Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Soon Doo Bu Jigae

What could be in this red boiling cauldron? It's definitely not the Weird Sisters boiling toil and trouble. (It's from MacBeth if you're scratching your heads...) What this is, is one of the greatest things Korea has bestowed upon the world.

Soon Doo Bu Jigae. What is it? Unless you're Korean, I'm pretty sure you have no idea. Also, if you were Korean, I doubt you've read this far into this blog. Soon Doo Bu Jigae is a spicy tofu casserole with seafood.

When you order it, it comes piping hot, boiling and bubbling in a stone casserole bowl. The stone bowl keeps it hot for the duration of your meal. I'm gonna repeat that it's piping hot, so don't touch the bowl except at those side handles! When they set it down, the entire broth will be boiling. It's the perfect environment to cook something actually. If only there was only something to cook in there. Luckily, there is! SoonDooBu is usually accompanied by a raw egg, which most people crack and drop into it. The egg cooks softly in there, leaving the yolk runny, and the added egg brings the temperature of the dish down so that it eventually remains very warm, but no longer boiling.

So what's in this red boiling treasure? Besides the egg, it's main constituent is tofu. But its not a firm tofu, bu a very very soft silken tofu. The consistency of the tofu is very delicate, to the point where it can flop around and break very easily under its own weight. The beauty of that is the tofu can seemingly just melt in your mouth when you eat it. It's an incredibly light almost nonexistent texture because of that. The bowl is also full of other little ocean treasures if you dig around. It is also a seafood dish, so most often accompanying the tofu is squid, shrimp, clams, and mussels still in their shells.

SoonDooBu is served with rice, and it's hard not to eat it with rice, because the broth is rather spicy. You can ask for the spiciness to be toned down, but dont ever ask for it to be unspicy. An unspicy SoonDooBu is incredibly flat and lacks the kick and flavor that real SoonDooBu delivers. Beginners though, should often ask for the spiciness to be toned down, because if you're not used to Korean cuisine, the initial spiciness can be very sudden and strong. Tolerance does need to be built up.

I personally love SoonDooBu, and one particular thing I love is the egg. I love runny eggs. And it's really a treat to have the egg break over the rice at the end and eat that with the rest of the tofu and seafood. SoonDooBu also a great dish especially if you're working out in my opinion because its mostly tofu and seafood, essentially a great tasty stomach filling bowl of protein.

A personal favorite, dont be afraid to order it. You'll be really surprised by how good it can be. Just be prepared to handle the spiciness, or if you need to, remember to ask the restaurant to tone it down as you build up your spice tolerance.

Next time, I'll be talking about another great starting dish for the newly intiated, a rice based dish called BiBimBop.

UP NEXT: Bi Bim Bop

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Banchan - The Side Dishes

Every dinner at any restaurant always starts with the same excruciating ritual. Flipping through the menu, trying to decide what to eat. You're constantly balancing what you can afford with what you want. If you love food like I do, this can be a very long and hungry process. After you finally decide on what to eat, you have to start the long wait for your appetizers or food to come out of the kitchen. NOT THE CASE at a Korean restaurant though. A very short time after you order, a waiter will come by your table with a tray full of small dishes full of food. Just as you're wishing all that food was yours, they start placing it down on your table.

That's the Banchan. It's not really an appetizer, but it definitely works as one. They're more like small communal side dishes for the entire table that can be shared and eaten throughout the entire meal. For the hungry eater though, its a great start to a great meal. Alot of these dishes consists of pickled and fermented vegetables, with an absolute Korean necessity always included. I'm going to highlight a few specific ones.

Kimchi. What most people think of when they think of Korean cuisine. It's basically a spicy fermented cabbage. It's salty, spicy, and gives a bit of a bite. It's really great when eaten with rice, or even by itself. It's a very regularly eaten staple side dish for Korean meals, whether eaten by itself, or used in other dishes. It's also boasts health benefits too!

Oi Kimchi. It's basically the same as regular kimchi, except instead of using napa cabbage, cucumbers are fermented using the exact same seasonings and chilis. It's nice and refreshing, crisp, and works just as wonderfully as kimchi. Not as strong as regular kimchi, this might go easier on the palette of someone trying Korean cuisine for the first time.

Kongnamul. Cooked and chilled bean sprouts in sesame oil. Once again delightful, very light. It doesn't have any significant tastes that overpower the palette. It simply has a very light and airy taste and texture, with the bean sprouts' taste staying very intact while being subtly complemented by the sesame oil. This particular restaurant added the hot chili seasoning to it. Not too bad.

Steamed Egg. I unfortunately don't know the name to this great dish. I love eggs and this couldn't be better. It's a steamed egg, seasoned with soy sauce, sometimes with pieces of seafood cooked right into it. It's got a very light texture, but at the same time is very firm. And best of all it's eggs! I haven't met one person who doesn't love this dish, except one person, but that's only because he's deathly afraid of eggs.

Korean styled potato salad. I definitely don't know the name of this dish in korean, but it's definitely not mom's potato salad. It's even better! It's potato salad, with various vegetables, and a thick dressing that gives it a very sweet taste. This particular one was accented with raisins, giving it an even sweeter punch. It's hard not to have your eyes widen and smile after taking a bite of this. Sometimes a sweet potato variety is used instead of just regular potatoes.

So instead of bread, you get this giant array of side dishes to be eaten throughout your meal, given to you as soon as you're done ordering. Sounds better than bread to me! You'll usually get 8+ different banchan dishes at any restaurant, giving you a small taste of everything to get you started. I'd take that over bread and butter any day. People don't realize this, but you can always ask for more, and most restaurants are more than willing to oblige. Best of all, it feels like you ordered an appetizer sampler, but its not. It's absolutely FREE with the meal!

Besides these dishes, there are dozens more different banchan dishes. Many of them will consisted of kimchi'd vegetables, seasoned or marinated vegetables, tofus, japchae(clear yam noodles), different meats, and seafoods. Every restaurant will dole out different ones, changing it up every day. To be honest, the banchan is my favorite part of the meal. It's definitely worth the trek into a Korean restaurant.

Next we'll demystify a dish that many people don't know about and don't know how to order.

UP NEXT : Soon Doo Bu

First Stop: Korea

We thought we'd start off the blog by giving you the info on a great ethnic food culture that's a mystery to most people in this country. There's a big soft spot on our palettes when it comes to Korean food. Most people think of Korean food involving mostly Kimchi(a fermented cabbage), but there's so much more than that!

Korean food is dominated by a combination of rice, vegetables, and meat dishes. Rice is the staple food of Asia, meat dishes are always great to any carnivore, and the vegetables are often fermented or pickled for side dishes and other various dishes. At the same time, Korea is also a peninsula dominated on three sides by water, so seafood can play a heavy role into certain dishes. With a wonderful unique taste to its food, Korean food can always be light, delightful, and expertly satisfying. At the same time, it is dominated by a variety of seasonings, from soy sauce, garlic, soybean paste(called doenjang, it's really quite good), and chili pastes. Because of these, Korean food can often be spicy and pungent, but never overbearing. Korean food never leaves you wanting, but only wanting for more.

We're gonna take you on a walk through a simple Korean dinner you can order at any Korean restaurant that you won't regret. There's nothing exotic to it, nor is it something only for the brave. They're standard dishes anyone would be willing to try, but few know about it unless they're versed in Korean cuisine. So get ready for some damned good Korean food!

UP NEXT : Banchan - The Side Dishes

Monday, January 29, 2007


We like food. We especially like eating it. We realize that there's alot of good food out there that people aren't willing to try, or simply don't know about, and we thought it'd be good practice to introduce people to a new variety of culinary treats. We'll be covering the whole spectrum from your standard fare foods, to ethnic treats, to hole in the wall one of a kind offerings.

So if you're looking for something new to eat or don't know where to go for lunch, or do want to go somewhere and just don't know how to order, stay tuned for some damned good food!