Two of Korea's best-loved dishes

It's mostly folks from the neighborhood and Korean ex-pats eating at the So Gong Dong Tofu House in the North Park neighborhood on Bryn Mawr. Many of them are eating the same thing: bibimbop and soondooboo. Their names may sound odd at first, but to Koreans, they mean comfort and familiarity.

"I would say with bibimbop and soondooboo are two of the more popular dishes in Korea," said Hong Kim, So Gong Dong Tofu House.

Bibimbop begins with white rice, spooned into a stone bowl. Then comes a litany of veggies, each arranged precisely around the rice: pickled daikon, shredded carrots, crisp bean sprouts, pickled cucumbers, cooked spinach and finally, some spicy shredded kimchi radish. Beef or tofu is optional. Finally, a cooked egg crowns the top and the stone bowl is heated on the stove, where it rests for a few minutes before being covered with shards of fresh lettuce. At the table, you add the optional chili sauce for heat, and vigorously mix everything up, being sure to get that crispy, crunchy cooked rice up from the bottom.

"For vegetarians looking for good Korean vegetarian meal, bibimbop is a very good choice; instead of meat, we could substitute tofu, and you get a very good meal out of it," said Kim.

The soondooboo starts out with an assortment of seafood, such as calamari and shrimp. Chicken broth is ladled into the pot, which is heated on the stove. A generous scoop of chili paste, containing soy sauce and sesame oil, is also mixed into the pot. Once it starts boiling, a heaping spoonful of soft tofu is added, and broken into tiny, bite-sized pieces, absorbing much of the flavor from the broth and the chili sauce.

At the table, you crack an egg into the boiling cauldron, which cooks it almost instantly, adding some heft and body to the soup. An assortment of complimentary, pickled side dishes - called panchan - are available to balance the heat, and provide crunch in the form of cucumbers or radishes. Kim says despite tofu's image in the U.S., it remains one of the most coveted ingredients in Korea.

"I know its got a bad reputation in U.S. as being not very flavorful, but it's very versatile and depending on what ingredients and spices you use with, it could be very tasty," said Kim.

United Nations Day may not be a big deal in your house, but why not celebrate like the secretary general this year with two classic Korean dishes.

The restaurant also makes a healthy ginseng soup as well as the traditional barbeque known as kalbi.

So Gong Dong Tofu House
3307 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

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