Archive for the ‘Sundubu-jjigae’ Category

Seawater-sundubu and the end of our trip

March 4, 2009


This was our last meal in Gangwon-do, the second-to-last meal of our trip.  It’s called “chodang sundubu,” “sundubu” being the soft curds at the stage right before tofu. The city of Gangneung is famous for making its tofu with the local seawater, which gives it a lingering but clean flavor of salt.  So they serve it like this, completely white and unadorned, with a little dish of soy sauce if you want it.  Diane and I didn’t.

It was the best thing we could have eaten at that point.

We had just met a woman who had restored and preserved her family’s 300-year-old home.  She had told us with a quiet passion about her family’s history, the way her grandfather used to welcome and feed wandering scholars, rich with education but nothing else; about the way she had come to decide the buildings were worth preserving in a style few others maintained; about the intense emotion, more complex than pride, that she had felt when she found a full-size replica of a Korean house, just like her own, at the British Museum in London.

We would go on to drive on a winding road through the mountains of Seoraksan National Park, leaving just before the sky got completely dark.  We would get back to our hotel late, tired but full of everything we had seen.

Now that I’m back in New York, the two weeks we spent in Korea feel almost like a dream.  We didn’t go thinking that we could learn everything we needed to learn to write a cookbook.  We hoped more for inspiration, for context, for a sense of history and tradition that was broader than the personal experiences of our families.

I’m more overwhelmed than ever.  I wish I had a lifetime to do justice to this subject.  But I’m also even surer that I want to write about this and not wait for someone more authoritative to come along.  In the end, for me, this isn’t just about food.  I just hope I can figure out how to do it.


Gyeongju sundubu

February 24, 2009


A quick update: We’re in Gyeongju, one of the larger cities in South Gyeongsan Province, and a major center of Korean history, as it was the capital of the Shilla Dynasty.  People throw the word Shilla around like it was yesterday, and South Korean identity is tied strongly to the scientific and artistic achievements of that era, but the dynasty lasted from 668-918 A.D.  This is a very old country.

Diane’s family spent a lot of time here while she was growing up, and so we’re using the city as a base to explore the southeastern coast.  We spent a day and a half in Jeonju, in North Jeolla Province (about which I have a lot more to say in future posts), and would have liked to spend more time in Jeolla-do in general, but we couldn’t figure out an itinerary that wouldn’t have involved driving nearly all day between the southwest and southeast corners.  In any case, I wouldn’t give up any of the meals we’ve had so far in Gyeonsannam-do.

I’ve divided them up into three posts that follow.


Our first meal in Gyeongju was 순두부찌개, sundubu-jjigae. This is one of my favorite things to eat, one of the foods I start to crave if I haven’t had Korean food in awhile.  It’s usually made with a clam broth, spiced to the gills with red pepper, and filled with a very soft, fresh bean curd, one step before becoming full-fledged tofu.  We chose to eat at a restaurant called 맷돌순두부, Mehtdolsundubu, but the whole area was crawling with sundubu restaurants.  Koreans really love trends, and food trends especially.  Clearly, one person had had a bright idea to sell sundubu in this area, and everyone had followed suit.

I couldn’t really blame their entrepreneurial spirit, though.  The bean curd was especially fresh, almost closer to 비지, biji, a soybean puree, than soybean curd.  I’m not sure how and why this locality became known for its sundubu-jjigae, but its proximity to the ocean probably helped the clams and the clam broth taste clean and clear.


And I got to try 빈대장아찌, bindaejangajji, a strong-tasting fish, like anchovies on steroids, pickled with burning hot green peppers, which is what you see here in this little jar.