Korean blood sausage from this week’s District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Seoul Soondae ties together all the details you’d expect from a restaurant of its age: maroon booths buffed to a dull, diner-like sheen, regulars intimating orders with little more than a nod of the head. Seoul Soondae, after all, has been around for 20 years, helping to define the Korean cooking of Artesia and Cerritos long before the cuisine got upscaled and exported to places like Beverly Hills. Every aspect of the place seems a constant—the communal copy of the Korea Daily, the seasonal colds nursed over pots of steaming soup—but if there’s one fact that remains as true as ever, it’s that Seoul Soondae is as much a front as it is a restaurant, an expertly designed vehicle to sell sausage.
Soondae (Korean blood sausage) jiggles its way into half of the restaurant’s dishes. The chubby links—colored something between a bruised shade of purple and a hamburger-like brown—are even available vacuum-sealed for the home cook. At the restaurant, the sausages are served in soups, stir-fries and, of course, by themselves, plated up with as much pride as any of the finest charcuterie. And like a lot of these meats, soondae’s ingredients can act as an appetite suppressant: Inside its intestinal casing is rice, strands of sweet potato vermicelli and pig’s blood. But focus only on the flavor, and it’s a pleasure.
Because it’s steamed (or boiled if you buy those take-home sausages), soondae is somewhat temperamental, requiring quick service to maintain its tenderness. Either cooking technique leads to deceptively soft links—they’re spongy in a way that might remind you of chocolate cake just out of the oven. It’s because of this delicacy, however, that the restaurant is forced to cook at a constant quality, sending out its soondae dishes with a necessary speed and precision.
Preceding any soondae plate is banchan, a series of miniature side dishes that kicks off nearly all Korean meals. At Seoul Soondae, it’s a simple duo of kimchi: layers of still-crisp cabbage and cubes of even crisper radish, both of which are packed with enough spice to provide a proper prelude to whatever meal you choose.
Other than a whole plateful of the sausage, the most-ordered soondae dish might just be soondae gook, a noodle soup crowded with not just soondae, but all sorts of other lesser-eaten pork parts. The soondae can get lost among the rest of the offal, but it’s still a crucial ingredient in the soup—hearty and a bit herbaceous with an almost indistinguishable heat.
Soondae bokkum is a more accessible preparation: a vegetable stir-fry (think broccoli and carrots) studded with slices of soondae. Because of this simple pairing, soondae bokkum is one of the best dishes with which to actually enjoy the sausage’s indiscriminately meaty flavor, as the vegetables neither overshadow the sausage nor leave it unaccompanied.
Though soondae takes up half the menu here, there are other options. For the less adventurous, there’s sullung tang, an easy-eating noodle soup of sweet potato vermicelli and shaved strips of beef. Sullung tang is a cloudy bowl—a milky-looking broth extracted from ox bones boiled down for hours—and tastes just as light. The soup is bland at first, but it perks up with a trio of seasonings: chopped green onions, salt and pepper. Finding the appropriate balance of all three can be as tough a task as alchemy, but if you do, sullung tang shines.
Even if you eat around Seoul Soondae’s blood sausage, it’s impossible to avoid. Soondae is all around you here: in the oversized photos stuck to the walls, on plates being whisked out of the kitchen and, quite possibly, even on your own table. And so to those hoping to ignore the sanguine sausages: Give up and give in.
SEOUL SOONDAE 11750 ARTESIA BLVD | ARTESIA 90701 | 562.865.5799 | SEOULSOONDAE.NET | OPEN MON-SAT 10AM-9:30PM | FOOD FOR TWO $15-25