• Daero Lee considers this Korean dish a childhood favourite. (Soul Dining)Source: Soul Dining
For Soul Dining's Daero Lee, dubu duruchigi is a balm: the spicy tofu dish sends him back to the warmth of his childhood home.
By
Candice Chung

28 Jul 2020 - 1:31 PM  UPDATED 12 Aug 2020 - 10:35 AM

Daero Lee started eating his first anju – Korean dish served with alcohol – at the tender age of eight. Not that he was drinking liquor then. His memory of anju is associated with late night TV-watching with his dad, when his mother would bring out a spicy tofu dish called dubu duruchigi – something he used to pick at while his father nursed a bottle of soju (Korean spirits) at the end of a long day.

“When you drink in Korea, there’s always some kind of food. A lot of the time people are drinking soju, which means you are drinking shots the whole time. So you need something to line your stomach,” he says and laughs.

A specialty in Lee’s hometown Daejeon, his mother’s take on dubu duruchigi is what turns it from an ordinary drinking dish to homey soul food. Slices of of pork belly are added to the spicy tofu for richness. The whole thing is cooked to a perfect level of soupiness with anchovy dashi, chilli powder and seasonal vegies. It is this version that Lee and his wife Illa Kim now make when their friends come over for drinks.

These childhood memories are also what informs Lee’s Sydney restaurant, Soul Dining in Surry Hills, where the contemporary Korean menu has roots that are more humble than the polished line-up might suggest.

Growing up, Lee’s family moved homes every two years or so. His father’s work as a truck driver meant the family travelled around the country regularly, ultimately expanding his young palate and instilling a love of adventure in him.

“Every school holiday, I would go and stay with Dad [while he worked], hanging around countryside Korea, tasting and trying many things,” he says.

“When you drink in Korea, there’s always some kind of food. A lot of the time people are drinking soju, which means you are drinking shots the whole time. So you need something to line your stomach.”

A dish like the abalone risotto at Soul Dining comes from memories of road trips to Jeju Island, a volcanic, seafood-rich haven that’s beloved by hikers and overseas tourists. “Every winter, my father would drive and [bring supplies] to the island. The seafood is good and cheap and when we went there on holiday, I used to eat abalone congee (jeonbokjuk) for breakfast.”

Likewise, he drew inspiration from classic Korean soul food like braised beef ribs (galbi jjim). “Every Moon Festival (Chuseok) or Lunar New Year, friends and family would come together and there’s always beef short rib. It’s made with lots of vegetables like daikon and carrots, braised until the meat is tender and falling apart.”

At Soul Dining, his version is cooked for 12 hours in a sous-vide water bath and the galbi sauce swapped for a jus. Oh, and it’s served with potato pavé. Not exactly what you’d call traditional. But it’s the essence of what brought him joy as a child that he wants to recreate – only given a new spin with some fine-dining techniques.

“To me, Korean soul food means family,” says Lee. It means memories of sitting at the table with his parents, sharing a familiar dish even while the scenery changed around him.

When he first started working in Australia as a young chef, it was that sense of familiarity that he craved. One night, exhausted from a long shift and and days of midnight finishes, his wife Illa sat him down at the dining table and reappeared from the kitchen with a casserole.

“I have a surprise for you,” she’d said. When she lifted the lid, it was a steaming pot of dubu duruchigi. Having grown up in big cities – Seoul, and later in Berlin – she had never tasted the regional dish. But with her imagination and some help from Naver (Korean’s version of Google), she managed to piece together Lee’s favourite childhood dish.

It was a balm for his overworked soul. “To this day, when I’m eating the dish, I remember our old house, the television, I remember the piano my mum used to have,” he says. And it’s that warm, transporting feeling that gives soul food of all kinds that little extra magic.

 

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Dubu duruchigi

Long version [short version below]

Serves 4

  • 500 g Korean tofu
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 300 g pork belly or neck, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 chilli
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • Korean sesame oil, to drizzle

Dashi

  • 1 sheet dry kelp (10 cm x 10 cm)
  • 10 dried anchovies
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms

Sauce

  • 2 tbsp Korean chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp Korean chilli paste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp green plum syrup
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  1. Make the dashi by adding 4 cups of boiling water to the dried ingredients. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Keep dashi for later.
  2. Cut tofu into 1.5cm-thick slices, leave on paper towels to dry out and season with salt and pepper to remove moisture.
  3. To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Marinate pork with sauce.
  4. Slice onion, shallots and chilli into 1cm-thick pieces.
  5. Place a high-rim frying pan over low heat, add oil and fry tofu, sealing both sides until a little golden. Put tofu aside.
  6. In a pot over medium-high heat, stir-fry marinated pork meat and onion, shallots and chilli. When halfway cooked (around 2 minutes), add 1 cup of dashi and allow to boil.
  7. Add tofu to the pot, then add the leftover dashi.
  8. Braise until the tofu soaks up the sauce. If necessary, season to taste.
  9. Finish with a drop of Korean sesame seed oil and place in a bowl.
  10. Serve with steamed rice and a glass of soju.

 

Short version

Serves 4

  • 500 g Korean tofu
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 300 g pork belly or neck, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 chilli
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • Korean sesame oil, to drizzle

Sauce

  • 2 tbsp Korean chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp Korean chilli paste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp green plum syrup
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic

1. Cut tofu into 1.5cm-thick slices, leave on paper towels to dry out and season with salt and pepper to remove moisture.
2. To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Marinate pork with sauce.
3. Slice onion, shallots, chilli into 1cm-thick pieces.
4. In a pot over medium-high heat, stir-fry marinated pork meat and onion, shallots and chilli. When halfway cooked (around 2 minutes), add 1 cup of dashi and allow to boil.
5. Add tofu on the top of the meat and add more water – the tofu should be completely submerged in water.
6. Braise until the tofu soaks up the sauce. If necessary, season to taste.
7. Finish with a drop of Korean sesame seed oil and place in a bowl.
8. Serve with steamed rice and a glass of soju.

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Kimchi

Kimchi is a classic Korean pickle that can be made from just about any vegetable. This one uses wombok (Chinese cabbage) and is pungent and addictive.

Braised short ribs (galbi jjim)

Known as galbi jjim, this popular Korean dish is made for special occasions, typically served for guests or eaten on holidays such as Chuseok, the autumn harvest festival, as short ribs were traditionally very expensive. Unlike Western stews, galbi jjim's ingredients are meant to stay intact during cooking, with ‘jjim’ loosely translating as ‘steamed’. The grated nashi pear lends an underlying sweetness and is believed to help tenderise the beef. In aristocratic households, the ribs were once dressed with the five imperial colours (blue, yellow, red, white and black) to indicate wealth and prosperity.

Stir-fried spicy chicken with rice cakes (dak galbi)