Fort Lee, NJ 07024
February 2, 2015
Korean food is surging in popularity across New Jersey. For a signature Korean comfort food, head to Fort Lee for soft tofu stew.
At the literally-named Soft Tofu Restaurant (So Kong Dong, 소공동 순두부) on Main Street in Fort Lee a few blocks from the George Washington Bridge, customers happily line up for the house specialty – soft tofu stew (soondubu jjigae). If it’s busy, place your order while waiting for a table at this popular spot serving Bergen County’s large Korean community.
The soft tofu “soup” varieties include beef, pork and seafood. Every bowl can be ordered “white” (mild), medium, spicy or very spicy. (Warning: For the uninitiated, very spicy might be too much for the non-Korean palate.) My bowl of spicy beef and kimchi soft tofu was intense, with chili oil floating on the surface of the bubbling bowl. For only $10 a bowl, you get tea, traditional banchan (small plates of bean sprouts, kimchi and spicy pickles) and a heaping bowl of rice for the table. Then come the piping hot porcelain pots of silken tofu. Crack a raw egg in the bowl to thicken the heady broth flavored with dried anchovies, sea kelp and Korean red pepper. The steaming blend of soft tofu, spice and umami soup base can’t be beat on a cold winter evening in North Jersey.
If you need more food to accompany your soondubu, order a slab of sweet and succulent grilled Korean short ribs (kalbi). Use the meat scissors provided to cut them up, and eat the ribs with your fingers. Other than the tofu stews and short ribs, there isn’t much else on the menu here.
Another revelation for the EthnicNJ team here was the iced tea. We were expecting green tea, but the yellow tea served in water glasses with a mellow grainy flavor turned out to be made from roasted barley (boricha). After filling individual rice bowls, your server can pour some of the barley tea into the still hot serving bowl with crispy rice on the bottom so you can scoop out the resulting warm rice porridge, or congee.
Soft Tofu Restaurant has the feel of a rustic courtyard, with exposed beams and dark wood tables. Service is exceedingly efficient, given the crowds at dinner time. The restaurant is away from the street at the back of a very narrow parking lot. You may want to park in the street to avoid parking chaos.
The soondubu here is so delicious and satisfying, Soft Tofu Restaurant is now my top Korean recommendation.