A Year to Learn Korean Cooking: Sundubu Jjigae

Today let’s learn about cooking sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) at home! This spicy Korean stew features soft tofu (두부), vegetables and protein (beef, pork, or seafood). Topping off this delicious stew is a cracked raw egg. Known for its spicy and savory flavor, sundubu jjigae has become a popular comfort food.

About the South of Seoul ‘A Year to Learn Korean Cooking’ Series

If you are familiar with the series, skip ahead to learn more about sundubu jjigae. Many of us live in South Korea for only a year. The time flies past faster than we can imagine. At South of Seoul, we decided to create a simple series that will offer 2-4 dishes to learn each month so that when you leave South Korea you have a slew of new dishes you feel comfortable making anywhere.

This series is a collaboration with Kimchi Rednecks. In 2020, they created the first blog in this series Online Resources for Learning to Cook Korean Food. These two love to have adventures in the kitchen and share the results with their community. Be sure to follow KimchiRednecks on YouTube for other great videos about living life in South Korea.

About Sundubu Jjigae 순두부찌개

Sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) is a Korean spicy stew consisting of soft tofu, vegetables, and traditionally includes a protein such as beef, pork, or seafood. The dish typically includes ingredients such as onions, garlic, mushrooms, zucchini, and green onions. Flavored with gochujang, gochugaru, soy sauce, and sesame oil, this dish is cooked and served in a hot stone pot (ttukbaegi 뚝배기).

Support Local Businesses and Local Ads

Soft tofu, also called silken tofu, is freshly curdled and has not been strained and pressed. Since it has a high moisture content, this tofu breaks very easily and makes it delicate when handling it or cooking it. Although you can purchase this tofu in either the cylindrical form or the standard tofu container, the cylindrical tofu is generally easier to control when cooking this dish.

The combination of ingredients, seasonings, and broth in sundubu jjigae creates a complex and satisfying flavor that is both spicy and savory. Also, the soft tofu in this dish adds a level of smooth and creamy consistency to the stew.

sundubu jjigae

Variations of Sundubu Jjigae 순두부찌개

There are many variations of sundubu jjigae. The differences are based on the ingredients and seasonings used. These are the most common variations:

  1. Seafood sundubu jjigae: uses seafood such as shrimp, clams, or squid in addition to the soft tofu and vegetables
  2. Beef sundubu jjigae: uses beef, either sliced or ground, along with the soft tofu and vegetables
  3. Kimchi sundubu jjigae: uses spicy and tangy kimchi which gives it a unique and bold flavor.
  4. Mushroom sundubu jjigae: uses various types of mushrooms, such as shiitake, enoki, or oyster mushrooms, along with the soft tofu and vegetables
  5. Cheese sundubu jjigae: A modern twist on this stew, using cheese, usually mozzarella, melted on top of the stew before serving.

Using different combinations of ingredients and seasonings, you can make your own variation of sundubu jjigae to suit your tastes.

sundubu jjigae

Our First Experience With Sundubu Jjigae

Sundubu jjigae is one of the stews that Chuck has loved for a long time. When we first came to Korea, my spice levels were still very low. The thought of cooking this for a meal for us or even trying it at a restaurant had me terrified. After many years of being in Korea and increasing the amount of spice that I can tolerate, I decided to attempt making it at home.

Our first attempt was a failure for us! It tasted perfect. However, when I added the tofu to the stew, I misunderstood the directions in the recipe and squeezed the tofu in through a small area where I had snipped at the tip. I was so mortified about how bad it looked that I refused to use the video. However, I was also motivated to try again. This time I understood that cutting the cylindrical tofu in half and then squeezing it into the stew would give the desired effect of soft pillowy clouds (instead of a chunky mess!) Even seasoned cooks can misunderstand directions in a recipe.

Biggest Hurdles Making Sundubu Jjigae

Sundubu jjigae is not a simple dish to make. Therefore, there are a few hurdles that you should be aware of before you attempt to make it at home.

Balancing Flavors in the Stock

First off, you want to achieve the right balance of flavors in the broth. Since this stew relies heavily on the flavor of the broth, there is a delicate balance to achieving the right level of spiciness, saltiness, and umami. While it can be challenging because you do not want the flavor of the broth to become too overpowering or too bland, following the recipe exactly should keep you on the right track. The dish will be the deeper red color if you use ground gochugaru instead of gochugaru flakes.

Cooking with Soft Tofu

Another challenge is cooking the soft tofu without breaking it apart. Soft tofu is very delicate and can easily fall apart during cooking, which can affect the texture of the stew. To prevent this, it’s important to handle the tofu gently and avoid stirring the stew too vigorously.

Timing for Adding Ingredients

Finally, timing is essential when making sundubu jjigae. Therefore, it is best to add the tofu towards the end of cooking. This will prevent overcooking and help to keep it from breaking apart. If you are adding the egg, it should be added last. If you allow it to bubble and sizzle for about a minute, it should not overcook. Remember, the egg yolk gets broken and mixed in to the stew to make it creamier. The egg does continue to cook a bit since the stew is served hot.

Three Recommended Sundubu Jjigae Videos to Watch

Are you ready to tackle the challenge of making sundubu jjigae at home? Here are three videos to inspire you to make your own! We like to include three perspectives on any dish that we present 1) a Korean chef making the dish in Korea, 2) a Korean chef making the dish in a foreign country (provides options for substitutions), and 3) foreign residents making the dish while living in South Korea. These three perspectives provide a broader look at cooking the dish so that you can understand how to adopt it into your lifestyle.

Korean Making Sundubu Jjigae

Korean American Making Sundubu Jjigae

Americans in Korea Making Sundubu Jjigae

Let Us Know How It Turned Out

When you make sundubu jjigae at home, be sure to leave a comment on this blog or our video. We would love to hear how your dish turned out. Also, we love to hear about your adventures and experiences cooking these dishes at home.

Follow KimchiRednecks

If you are looking for other dishes (Korean or otherwise) or reviews of local restaurants, be sure to check out the KimchiRednecks channel. We also share a little behind the scenes in or our social media accounts on Facebook or Instagram.

Join Pyeongtaek Food & Fun

If you live in the Pyeongtaek area, share your cooking experience with us in the Pyeongtaek Food & Fun Facebook group. 

Pyeongtaek Food and Fun Facebook Group

Read more in our Year to Learn Korean Cooking Series

A year to learn Korean cooking