae is a dish that has existed in Korea for over a hundred years. While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where the dish was first made, there are records suggesting kimchi jjigae’s existence as early as the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). One book from 1939 even notes that “representatives of each region [in Korea] have their unique sauce or side dishes [for kimchi jjigae],” revealing just how widespread and popular this simple stew truly was.
While little information exists on exactly how kimchi jjigae was prepared to back then, we can assume that its earliest form was not very different from the kimchi jjigae of today. Pickled or fermented vegetables (most commonly napa cabbage) are seasoned with chili powder, doenjang (Korean soybean paste), and gochujang (red chili paste), then simmered in a broth until tender. At this point, other ingredients like tofu, scallions, onion, and thinly sliced pork could be added to round out the dish’s flavor.
Kimchi Jjigae Makes its Way to Seoul
While it remains unclear exactly when kimchi jjigae made its way to Seoul, there is ample evidence suggesting that it was well established in Korea in the early 20th century. And as Korea’s population gradually moved from the countryside to the city, kimchi jjigae also began appearing in various restaurants and eateries throughout Seoul. A 1917 book that describes various regional foods from Gyeonggi-do, including those from the county of Yangju, includes an entry for “kimchi jjigae.”
In addition, there is a work from a little over a decade later which gives a detailed account of how kimchi jjigae was made at this time. Titled “Recipes For Sweets And Side Dishes,” it goes on to describe how napa cabbage can be used as an ingredient for both kimchi and kimchi jjigae, as well as how to go about making the stew itself.
Kimchi Jjigae Gains Popularity Throughout Korea
Although it’s difficult to know for sure, one can assume that after World War II began in 1939, kimchi jjigae became even more widespread throughout Korea. And by 1945, Koreans were eating their native dish during celebrations after independence from Japanese occupation. Records dating back to this time show that there was an event at the Capital Theater on September 16th celebrating independence with a menu featuring kimchi jjjigae made exclusively with locally-sourced ingredients.
As Korea underwent industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s, kimchi jjigae became an increasingly popular dish to serve at home. And as more and more people relocated to cities, restaurants specializing in the regional dishes of these various areas began popping up throughout Seoul. These eateries served Korean cuisine ranging from haemul pajeon (seafood pancakes) to gamja tang (pork spine soup), but kimchi jjigae was almost always part of their menus due to its simplicity, taste, and popularity among Koreans.
Kimchi Jjigae Migrates Overseas
Following the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Korea’s newfound fame led many foreign visitors to take an interest in the country’s cuisine. And much like how pizza has become a form of fast food throughout its relatively short history, kimchi jjigae was no exception. So while it’s true that the stew has existed in Korea for over a century, its popularity abroad is a more recent development.
Today, you can find kimchi jjigae being served anywhere from street carts to upscale restaurant menus worldwide. But even though many variations exist depending on the makeup of each unique dish, they all share at least two things in common: The base broth is always made with doenjang and gochujang, which are both fermented pastes made from soybeans; And sliced kimchi is almost always used as an essential ingredient.
A few years ago, kimchi jjigae was not considered a popular dish. Today, it is one of the top dishes in Korea and can be found at most restaurants across the country. What changed? The answer appears to be in consumer preferences for spicier foods in recent years. Spicy food has grown immensely in popularity outside of Asia as well with many Americans now preferring spicy dishes over non-spicy ones like chicken noodle soup or macaroni and cheese (Madaus). As you can see from these stats alone, innovation doesn’t happen without market demand! Marketers should always keep an eye on what’s trending because it could provide insight into future products that might do better than your current offerings.