Soondubu (also spelled Sundubu 순두부) is one of my favorite Korean meals to have in Korea. I especially love it during the dead of winter when I need a hot stew to warm my bones. On the food tours that I give in Korea, it is a dish that 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.
Of course this is a pretty common dish and you can get it at most lunch or meal places such as Kimbap Chunguk or Jongno Kimbap which is fine and all, but I feel if you are going to eat, you should have the best.
Here is a list of my favorite Soondubu Places in Korea
Note: The list is evolving since restaurants close all the time or move in Korea. Also, my ranking may move my favorite restaurants up or down the list.
Soondubu Places in Seoul3. Myeongdong Soondubu: For a decent bowl of spicy soondubu, Myeongdong soondubu is fine. It's the type of soondubu that my guests rave about. It's got the silky tofu served in a clay pot and served with rice cooked in a stone bowl as well. They have a variety of different types of soondubu as well. What I like about this place is that it feels like a fast food diner with healthy food. Plus the stew is spicier than other places.
Jung-gu Euljiro 2-ga 199-50
Seoul, Gangnam-gu Sinsadong 666-17
Note: This is a chain so there are more of them and it is likely there is one in your area.
1. Jaedong Soondubu: My favorite place for soondubu because the tofu tastes so clean and soft. It's a very special tofu they have there and it is made from organic soy beans they grow on their farm. They have the cho-dang style of soondubu, which is just the plain white to which you can add some seasoned soy sauce. It's a really simple dish though and great if you are a person that likes very subtle food. It's a comfort meal for Koreans and the water and the broth is excellent here...like pure spring water. If you want something spicy, then get the seafood soondubu. It is excellent here and full of warm, spicy chili oil. Tip: if you want egg, you have to ask for it (you didn't have to in the past but you do now). It's not super spicy here and you'll notice that the tofu is more curdled like cheese. If you are looking for some other dishes, you can get the tofu and kimchi or the tofu casserole (dubu jeongol). They are all made using their own homemade tofu. They also have a decent dolsot bibimbap (stone bowl bibimbap) for a soondubu place.
Seoul, Jongno-gu Jaedong 84-11
Directions: Go out Anguk Station exit 2 and walk about 1 block down. You're going to make a right down a narrow alley way and you'll find it in the middle of the alleyway.
Soondubu Places outside of SeoulSoondubu in Gangneung (East Coast of Korea)
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. This type of soondubu is white tofu that you can add some seasoned soy sauce to.
Recommended Restaurants in Gangneung400-Year House Chodang Soondubu
Add: #256-3, Eunjeong-dong, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do, Korea / Tel: +82-33-644-3516
Gohyangsanchon Chodang Soondubu
Add: #219-34, Nanseolheon-ro, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do, Korea / Tel: +82-33-653-2446
Amazing Soondubu at Bomun Lake in GyeongjuMetdol Soondubu Sikdang: This is the most famous place for soondubu in Gyeongju and it is located around Bomun lake. There is often a line around the block to get in. What makes this place special is the freshly made tofu in their chili-oil broth. They load it up with whole shrimp and clams which adds to the broth. It comes bubbling to the table and you crack an egg into it and let it cook a bit. I like to let the whites cook and then break the yolk into the broth which elevates the creaminess.
Add: #229-1, Bukgun-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Korea