I’m continuing my theme of soup stalking this week. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fragrant and perfectly executed pho at Vien Dong in Tacoma’s Lincoln neighborhood. Today, I’m taking a slurp of soon doo boo, a silky Korean tofu soup found on South Tacoma Way. Click “more” to read about the soup. Later this week, check back for a report on Pacific Grill’s noodle bar menu, which features three kinds of ramen with punchy flavors and stylish execution.
Call it Korean comfort food. I call it my new pho. Soon doo boo (also spelled soon dubu or sundubu) is a spicy, silky Korean tofu stew powered by chili peppers and a fish-tinged broth. Not a fan of tofu? Don’t let that deter you. This tofu is nothing like the rubbery cubes you buy in the water-filled package at your neighborhood grocer. This tofu is silky smooth, the texture slippery, and with a velvety mouthfeel that is more reminiscent of custard than tofu.
Cho Dang Tofu, a small and attractive restaurant in the same complex as the PalDo World grocery store, serves the gamut of Korean dishes – from bibimbap to bulgogi to kalbi – but soon doo boo comprises the first page of the menu with 14 varieties (the soup is simply called “tofu soup” on Cho Dang’s menu).
Soon doo boo soup is much more popular in other parts of the United States. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Korean hot pot soup collects a following that matches our affinity for pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup that has sprung up in every corner of our part of the world.
At Cho Dang Tofu, soon doo boo becomes a serious food spread. Expect your entire table to be besieged by plates and bowls. It starts with an array of a half dozen banchan, the small Korean appetizer plates filled with kimchi, pickled zucchini, soy and sesame flavored salads, fried fish and other Korean noshes. Think of banchan as the Korean equivalent of Mediterranean tapas –small plates full of delicious flavors.
After the banchan arrives, the server brings a sizzling cast iron pot – I delight in that it reminds me of a cauldron – filled to nearly overflowing with chili-spiked, fish-scented broth thick with those silky clouds of velvety tofu and whatever meat you desire: beef, pork, mixed seafood, bacon (my pick, of course), oyster, ham and the list goes on. Cabbage, onions and scallions add dimension to the deeply orange-hued broth. A sizzling, hot pot full of rice comes next (don’t touch! It’s hot). Scrape the rice into an empty bowl and your server will return with a pitcher of tea to deglaze the crusty bits around the edges of the hot rice bowl. Use your spoon to scrape the roasted rice from the walls of the sizzling hot bowl and it creates a tepid, mildly flavored tea and rice soup.
I’m never quite sure what the protocol is for eating soon doo boo. If you watch those around you, everyone seems to eat it differently. I stir banchan into the bowl of rice and eat that separately, then eat the soup with the spoon provided. I’ve seen other diners pour the soup over the rice bowl; and alternately plop the rice into the soup cauldron. I’ve watched others plop banchan into the soup, adding even more delicious flavor to the already flavorful soup. No matter your protocol, soon dubu is a soup made for digging in and enjoying in this chilly winter.
Where: Cho Dang Tofu
Address: 9601 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma
Other location: 2200 S. 320th St., Federal Way; 253-839-2459