FROM THE DESK OF: Nina
I’ve touched upon this before, but one of the things I really appreciate about living in Los Angeles is having access to some of the most incredible Korean food. I’ve already professed my love of kalguksu, but this week, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite go-to Korean dishes that isn’t BBQ: sundubu jjigae, or soon tofu stew.
Served in a hot pot with the standard assortment of banchan (side dishes), soon tofu is a stew of silken tofu and veggies in a chili paste-seasoned broth, often including meat, seafood, and/or dumplings. It’s spicy, soothing, curious, and oh-so-satisfying.
I first had soon tofu in my third year of college. My travel study roommate and I had just finished making the trek out to the Chinese Consulate-General to get our Chinese visas for school, and on the return drive back to campus we decided to make a pit stop at BCD Tofu House for lunch. At $10.45 for the soon tofu and delicious banchan, I was completely blown away by the amount of food, flavor, and value I got from the meal. So much bang for my buck! I was sold.
Throughout the years, I would visit BCD sporadically, and each time the soon tofu did not disappoint. There are a few things one should know, though, going into this meal. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on Korean food, but here are some observations I’ve gathered from the soon tofu eating experience.
- Banchan is deceivingly filling. If the waiter is asking you if you want refills… wait until you finish everything first. And wait until you get your soon tofu – you will want space for that.
- That fried fish is EVERYTHING. I don’t know what kind of fish it is, but it’s delicious. And I eat all of it every time.
- The soon tofu is also deceivingly filling. Seriously, a few bites in and you may start slowing down. (But maybe that’s from all the banchan consumed prior to getting the tofu…)
- It’s also very, very hot… temperature-wise and spice-wise. The soon tofu will never stop heating your mouth. At first, it’s not spicy, but it’s scalding hot. And then when it’s not scalding hot anymore, it’s super spicy because the broth has seeped into the tofu/meat/veggies. Expect your mouth to be burnt… in the best way.
- In fact, it’s so hot that it cooks those raw eggs they give you in the beginning. One of my favorite parts about eating soon tofu is cracking the egg into the soup and stirring it so it cooks on the spot. I’m so entertained by it. See? very, very hot.
- Oh yeah, don’t crack those eggs until you get your soon tofu. (See 5 – they’re raw.)
- The waiter will give you rice in a stone pot called a ddukbaegi, which she’ll scrape out and serve to you in a metal bowl. Again, very hot – do not touch. Leave it to the professionals to handle the rice.
- He or she will pour hot barley tea into the ddukbaegi so that the grains of rice won’t stick. This will also be served to you as a sort of side-soup to your, uh, soup. (Stew with a side of soup: it’s a thing here.)
- You’ll feel very, very full from this meal… but satisfied. The meal is heavy but light. The quantities you get of everything are huge, but with all of the fermented components, I don’t think much of it is unhealthy (except maybe that fried fish in the beginning). I’m not a nutrition expert, though, so maybe don’t quote me on that.
- BCD is good at all times of day, during all seasons. Oddly enough, this meal is satisfying on chilly days and hot summer days alike. And a 24-hour tofu house with a free parking lot? Best late-night food when you can’t find the tacos/want something slightly healthier!
Hmm, reading about this makes me want soon tofu again. Hmm, it is open 24 hours…