The first time I had soon dubu jjigae was in Santa Clara in 2002. My daughter’s roommate, when they were living in the San Jose area at the time, took us to So Gong Dong Tofu House. I recall what a revelation it was, a savory and spicy stew featuring soft dubu (tofu). Since then, I’ve had it many times, both in California and Washington, in various forms. This is one of those dishes that really satisfies when the weather gets cold.
On the Eastside, the pickings of Korean restaurants are pretty slim. With the closure of Paldo Market (and therefore the Korean restaurant inside its doors), the choices got slimmer. Luckily, Seoul Hot Pot in Redmond has been around for a few years. More than that, the food here is pretty good. Daily specials written on sheets of paper are pasted on the walls.
SHP’s soon dubu stews are very well made, the best in the Northwest I’ve tasted so far, not having had it in the Federal Way or Lynnwood areas where the largest concentrations of Korean businesses are located. In classic fashion, it arrives at the table bubbling hot in its fireproof vessel, into which the waitress cracked a raw egg and sprinkled dried seaweed. There’s something about the broth that separates Seoul Hot Pot from most others, an underlying savoriness whose source I can’t quite pinpoint. Some of the more complex recipes call for using seafood of various kinds, including dried sardines. Some also call for dried kelp, which in Japanese cooking provide umami depth to dashi. Maybe it’s a combination of these that SHP employs. However they do it, it rules! Recently, the menu has been enlarged to include additional kinds of tofu stews and bibimbap.
Bulgogi is an ingredient in one of the new stews, which I ordered. I knew as I was eating it that this was going to be one of my favorites for some time to come. With its marinade of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and garlic, the meat imparted complex flavors, including a hint of sweetness, to the broth that was pleasantly appealing. In light of the fact that very little meat or seafood is added to soon dubu, the bulgogi gave it enough flavorful interest but not enough to upstage the tofu itself.
My wife ordered another of the new items, a tofu soup with gyoza, dumplings filled with ground pork, ginger and garlic. Because they’re very similar to Korean mandoo (or mandu), I’m not sure why they don’t use them instead, unless they’re not made in-house. Nevertheless, these were tasty enough, the skins being somewhat pasty, in a fine broth.
On my wife’s radar for next time, another new addition is soon dubu with perilla seeds. According to the waitress, the stew has the same distinct flavor as the perilla leaves (shiso) themselves, which have a uniquely pungent, minty, licorice-like flavor.
The little dishes of appetizers commonly served in Korean restaurants (banchan) are always terrific here. Tonight, aside from the typical two kinds of kimchi, there were sautéed mung bean sprouts, savory potatoes, omelette slices, and one of my favorites, odeng (fish cakes).
Update: (2-12-13) After struggling with a stomach bug for a couple of days, I wasn’t sure that exposing my system to the chiles of kimchi and soon dubu was the best idea, but earlier in the day I had just finished watching a Korean movie where some of the characters were eating. This wasn’t a food film by any means, but the idea of eating Korean food stuck in my mind. So, I invited a friend to tag along for dinner. We wound up splitting the bulgogi soon dubu and Sweet-and-Spicy Pork.
The banchan selections were as great as usual: two kinds of kimchi, odeng, and three kinds of vegetables (bean sprouts, celery and baby bok choy)
This time around, the soon dubu seemed sweeter than when I had it the week before, maybe because more bulgogi was added. It didn’t have the same impact as before though it was still good.
The pork came sizzling on a platter over a bed of sliced onions, with wisps of smoky steam rising for a good few minutes after being placed on our table, always an inviting presentation and good show. Seasoned with Korean chile paste and sugar, the meat was savory-sweet and tender, the latter an achievement of some sort since I’ve found pork in many Asian restaurants to be dry from overcooking. Though “spicy” is in the name, it was only mildly so. This is a very good dish.
|Seoul Hot Pot
2560 152nd Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052