First Look: Seoul Tofu House
Warm up to roiling hot and spicy soondubu at this new Waikīkī spot.
Seafood soondubu set
Photos: Martha Cheng
“On the east coast of Korea there is a village called ‘Chodang,’ where Soondubu was very popular,” begins the fairy-talelike telling in Seoul Tofu House’s menu—the only thing missing is the “Once upon a time.” “Soonja Kim was born and raised in this village. Every morning she made and sold soondubu to support her family. Using the seawater from in front of her home as a base for the soup, her soondubu quickly became a favorite amongst the villagers.”
Her granddaughter, Min Kim, inherited her recipe, and today, as the menu tells it, Soonja’s soondubu, a soft tofu stew, lives on at Seoul Tofu House. It is indeed a good one, the seafood soondubu ($13.99) arriving as a roiling, rich red broth that tastes as if a dozen shrimp and their friends sacrificed their lives to deliver the ocean’s magical essence in a single spoonful.
Spicy sauce poke soba
At Seoul Tofu House, which opened in late January, there are 11 soondubu varieties ranging from the expected, such as the kim chee or vegetables-only versions, to the fantastical, like the ham and cheese or curry soondubu (all $13.99). “I’ve never seen that anywhere else,” says owner David Kang. He is a partner at Yudulkini Corp.—the name means eight meals in Korean—which owns 25 restaurants in South Korea ranging from burger joints to traditional Korean restaurants. Min Kim is the group’s corporate chef and Seoul Tofu House is Yudulkini’s first soondubu restaurant. Kang decided to bring Kim’s soondubu recipe across the sea to Hawai‘i, enchanted by the five years he spent here as an exchange student in high school. “I always wanted to come back,” Kang says. “After I had my son, I was looking backwards—I want my son to experience what I did.” He landed on the soondubu concept, thinking “all Korean people like soondubu, and Chinese, and Japanese.” He added the other unusual soondubu, including one without spice, "to attract more foreigners."
It’s perhaps for these foreigners that another page in the menu extols tofu’s supposed virtues, like a prince wooing a princess: the romantic attributes include “prevents cancer” and “relief from menopausal symptoms” and more. Call me an ogre, but I’m not so swayed; no matter, the tofu itself is silky soft, the stuff wedding dreams are made of.
Grilled Short Rib Patties Set
Joining the soondubu are a cast of characters including the spicy sauce poke soba ($16.95), with raw cubes of ‘ahi tossed with a kochujang-tinged sauce and thin, chewy Korean buckwheat noodles. The barbecue dishes include chicken and cheese ($24.50 for a set/$20.50 a la carte) and grilled short rib patties ($20.25/$15.25), like mini Korean-flavored hamburgers minus the buns. Kang says he wanted to offer Korean barbecue dishes that you didn’t have to cook yourself at the table. “So it doesn’t smell bad after you eat barbecue. We want customers to experience a more pleasant and neat restaurant.”
Dreams, perhaps, for a tidy happily ever after.
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., 2299 Kūhiō Ave. Space C (under the Laylow), (808) 376-0018, seoultofuhouse.business.site