The Find: Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae
No matter what you order at Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae restaurants in Koreatown, whether it’s the ice-cold spicy noodles or the luscious raw oysters drizzled with tart chile-infused sauce and wrapped in soft cabbage leaves, you’ll be getting a generous side of soondae, the juicy, snappy-skinned blood sausage that’s one of Korea’s culinary obsessions.
The two restaurants are Koreatown’s newest shrines to soondae. At both places, the moist links are worked into stews, soups, appetizer platters — all designed to quell a nostalgia for the street-side hole-in-the-walls and tiny market stalls in Korea that craft the specialty.
Dozens of L.A.-area soondae shops turn out regional variants that differ as distinctly in texture and spicing as do New Jersey Rippers from Maine Red Snappers. Ask which soondae parlor is best and the answer depends on who you ask and where they’re from.
For the last 30 years at Ham Kyung Do Abai Soondae on Vermont Avenue, owner Jik Sim Kim has been making soondae in the Hamgyong style, stuffing her natural pork casing by hand daily. Eighth Street Soondae is another beloved K-town spot. Suburbanites can get their fix at Abbaee Wang Soondae in Buena Park, or the two-decade-old Seoul Soondae in Artesia and Garden Grove.
With the current mania for crispy pig’s ear and marrow bones, along with the hip-ification of nose-to-tail meat consumption, soondae could turn out to be the next pork belly. (It’s rumored that Kogi might offer it in hot dog buns.)
Western Soondae, open 24 hours a day, is a great introduction. The simple modern room has a party-time vibe even at high noon when it’s mobbed with office workers filling up on the bargain soondae soup. Late at night, post-clubbing packs of young dudes relax, ordering up shots of soju and beers to go with vast anju combo platters (Korea’s version of tapas) that feature soondae and Korean-style cold cuts. Or they’ll get bubbling pans of soondae bokum, a vibrant, lightly cooked stew of sausage chunks, vegetables and barely wilted perilla leaves that spurts volcanic sauce from its superheated iron plate.
Two phenomenal accompaniments are the crisp-edged potato pancake and the dandelion salad, a fresh-as-spring toss of leaves and vegetables, flawlessly dressed with a tart-sweet-salty sauce that plays spectacularly against the slight bitterness of the leaves. Both display the kitchen’s skill and the attention it pays to procuring ultra-fresh ingredients.
Worldly sausage mavens familiar with French boudin noir, German blutwurst, Spanish morcilla and the like find Western’s soondae a deliciously chewy revelation. Primarily sweet rice and clear potato-starch noodles, the ingredients are held together with a modicum of pork blood, spices and a bit of fat and barely deserves to be called blood sausage. Experienced soondae hands know to dip the sausage chunks into the chile-salt mixture or the briny saewoojeot, baby shrimp dipping sauce on the table.
Moobongri Soondae manager Mi-Sook Park, our server there one day at lunch, tells us that soondae wasn’t always a populist food. In times past, the wealthy made blood sausages with added meat, but then people started mixing the blood with rice and noodles to make a product that those of lesser means could enjoy.
Moobongri prepares its version with 17 herbs and spices.
It’s easy to order here. One wall is given over to backlit color illustrations of every dish. They include combination soondae plates, soondae bokum (for three or more people) and the classic soup, soondaekook.
The soup, a rich gamey broth, is scattered with bits of tongue, assorted other offal and loads of soondae slices that look a bit inflated, having soaked up lots of broth.
A soondaekook meal here follows a traditional ritual.
You take the whole-radish kimchi and cabbage kimchi from their large crocks on the table and cut them into bite-size portions. Next, you season the soup to taste, tossing in crushed mustard seed, sliced spring onions and tadegi, a dense, fiery crimson chile paste.
Moobongri Soondae has a series of semi-private rooms inherited from the former tenant, a shabu-shabu restaurant. Korean businesspeople always seem to gather there to do deals over platters and bowls of sausage as though they’d never left home.
543 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 389-5288.
Soup (small), $4.99; deluxe soup with sausage side, $10.99; soondae plate, $10.99; potato pancake, $7.99.
Open 24 hours daily. Visa and MasterCard. Alcohol. Lot and street parking.
2949 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 387-1600.
Soup (small), $5.99; soondae plates with cold cuts (sizes vary), $8.99 to $19.99; bokum (for 3 or more), $29.99.
Open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Visa and MasterCard. Alcohol. Lot and street parking.
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