During lunch time, everyone in the office hurries out and populate the restaurants around the neighborhood, usually in groups or in pairs. But in this hot summer weather, everyone is just tempted to stay indoors and visit the restaurants within the building where long lines form because, well, nobody wants to go out and melt under the sun.
Today, for lunch, I'm craving for some hot tofu stew, or sundupu, even when it's sweltering out there. Yes, sundupu is a little bit spicy, but its spiciness doesn't overwhelm the whole stew; it complements the other flavors. At a restaurant near my office, there's one sundupu restaurant that serves this tofu stew with a variety of ingredients. You can order sundupu mixed with mandu (dumplings), or sundupu with oysters (a favorite!), sundupu with ham and cheese (really!) and a lot more.
I used to come to this sundupu restaurant with friends and colleagues, but the best way to enjoy the dish is....to go alone! Ha-ha-ha!
Yes, that's true. Well, I mean not alone during the busy lunch hour when everyone's rushed and speed-eating. On few occasions, I'd postpone my lunch till maybe after 1PM and go there and order my oyster sundupu. The Korean lady who owns this place actually knows me already, and sometimes correctly guesses what I'd order. And most of the time, she's right. Not that she's psychic; she just knows her regular customers. Ha-ha-ha!
And if you're eating by yourself, with fewer customers around and less noise, it's not exactly like 'You and me against the world'. Ha-ha-ha! It's you and your sundupu! Before eating, a raw egg is cracked and added to the stew before enjoying it, and usually the Korean lady owner does the cracking for me. Before, they used to have more raw eggs on the table so that you can decide on how many you want to add to it. These days, they're down to only one egg. It's either the restaurant wanted to cut costs, or the chickens are on vacation.
Each spoonful of the stew is now full of the rich thick flavor with spiciness that is just enough and is made even more interesting with the mix of onions, garlic and oils alongside the chunks of tofu and bits of that cooked egg. Since it's you alone with nobody else babbling or talking to distract your enjoyment, you concentrate your senses on this delight that not even browsing your Facebook page on your smartphone can diminish. Ha-ha-ha!
So, while I'm getting hungry on this hot summer day in Seoul, why don't we all head out and search for a good sundupu restaurant?