Dinner at So Kong Dong.

For months, my friend Joann had been saying to me, “When you come to New York, let’s get some tofu stew.”  Generally, I’d make some sort of noncommittal response, but on this last trip I decided the time for stew (sundubu jjigae) had come.  After spending the afternoon at Storm King, Keith and I picked Joann up for a ride into Fort Lee, the New Jersey town nestled against the on-ramp to the George Washington Bridge.

I don’t know how it came about, but Fort Lee (Bergen County in general) has a huge Asian population; in fact, a large percentage are of Korean descent, so it’s no surprise that the city and its neighboring towns are home to several Korean restaurants and Asian markets.  Knowing this, I probably shouldn’t have been taken aback when Joann told me that there would be long line outside of So Kong Dong, her favorite tofu stew restaurant.

“FYI,” she typed in an email, “Saturday night at dinner time… there will be a wait, so earlier the better.”

She wasn’t kidding.

So Kong Dong is set slightly back off of Main Street in Fort Lee; when we arrived right after seven o’clock, the restaurant’s parking lot was full of people killing time before their table number was called.  However, instead of just allowing their patrons to mill about aimlessly, the folks at So Kong Dong circulate menus and take orders; when a party finally does sit down, their food is brought to them mere minutes later.

Once we were seated, the servers unloaded a tray laden with snacks onto our table.  There were several different types of kimchi; I was only able to eat the nabak kimchi, a cold kimchi soup of sorts, as the others were far to hot (not in temperature — the other kind of hot!) for me to handle.  We also received a plate of sprouts called kongnamul, which were dressed in sesame oil and served with scallions and carrots.  I was starving by the time we got to our table, so I inhaled almost everything placed in front of me.

When we had placed our order in the parking lot, I had requested the seafood beef tofu stew; it would be comprised of clams, some shrimp, oyster and dollops of ground beef, all floating in the broth with large chunks of silken tofu ($8.00).  The menu — which is very small, with perhaps only seven or eight listed — lists the five different levels of heat available: not spicy, not too spicy, medium hot, hot and very hot.  I requested “not too spicy,” which Joann said would be “barely pink.”  Both she and Keith chose the “hot” option; their soups were a brilliant fiery red.  Once we had our earthenware bowls in front of us, we each took a raw egg and cracked it into the soup; when it is stirred quickly into the broth it adds a nice, thick texture. 

As you can see from the photo, tofu stew is served steaming hot — so hot, in fact, that Joann and I dumped what was left of our nabak kimchi into empty snack plates and transferred our stew bit by bit to the smaller, cooler bowls.  Keith, on the other hand, bravely ate directly from his massive boiling bowl.  Even after several minutes, the stew remained hot as ever.  I ended up alternating bites of rice with slurps of soup and still found myself perspiring.

I really regret not taking Joann up on her offer of sundubu sooner.  The stew was incredibly hearty, immensely flavorful and the portions ridiculously large.  Afterward, we went to see Tropic Thunder and I could feel my dinner sitting square in the center of my stomach; it was so solid, it was as if a toastily full-bodied cat had curled up under my T-shirt to take a nap.  I can’t think of another dish that could possibly be a better culinary equivalent of the warm and fuzzies than this.

So Kong Dong
130 Main Street
Fort Lee, New Jersey 07024

So Kong Dong on Urbanspoon

Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews.

After reading V.C. Andrews‘s Flowers in the Attic for book club, I found myself practically dying of curiosity to discover what fate had in store for the surviving Dollanganger children.  I mean, after enduring three years in an attic (not to mention incest, possible rape, poison, religion, tarring, whipping, hair-pulling and Bible-thumping), what could Christopher, Cathy and Carrie possibly have left to face?

A lot, apparently.

Petals on the Wind picks up right where Flowers in the Attic left off, with the three Dollangangers riding a bus en route to Sarasota.  During the trip, the youngest child, Carrie, gets violently ill; a fellow passenger (who, strangely, happens to be a mute) brings them to the home of Dr. Paul Sheffield, for whom she works as a housekeeper.  Of course, Paul decides to adopt the children as his wards once he hears their story, and of course he falls madly in love with Cathy, who each day grows to be more and more beautiful, of course.  Then, of course, there is a seduction (it wouldn’t be V.C. Andrews without a handful sprinkled here and there, as liberally as arsenic on doughnuts) even though Cathy is a teenager and Paul is in his forties.  If that wasn’t enough, there’s a gorgeous (of course) ballet dancer vying for Cathy’s attention, and a brash and possessive attorney, who also happens to be the Dollanganger’s stepfather (of course).  Oh, and Chris is still desperately and sinfully in love with his sister, of course, who, by the end of the book, is in her thirties and the mother of two children by different fathers.  I won’t wreck it for you by saying what their parentage is.

Trust me, I’m not making any of this up.  In fact, when I was waiting for Keith to pick me up this past Friday after work, I was that odd person cackling to herself as she sat outside of Dunkin’ Donuts while reading a book.  How could I not, having read lines such as these?

I was fifteen.  The year was 1960, and it was November.  I wanted everything, needed everything, and I was so terribly afraid I’d never in my life find enough to make up for what I had already lost.  I sat tense, ready to scream if one more bad thing happened.  Like a coiled fuse attached to a time bomb, I knew that sooner or later I would explode and bring down all those who lived in Foxworth Hall!

…I wanted something…fanciful — and a mountain of it!  I wanted all my star-filled dreams of love and romance to be fulfilled — on the stage, where I’d be the world’s most famous prima balleria; nothing less would do!  That would show Momma!

Damn you, Momma!  I hope Foxworth Halls burns to the ground!  I hope you never sleep a comfortable night in that grand swan bed, never again!  I hope your young husband finds a mistress younger and more beautiful than you!  I hope he gives you the hell you deserve!

That’s not even the worst of it.  Like I said, I don’t want to wreck it for you.

On a side note, what is it about V.C. Andrews that gets readers going?  When they heard book club and I were reading Flowers in the Attic, I got three back-to-back emails (or IMs) about the author and related remembrances.

Oh, I was one of the many broads our age obsessed with V.C. Andrews as an early teen. You will be RAVENOUS for the book after Flowers in the Attic even though it’s not as good.  Seriously terrible writing, but it’s kind of like Stephen King — you can’t deny that you’re impressed with the outrageousness of plot.

— Marcella

I never read it, but I remember in seventh grade the girls on the bus would read it and get to really scandalous sections and then read them out loud.  It was awesome.

— Ben

Maybe it was high school that I read Flowers in the Attic. I went through a V.C. Andrews phase, but some of them are pretty disturbing.  I think I saw it on TV once too.  Listen for the woman singing in the opening…  still creeps me out to this day.

— Joann

Anyone else willing to share?