Tuesday, May 19, 2009

At $9.99, this meal remains a bargain

Sundubu jjigae(순두부찌개), a Korean stew made with...Image via Wikipedia
Soft -tofu stew.

I'm not sure how it happened, but Korean soft tofu has become my son's favorite meal to eat out. When he was asked where he wanted to go for his birthday last weekend, he immediately directed me to our favorite tofu house in Palisades Park, the second-floor restaurant called So Gong Dong.

I have been eating soft tofu for more than 10 years and like it spicy. The tofu stew, steamed rice and free side dishes are enough for me, but my son likes to order dumplings or beef barbecue, too. Three years ago, So Gong Dong charged $7.99 for the tofu stew and six side dishes. Today, the meal is $9.99 (including tax), but only four side dishes are served. Still, this meal gives us a feeling of well being and we consider it a bargain. Ten varieties are available, including plain, oyster, beef and pork.

It's a great introduction to Korean food, because you can order it four ways, from "no spice" to "more spicy." Koreans call it sundubu tchigae and it's healthy and filling. First, you get the side dishes: crunchy cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, bean sprouts and raw squid in a spicy red sauce. They are replenished without prompting. The tofu stew arrives at the table in a stone bowl, bubbling furiously, hot enough to cook the raw egg you're given to break into it. A second hot stone bowl is filled with steamed white rice.

Some people spoon the rice into a smaller bowl and then cover it with tofu stew. Others dip a spoonful of rice into the reddish broth or alternate the bland rice with the spicy stew. You can empty the stone bowl with rice and loosen the stuff that sticks to the bottom with tea or you can empty the bowl and peel off the toasted remainder. There is no right or wrong way to eat the meal.

Look around. The other customers seem happy. You often see families or couples enjoying themselves.  You'll know the married couples when you see the man reading the newspaper during the meal. When you get the bill, the $9.99 is rounded up to $10, but no tax is added. The other prices, such as $7.99 for dumpings, also are rounded up a penny.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave.,
Second Floor, Palisades Park; 201-313-8900.
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