My First Sundubu-jjigae
When I lived in Gyeongju, one of my good friends, Jikyung, wanted to introduce me to the best restaurants in the city. She was fiercely proud of her hometown. She is a food connoisseur and thought that life was too short to eat bad food. One of the first places she took me to was a famous Sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew) place in Gyeongju’s Bomun lake resort area. This restaurant, Metdol Sundubu, was a landmark and it always had at least a 30-minute wait for a table. Jikyung assured me that it was worth it. The inside was quaint with wooden floor tables all around and the interior was a Korean hanok (traditional house) style. The table was empty except for some containers with sauces and there was a little bowl of brown shelled eggs. Jikyung and I had had a busy day hiking so I was a tad peckish. Jikyung had gone to the bathroom. I thought, “Ok, these hard-boiled eggs must be the appetizer.” I took one of the eggs, cracked it on the table, and discovered the egg was raw. This egg started to ooze over my hands and then over the table. It was dripping through the wooden cracks and onto my feet below it. It was gross. I was trying to get some tissue to clean up the egg and find a trashcan to put it in. As I had this huge mess before me, Jikyung and the waitress came. Both of them must have thought I was mentally challenged. What I didn’t know then, but I know now, is that I was supposed to add the egg to the bubbling broth. The creaminess of the tofu and the egg yolk calm the spiciness of the chili broth.
Metdol Sundubu Sikdang
Add: #229-1, Bukgun-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Korea / Tel: +82-54-745-2971
What is Sundubu?
For those unfamiliar with sundubu, it is uncurdled and unpressed tofu in a stew. It is similar to silken tofu. The classic dish is just plain tofu boiled in broth. This is called chodang-sundubu. The popular version of this dish is a seafood Sundubu-jjigae. In this version, first a chili oil is made and then a seafood broth―with seafood such as clams and shrimp, garlic and blocks of silken tofu―is added. As the dish is bubbling, a whole egg is dropped and the dish is immediately served.
Sundubu-jjigae is a classic dish and a staple meal that can be found at most Korean restaurants. However, the best places for these dishes are where they make the tofu fresh. These artisan tofu places attach special attention to sourcing the best soy beans and to using seawater to curdle the tofu.
The Place of Origin
The word sundubu translates to “pure tofu.” The famous area for sundubu is in the east coast city of Gangneung City in Gangwon Province. Here they have a village where the tofu is curdled using fresh sea water instead of a salt brine. The method was discovered by Chodang Heoyeop who was a magistrate of Gangneung City. He loved the taste of the local water from the spring in his yard, so he decided to combine it with the local sea water to make the tofu. This combination created a pure tasting, fresh style tofu that the area is now famous for. The tofu there is not in whole silky blocks like you can get in the stores. Instead, it is crumbly like cottage cheese. The dish is served hot with a seasoned soy sauce. But it is also boiled with sour kimchi and seafood such as oysters and clams. In the tofu village of Gangneung City there are restaurants that claim to have a 400-year history of making the tofu in the same traditional style.
Recommended Restaurants in Gangneung
400-Year House Chodang Sundubu
Add: #256-3, Eunjeong-dong, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do, Korea / Tel: +82-33-644-3516
Gohyangsanchon Chodang Sundubu
Add: #219-34, Nanseolheon-ro, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do, Korea / Tel: +82-33-653-2446
Sundubu-jjigae is often requested by my guests when they come on our private food tours. This is surprising since I thought non-Koreans are familiar only with dishes like Korean barbecue and bibimbap. I have learned through my guests that, in fact, Sundubu-jjigae is quite popular among young people in Los Angeles and New York City as a food to have after clubbing. This “international” version most guests are familiar with overseas uses the packaged blocks of silky tofu and not the fresh made version of Korea. Here’s what I discovered about this trend on the internet. “J.K.” says on his Yelp review of BCD Tofu House in New York City, “Their spicy soup and tofu can’t taste any better after hours of clubbing and drinking.” “David Y.” wrote, “A favorite spot to detox after a night out clubbing,” on his Yelp review of Tofu House in Los Angeles. “Jay K.” wrote on her review of Naru in London, “The Sundubu-jjigae was unexpectedly rich…in flavor, which was great.” It looks like Sundubu-jjigae is no less popular overseas than Korean barbecue and bibimbap. When I asked a food tour guest, Adrienne of Colorado, what she liked about Sundubu-jjigae, she replied, “It’s great because the tofu is as creamy as cheese and the restaurants have different varieties like bulgogi, sausage, or cheese sundubu-jjgae. Plus if there are some people in a team that are vegetarian, Sundubu-jjigae can be a great option for everyone.” Because sundubu is versatile, flavorful, and unique; I feel this is one dish that can become one of the representative foods of Korea.
Add: 928 S. Western Ave, Ste 139, Los Angeles, CA 90006, United States of America / Tel:+1-213-384-0292
Add: 230 Shaftsbury Avenue London WC2H 8EG United Kingdom Covent Garden / Tel: +44-20-7379-7962
BCD Tofu House
Add: 17 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001,United States of America / Tel: +1-212-967-1900
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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