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So Gong Dong, Chodang Restaurants


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#1 skchai

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Posted 01 April 2004 - 02:44 AM

So Gong Dong Restaurant
1518 Makaloa St. #8
Honolulu HI 96814
808 946-8206
http://www.sogonghawaii.com/

Of all the dishes in the Korean food reportoire, sundubu jjigae (soft tofu pottage) is one that is most likely to be found in restaurants that specialize in its preparation, rather than in "general" Korean restaurants. At first glance, this is hard to understand. The basic recipe seems fairly simple - a very spicy beef and / or seafood broth containing very soft tofu. However, as any fan of this cult-like dish will tell you, it's really hard to get the broth right. That's why you need specialization! Supposedly.

In general, tofu firmness depends on the extent to which the soymilk curd is pressed and drained prior to being placed in its mold. In your typical local supermarket, you'll tofu sold in rectangular plastic containers at soft, regular, firm, and extra firm levels, just like mattresses. The "soft" level corresponds to to Japanese kinugoshi (silken) tofu, in which a thick soymilk is coagulated with bittern (calcium chloride) and not drained at all. The last three are various kinds of momen (cotton) tofu, which are made from somewhat thinner soymilk drained at various levels of pressure.

Korean sundubu is another thing all together. As far as I can make out, it is made from non-thick soymilk and is not drained, leading to an extremely fragile product that cannot hold its shape. It's usually sold in plastic bags or jars, then poured directly into the dish that's being prepared. No point in cutting it with a knife, since the pieces will not remain square anyway. In Sundubu jjigae, the tofu, through the process of boiling and stirring, separates into irregularly-shaped quivering lumps that kind of slip and slide down your throat without need for chewing. It a kind of paradoxical food, one that combines a soft comforting texture (often abetted by a semi-poached egg) with enough red-hot chili to blow out even the most congested sinuses.

So Gong Dong is a sundubu specialty house similar to the ones that you'll find in Seoul or in LA Koreatown. In fact it shares the same name (but not transliteration) as the "Suh Gong Dong" (sic) restaurant on Olympic Blvd. in LA Koreatown, as well another "So Gong Dong" restaurant on Bryn Mawr Ave. in Chicago Koreatown, another in Santa Clara, and I'm sure others in just about every major city with lots of Koreans. No, this is not a chain, just a testament to a certain lack of originality that Korean businesses (modally speaking, of course!) seem to have in choosing names. Just like you see "Hyundai" and "Lotte" attached to little corner knick-knack shops everywhere. . . The original restaurant that all of the "SGDs" are emulating is the Sogongdong Ttukbaegijip (lit. Sogong Ward Iron Bowl House) in Seoul, perhaps the most famous restaurant purveyour of sundubu jjigae anywhere.

At the Hawai`i SGD, you can either order off a normal menu, or if that's just too disorienting, you can use a handy numbered pictoral menu that they have hanging on the wall:

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The sundubu at Hawai`i's SGD comes in four varieties: beef and pork; beef, shrimp, and clams; oyster, shrimp, clams and mussels; and kimchee. The broth is the same for all of them, though you can choose the level of chili that you want added. The variations are in toppings that are added at the last minute. I'm mildly allergic to shellfish (though I like them), so I usually go with the beef and pork.

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It comes bubbling in its own little iron bowl, along with the usual rices and panchans. The broth seems to be mostly beef broth, and is fairly beefy, though it gets hard to detect when you order it "hot" as most Koreans do.

If you're not into spicy quivering tofu, then So Gong Dong also has a full array of typical Korean restaurant grilled meats and soups, as well as a number of Korean-Hawaiian plate lunch favorites such as meat jun. Our daughter is definitely not into anything spicy, and she likes kalbi that she can hold with her hands. You can get kalbi either of two ways the "plate lunch" (e.g. LA kalbi) style, cut across the bone, or the more traditional butterfly style, which comes in "King" (e.g. Suwon kalbi) size. We got the plate lunch style because it's cheaper - it's been dipped in a fairly sweet local-style marinade.

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You can't expect the same variety of panchans at a sundubu place as you would get a fancy-schmantzy course menu restaurant, but, as you can see, you do get the usual chinese cabbage and daikon kimchis, as well as beansprouts, watercress, and fiddlehead ferns.

Posted Image

So Gong Dong qualifies as a hole-in-the wall - it's among a little row of small restaurants across Makaloa Street from Tower Records near Ala Moana. With the usual trilingual signs that you find on ethnic restaurants where Japanese tourists might hang out. There is a microscopic parking lot - if you don't have luck there, you can usually find street parking close by. If worst comes to worst, you can always park at Ala Moana Center and walk over.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

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#2 Marco_Polo

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Posted 01 April 2004 - 03:06 AM

Hi Sun-ki,

What a great report and what great pictures! The bubbling iron bowl of sundubu tchigae has made me ravenously hungry. When we were in Seoul many years ago, we enjoyed sundubu tchigae at the Kamchon, located somewhere behind the American Embassy. It was famous for it, still is, I imagine. They made the sundubu continuously in vast quantity.

Though you rightly point out that sundubu (fresh tofu) is made by cogagulating soy milk with calcium chloride, we actually experimented and found that you can make the deliciously fresh curds by using lemon juice as a coagulant. The curds remain very loose, almost like barely poached egg, and the citrus adds a sour touch that works well when added to a ferociously hot, chilli-spiked tchigae!

Sundubu tchigae, the sort of delicious food that promotes a magnificently prodigious thirst: my sort of food!

Marc

#3 jschyun

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Posted 01 April 2004 - 01:37 PM

Wow, that was great. As usual, skchai, you are a wealth of information.

I like how you took the pic of the sundubu early enough to get it in mid bubble.

I have to admit a preference for sundubu that is so fragile the curds collapse into small particles, and the resulting dish almost looks like kong bigi chigae (soybean dreg stew).

sorry to hear about your shellfish allergy. I think i may be mildly allergic to beef, but I don't want to go to the doctor and confirm it.

-- ooh, just noticed the sign that says they have cold noodles in soybean milk (naeng kong guksu) I love those!

Edited by jschyun, 01 April 2004 - 01:40 PM.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#4 skchai

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Posted 03 April 2004 - 02:39 AM

I like how you took the pic of the sundubu early enough to get it in mid bubble.

Pure luck. . .

It seems that SGD has now introduced five new "flavors" of sundubu (it always seemed like four was a little few for a restaurant that was specializing in the thing). The new choices are:

45. beef intestine

46. spam (mahalo!)

47. sausage

48. mushroom

49. clam

50. dry seaweed

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#5 The Little Blue House

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 08:58 AM

Sun-Ki,

Thanks for the review. Now I know where I am going for lunch.

-Wait a minute. Does that sign actually have the words "Free Delivery" printed on it?

Edited by The Little Blue House, 06 April 2004 - 12:30 PM.

----------------------------------------------
Emily in London
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#6 Jason Perlow

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Posted 06 April 2004 - 09:02 AM

Thats some awesome looking galbi.
Jason Perlow
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#7 skchai

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 02:29 AM

Though you rightly point out that sundubu (fresh tofu) is made by cogagulating soy milk with calcium chloride, we actually experimented and found that you can make the deliciously fresh curds by using lemon juice as a coagulant. The curds remain very loose, almost like barely poached egg, and the citrus adds a sour touch that works well when added to a ferociously hot, chilli-spiked tchigae!

Marc, it's admirable that you make your own tofu! Lemon juice is also sometimes used to coagulate milk in producing paneer - Indian fresh cheese. . . I wonder if the texture is similar? I'm pretty ignorant about the chemistry of coagulation - I wonder if rennet would also work in making tofu. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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#8 skchai

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Posted 08 September 2004 - 01:21 AM

Chodang Restaurant
725 Kapiolani Blvd. C-1198
Imperial Plaza 1F
Honolulu HI 96813
808 591-0500

New challenger to SGD Sundubu opened a few months ago at the Imperial Plaza (Cooke and Kapiolani), right next to the Sino-Korean "Mandarin". Menu and recipes seem very similar to SGD, which is no surprise since the owner of CD Sundubu is the former chef at SGD.

The main difference is the physical surroundings, which are brighter and a lot less less "hole-in-the-wall", in keeping with the restaurant's location. Validated parking in contrast fighting for a space on Makaloa. Very friendly people when I visited.

Posted Image

The standard beef sundubu cchigae. . .

Posted Image

An LA galbi spread. . .

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The entrance. . .

Should have posted this earlier - seems SGD has met the challenge by moving to newer and more spacious quarters. Not sure exactly where; will post a report once I've had a chance to try out the new place. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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#9 katkit

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Posted 11 September 2004 - 09:56 PM

So Gong Dong has moved makai side of Kapiolani across from Tower Records. Haven't been since the move though...

#10 skchai

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Posted 12 September 2004 - 04:36 PM

Thanks for the info and welcome to eGullet, katkit - hope to hear more from you in the future!

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

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#11 Kapuliperson

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Posted 18 September 2004 - 12:19 AM

Kimchi fried rice.. mmm!
Any of you have the recipe for Kimchi? I'd like to try a different one from my mom's and cousin's version although their versions are very good.

#12 skchai

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 11:47 AM

Kapuliperson, the best "traditional" Kim Chee fried rice in town is at a place called Elim in the Samsung Plaza on Ke`eaumoku (there's also an Elim II, with basically the same menu, right next to the former location of SGD Sundubu). I'll post a report once I figure out how I want to deal with the new image archiving system at eGullet.

Big City Diner has a very good version of Kim chee fried rice as well (see here for a report) but their version is more "local-style" than "Korean-style".

Receipes? I have to say I don't know of a single recipe that has been written down. I guess this is because kim chi fried rice is one of those dishes where you make use of whatever is on hand. Some kind of processed meat is essential - Spam for instance. You squeeze the kim chi before stir-frying in the spam grease. Then the rice goes in, seasoned with some of the squeezed out kimchi juice and soy sauce. You add the green onions last. If you're using egg, there's all different schools of thought about that. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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#13 jschyun

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Posted 30 September 2004 - 06:02 PM

mmm, spam grease
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#14 skchai

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 10:25 PM

Spam is the Hawaiian foie gras . . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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#15 theabroma

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 11:14 PM

That was fascinating. I have nibbled around the edges of Dallas' Koreatown, and now I have a focus and direction for a deeper visit. I am looking forward to it.

And btw, speaking of Spam: I think we in Texas have some catching up to do. In Austin there's the improperly Spam-reverent Spamarama.each spring. Maybe Hawai'i needs to send a team to Austin and set them straight.

Spamarama

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The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

#16 skchai

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 12:01 PM

Thanks, Sharon. Checked out the Spamarama website, and it seems perfect. Properly irreverent, and I'm glad they manage to do it without having any of the Hormel $$ dropped on them. We have something every year called SpamJam but it's got nothing on Spamarama (other than perhaps sheer quantity of Spam).

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#17 LarryG

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Posted 03 December 2004 - 03:25 PM

Thanks so much for this topic and for the great pictures and review. I am really appreciating the advantages of this medium over newspaper reviews where the space is limited and reviewers sometimes inexperienced. I can't imagine that as good a job could ever be done if the editor limits the length to 800 words and all that's allowed is maybe one black-and-white picture of the smiling restaurant owner behind a counter.

Nanette and I tried both Sogongdong Restaurant at 1489 Kapiolani (easy to park) and the one on Makaloa Street across from Tower Records. We went deliberately to the first a few days ago, and last night found ourselves stopped in traffic in front of the other wondering where to eat dinner. Nanette looked out the passenger window, and immediately to the right of the car was an empty parking space right in front of the restaurant. When the universe delivers such a great parking space to you, it is not the time to question why. So we blinked, turned in to it, and had our second sundubu experience in a week.

Actually, this took me back to my many trips to Seoul, usually arranged selfishly for Spring or Fall, but occasionally and unavoidably in February when it is bone-chilling cold there. I disliked the imperfectly sterile air-conditioned environment in the Lotte or Chosun hotels and would escape to the narrow streets across from the Lotte where there was a warren of numerous tiny, cramped small eating places. Inside each of them were people with steaming breaths dressed warmly and eating hot, steaming things that looked and smelled irresistable. It was nearly as cold inside the eating places as outside, and not only could you see your breath but everything steamed, the tea, soup, pots in the kitchen, everything.

Without much language I had no idea what was going on. Mostly I chickened out and walked by, but eventually I would find someplace with an empty seat, go in, and point to what the person next to me was eating. I didn't even have a way to ask what it might have been called. Once I drew a big question mark on a napkin and the person next to me wrote something, but not very neatly, and I couldn't decipher it in my language books when I got back to the hotel room. Even the pictures of food in the guides didn't match what I saw in the shops. It was all fancy tourist stuff, not what anyone was actually eating in the real world.

I would go back to the same place the next day, feeling comfortable in at least one place. Yes, I could have made a better effort to learn the language, but anyway, I did manage somehow to get fed and to enjoy myself immensely.

Back to Honolulu and the present, we tried the beef-and-pork and the seafood versions at the Kapiolani Blvd. place. The beef-and-port seemed much better integrated than the seafood, which seemed to have kind of been added to something they didn't fit with very well. Both were good, just that we both agreed that the beef-and-pork was better. The tofu was softer at the second place, but overall, the first was a quality experience for the money. At the second place we also tried the oyster pancake, very nice [clearly you can't count on me for a detailed review!].

Odd though the combination may be, we went into the nearby omochi place (a few doors towards Keeaumoku from SGD) for dessert (ohagi) and tea.

So thanks again for a fantastic review and discussion, which has enriched our dining experience!

Cheerz,
--Larry

#18 Raquel

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Posted 04 December 2004 - 01:00 AM

Does anyone know of a good place to find sundubu jjigae in Southern California? I'm assuming it's going to be in the Los Angeles area near/on Olympic... I haven't had the dish for a couple years and am seriously hankering for the stuff!

raquel

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe -Roy Batty

#19 skchai

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Posted 07 December 2004 - 05:02 PM

Thanks for the colorful report and personal recollections, Larry. . .

Raquel - good places for sundubu tchigae in Los Angeles! That's like asking if there are good places for coal in Newcastle. Or Spam in Hawai`i. Just kidding. I realize that not all the places around there are good. However (LA denizens please correct me if I'm wrong - that means you Joan!), the most famous LA sundubu restaurant (and now chain) is Bukchangdong Sundubu (BCD). The original is on 3575 Wilshire Blvd. in K-town, Tel 213 382-6677. It seems to kind of originated the rice n' peas accompaniment that a lot of sundubu places now copy. My family is going to be in LA in a couple of weeks, so I'm sure we're going to check out at least one of the BCDs.

Interestingly enough, in the last couple years there has appeared a very large chain of sundubu places in South Korea (with branches even in Nagoya, Japan) called LA Bukchangdong Sundubu (BSD). As far as I can tell there is no formal relationshp between it and BCD in the United States; it may be just another case of the wonderful disregard for trademark ownership in South Korea, though I'm not sure.

Even more strangely, since the former SGD Sundubu in Hawai`I has moved to more spacious quarters, its old space has been occupied by another place called Bukchangdong Soft Tofu. That's the place you probably ate at, Larry. As far as I know, it has nothing with either BCD in LA or BSD in Korea. Someone has to get to the bottom of this, though probably not me. . .

By the way, in case anyone is interested, Sogongdong and Bukchangdong are both districts in Seoul that border Namdaemun (the giant gate that used to mark the southern boundary of the city). And yes, both places have a lot of sundubu restaurants.

Sun-Ki Chai
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#20 jschyun

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Posted 07 December 2004 - 09:21 PM

BCD on Wilshire still v good last time I checked (admittedly a couple of months ago). I guess it's the most famous, but heck if I know that sort of stuff. Still 24 hours, still good soft tofu. My favorite is the everything including the kitchen sink version called "sukkuh" soondubu. But it depends on your taste.

There's a bunch of good places. I am hardly the one to ask since there's like a million places. Also, they seem to open like one per minute. In terms of best of's, I thought I remembered Jonathan Gold liked Beverly Soondubu, which to me seems kind of on the heavier, spicier side than BCD. I haven't been here in a ong while, but last time I was there, business wasn't that good. Competition is really cutthroat. They're a decent place, so that's in case you want to try them out...

I realize that's not much of an answer, well, I have to say I need to brush up on L.A. because I've been in OC a lot.

--of the BCD's, the one on Wilshire is still the best IMHO.

--in OC, my fave is Gaju Soft Tofu. There's a BCD in our county as well, and I used to like them when they had gaejang as part of the banchan. But I don't know the soft tofu wasn't so good after a while, at least IMO.

Edited by jschyun, 07 December 2004 - 09:32 PM.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#21 Raquel

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Posted 07 December 2004 - 10:05 PM

BCD on Wilshire still v good last time I checked (admittedly a couple of months ago).  I guess it's the most famous, but heck if I know that sort of stuff. Still 24 hours, still good soft tofu.  My favorite is the everything including the kitchen sink version called "sukkuh" soondubu.  But it depends on your taste.

There's a bunch of good places.  I am hardly the one to ask since there's like a million places.  Also, they seem to open like one per minute.  In terms of best of's, I thought I remembered Jonathan Gold liked Beverly Soondubu, which to me seems kind of on the heavier, spicier side than BCD.  I haven't been here in a ong while, but last time I was there, business wasn't that good.  Competition is really cutthroat.  They're a decent place, so that's in case you want to try them out...

I realize that's not much of an answer, well, I have to say I need to brush up on L.A. because I've been in OC a lot.

--of the BCD's, the one on Wilshire is still the best IMHO.

--in OC, my fave is Gaju Soft Tofu.  There's a BCD in our county as well, and I used to like them when they had gaejang as part of the banchan.  But I don't know the soft tofu wasn't so good after a while, at least IMO.

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Hey. Thanks for all the info jschyun.
I will definitely check out BCD in L.A.
Thank for the OC restaurant too. I'm in Huntington Beach and San Clemente pretty often... Is Gaju Soft Tofu anywhere near those areas?

raquel

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe -Roy Batty

#22 jschyun

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Posted 07 December 2004 - 10:43 PM

Yes there are two, one in Garden Grove and one in Irvine
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
--NeroW

#23 LarryG

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Posted 19 June 2005 - 08:51 PM

We were both craving something spicy today, so we visited So Gong Dong Restaurant for lunch. They have an additional new menu besides the usual one.

We tried the Kim Chee Pancake from the new menu and the thick noodle with spicy sauce from the regular menu. It seems that each time we go there we want to try something different, to work our way around the menu, but we end up ordering the sundubu because we love it so much.

Maybe we just need to eat there more often. I was feeling grateful to Sun-Ki for introducing us to this restaurant through his original post last year.

Cheerz,
--Larry