Sundubu-jjigae: What Is It, Where To Buy and How To Eat?

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Fall and winter are two cold seasons that require warm foods. One of these warm foods is stew, and it can be made in a variety of ways. 

Korean cuisine revolves around soups and stews due to their climate, and a stew they’re known for is sundubu-jjigae. 

Sundubu-jjigae is a stew originating from Korea. It’s made using extra soft tofu, and it has an option for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. 

It’s a very versatile dish, and unlike many other stews, it’s not as thick and heavy. Sundubu-jjigae is perfect for those looking for a warm meal they can customize to fit their personal preferences.

The rest of this article will cover what sundubu-jjigae is, how to eat it, and a brief conclusion.

What Sundubu-Jjigae Is

Sundubu-jjigae (순두부찌개) is a traditional Korean dish that has fresh and curdled tofu inside it. The tofu doesn’t get pressed or strained as to preserve the taste and enhance the stew. 

For the rest of the stew, there’s other, smaller ingredients added to give it its umami taste.

Mushrooms, onions, and optional choices like seafood and meat, are added into the jjigae. Jjigae (찌개) is Korean stew. 

Sundubu (순두부) is the word for mild tofu, with dubu (두부) meaning tofu, and sun (순) meaning pure in Korean.

There are more ingredients besides just vegetables. Oftentimes you’ll see a raw egg added to the top of it as a garnish. 

As a side dish, you’ll see a bowl of cooked rice served with the jjigae. There’s also gochujang (고추장), which is the Korean word for red chili paste.

There isn’t much history behind sundubu-jjigae since it’s not well-documented. 

From what little documentation historians have obtained, they’ve made assumptions that unpressed tofu began to spread in popularity during the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from 1392-1910. 

After the Korean War ended, American troops who returned from Korea brought home jjigae recipes, particularly dubu jjigae. In 1986, Monica Lee opened the first restaurant in the United States that specialized in sundubu-jjigae. This restaurant was located in Los Angeles.

Where To Buy Sundubu-Jjigae

In Korea, you can find sundubu-jjigae in restaurants. It’s a big stew dish, so you’ll want to go somewhere that specializes in stews. 

It’ll likely come with side dishes called banchan (반찬), and you can get it either by dining in, getting take-out, or ordering delivery.

You can find packaged sundubu-jjigae in convenience or grocery stores. They’ll be in containers you can buy and take back to your place. 

From there, you can put it in the microwave or stovetop and cook it until it’s at a temperature you like. You can also add ingredients to it.

Outside of Korea, you can still get sundubu-jjigae. The first option you have is to go to the closest Korean restaurant. 

Since it’s such a classic dish, you can find it at almost any Korean restaurant you go to. Go online, or call, to check the menu to see if the restaurant has it.

If you’re not interested in getting it from a restaurant, then there’s still two things you can try. For starters, go to your local grocery store. 

Ask a worker, or check for yourself, if there’s packaged sundubu-jjigae around. Some Korean restaurants sell packaged goods as well.

Packaged sundubu-jjigae isn’t as popular outside of Korea. If you’re having trouble, no worries. You have one more method: cooking it yourself. 

Using a recipe of your choice, go to your grocery store and pick up the ingredients you’ll need to make your own sundubu-jjigae.

How To Eat Sundubu-Jjigae

Stew is a very versatile cuisine that changes up its ingredients often. You can do the same by putting in and removing ingredients from your chosen stew. 

If you don’t want to make a drastic change like that, then try changing up your environment to make your experience more joyful.

To change up the ingredients, you should add meat and or seafood to the stew. The texture of the meat and or seafood will add a chewiness to the stew. 

If you’re someone who likes chewy food, then you should add a meat and or seafood of your choice to your meal.

Side dishes are a massive part of Korean culture. In South Korea, you’ll see them in every restaurant you go to. 

Fun fact: most Korean restaurants give you unlimited side dishes for free. That’s why you should make or order side dishes to go with your sundubu-jjigae.

The environment you eat your stew in is important to your enjoyment. Since it’s a comfort food, you should try eating it when it’s cold. 

It’s a warm dish that’s praised for how comforting it can be to others. That’s why you should try eating it whenever you’re cold and need energy.

Eating Sundubu-Jjigae With Meat And Seafood

If you like meat and or seafood, then you should add it to your stew. You can choose any meat you’d like to go with it, but the most common are beef and pork. 

Just like with meat, you can choose any seafood you’d like, but the common ones are clams, shrimp, oysters, and mussels.

Eating Sundubu-Jjigae With Side Dishes

Side dishes are the best way to invest yourself in Korean food culture. They’re influential all over the globe, and if you go to South Korea, you’ll have your fair share to eat. 

While having your sundubu-jjigae, you should try eating it with side dishes that compliment the stew.

Since there’s a lot of filling ingredients in the jjigae, you shouldn’t have side dishes that make you too full. You should stick with the basics and not go overboard. 

Although rice is always a great side dish, it does fill you up fast, so don’t be afraid to try other dishes too.

Here’s a small list of side dishes you can try with your sundubu-jjigae: beansprouts, bok choy, kelp noodle salad, spicy Korean coleslaw if you want a spicy taste, and sweet and salty soybeans.

Eating Sundubu-Jjigae When It’s Cold

After a long day in the cold, a stew is the perfect choice to warm your body up, replenish your nutrients, and comfort your mind. 

Sundubu-jjigae is a perfect choice because it’s known for being one of the most comforting comfort foods in South Korea.

Conclusion

In South Korea, there’s a stew called sundubu-jjigae that’s made from tofu. It’s a very versatile dish since it has options for meat lovers, vegetarians, and vegans. 

It’s not thick and heavy like other stews, so it’s perfect for those looking for a lighter stew that won’t overstuff them.

Sundubu-jjigae is a Korean dish with tofu that’s fresh and curdled, and isn’t pressed or strained so the taste is preserved. 

Its origin comes from the Joseon Dynasty, and as it evolved over time, American troops brought home jjigae recipes from Korea after the Korean War.

To eat sundubu-jjigae, you should change up the ingredients to include meat and seafood.

If you don’t like either of those things, then you should branch out and try new foods by eating jjigae with side dishes. Lastly, you should eat sundubu-jjigae in the cold weather for the most joy.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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