Soon dubu is the silken, uncurdled tofu found in the bubbling hot pots served in Korean restaurants worldwide. "Soon" means pure, and "dubu" is the Korean way of saying tofu. When Koreans say soon dubu, they're referring to the soon dubu jjigae (stew). The stew part is implied, since that kind of extra soft tofu is only used in a hot pot in Korean cooking.
Soon dubu is Korea's answer to the one-pot meal, since it is cooked and served in the same pot, the ddukbaegi. The bowl is traditionally made from earthenware that's glazed, but soon dubu can also be cooked in a solid stone pot (called dolsot). Both vessels are also used to make bibimbap (Korean mixed rice bowl). The beauty of a ddukbaegi is that it heats evenly and retains heat for a long time. That's why the stew comes bubbling hot to your table.
There are near endless varieties of the tofu hot pot: beef, pork, seafood, kimchi, dumplings, vegetarian, or a combination of the above. All restaurants will give you a choice of mild, medium or spicy, since the fire can be easily toned up or down, depending on the amount of gochugalu (chile powder) or gochujang (chile paste) added. The ddukbaegi will arrive with the stew steaming hot — just perfect for cooking that raw egg they'll give you. It's served with a bowl of rice and an array of banchan (side dishes), which will vary depending on the joint. It's down-home comfort food that's affordable, healthful and delicious.
Though popular during cold winters, it's oddly good even on hot nights, especially really late after hitting a noraebang (Korean karaoke "singing room") with your friends. It's also one of the few Korean dishes you don't have to share.
You'll find soon dubu on many restaurant menus, but only three main places in Koreatown specialize in the dish.
Beverly Soon Tofu
Don't let the name confuse you. This joint has been serving its soon dubu on Olympic (not Beverly) for nearly 30 years. When it first opened in 1986, there were only four flavors of the tofu hot pot on the menu. Since then, their selection has more than doubled. Other Korean favorites, such as bibimbap and galbi, have been added as well. 2717 W. Olympic Blvd., No. 108, Koreatown, (213) 380-1113, beverlysoontofu.com.
So Kong Dong
One of the first soon dubu restaurants in Koreatown, it was hard to find, located behind a column and impossible to see from Olympic. For decades, Beverly and SKD were dueling dubu joints across from each other. Now, SKD has a larger location on Western Avenue with a more extensive menu. Sure, they still do their flavorful pots of the soft tofu, but they also make fried rice and meat dishes on the tabletop griddles. They also have a second location in Little Tokyo. 808 S. Western Ave., No. 207, Koreatown, (213) 380-3737; 333 S. Alameda St., Little Tokyo, (213) 625-0940 (no website).
BCD Tofu House
Since opening its original location on Western Avenue in 1996, BCD (short for Bukchang-dong, a neighborhood in Seoul) has expanded to over a dozen locations in the Southland, Washington, New York and New Jersey. The most popular is the one on Wilshire Boulevard, since it is open 24 hours. It's the perfect place for getting your soon dubu on when you want to stave off the next morning's hangover during those after-party wee hours. Theirs is available in 10 different flavors, including mandu (dumplings), dwenjang (fermented soybean paste) and intestines — it's clear that they're not trying to water it down for unadventurous palates. 3575 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, (213) 380-3807 and other locations, bcdtofu.com.