You want something incredible that you wouldn't or couldn't make at home...
Get korean soondubu soup!
A friend and I were discussing our love of Korean food. He happens to be Korean, and told me that it was imperative that I try Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown. Located on the lower level of a two-story strip mall on Olympic and Vermont, this place is a gem. It may be a gem, but it's not hidden. Jonathan Gold has given it glowing reviews, and Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi ate there for Bourdain's new CNN show, Parts Unknown (you can watch the clip here). I generally trust Gold and Bourdain's reviews, but more than that I trust my friends' recommendations.
When you first sit down in the small, cramped, and cozy restaurant you are quickly served chilled barley tea that you drink out of cool metal bowls. After you order, an array of korean side dishes arrive. I am a huge fan of kimchi. I love anything that is pickled or fermented, but kimchi wins by virtue of its spice and depth of flavor. It's the type of food that makes me feel more alive when I eat it. Without exaggeration, this was the best kimchi that I have ever eaten. I also thoroughly enjoyed their pickled daikon, cucumber, and delicate seaweed topped tofu rounds.
The restaurant serves many traditional Korean dishes such as bibimbap (it looked amazing) and kalbi, but the place is really famous for their soondubu. What is soondubu (or sundubu)? I asked the same question. My dining companion said that it's simply a type of korean tofu soup.
Here's what wikiepedia has to say:
Sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) is a hot and spicy jjigae (Korean stew) dish made with uncurdled dubu (tofu), seafood (oysters, mussels, clams and shrimp are common ingredients), vegetables, mushrooms, onion, scallions, and gochujang or gochu garu (chili powder) in Korean cuisine. The dish is assembled and cooked directly in the serving vessel, which is typically made of thick, robust porcelain, but can also be ground out of solid stone. A raw egg is put in the jjigae just before serving, and the dish is delivered while still bubbling vigorously. This dish is eaten with a bowl of cooked white rice and several banchan (side dishes).
According to Chef Roy Choi (of Kogi Korean BBQ fame), sundubu jjigae was a dish developed by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles.
Disregard your prejudices against the evil white soy product. The tofu they serve at Beverly Soon Tofu (or Beverly Tofu House) is unlike the typical thick, leaden, brick-like stuff that non-vegetarians often fear. This tofu is creamy, silken, and luscious. Bottom line: it's the shit.
It should be noted that the restaurant serves a variety of soondubus, including vegetarian options.
The pot arrives steaming and bubbling. The sweet waitress offers you a raw egg. You nod your head. She cracks the egg into the hot black pot of red goodness, and you watch the egg turn from clear to opaque. While you wait for your soup to cool, you continue to snack on all manner of pickled things. Finally, you scoop a spoonful of the bright red soup onto a bed of perfectly steamed white rice. The broth is complex with a pleasing unctuousness. The dish is spicy without being aggressively overpowering. For the first few minutes you eat it is impossible to speak. The food demands total focus and appreciation.
I can't believe I hadn't been there before.
I plan to go back often.
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