Beat the heat with icy soup
Hankook Tofu House
Hankook Tofu House9521 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95827
Have you ever had soup with ice in it? Not a cold soup like gazpacho. I’m talking broth full of actual pieces of ice. As we stare into the face of our 47th over-90-degree day and suffer through daily tweets from Cheeto Satan denying that global warming is a thing, we can all cool off with an icy Korean soup called naengmyeon. Summers in Korea are hot and humid, but apparently this soup, which is quite popular in North Korea, is commonly eaten in the winter.
Hankook Tofu House serves an excellent version of naengmyeon, which is offered on their short “seasonal menu” with a large side of sliced beef short ribs ($22.99) or on its own ($11.99). With broth, it’s served with a pretty wedge of watermelon and half of a hard-boiled egg, with a pair of scissors for cutting the buckwheat noodles and a tube of wasabi. The broth didn’t need any of the additional vinegar I was offered: It was tart and refreshing enough on its own. The side of sweet and fatty, thin-sliced ribs was devoured all-too-soon. This surprising dish is a must-try for any culinary adventurer.
Also a must-try at Hankook? The tofu soups. This signature dish seems to have improved since SN&R’s first review in 2015. Not surprising for a “tofu house,” these soups comprise the largest section on the menu. The seafood tofu soup ($10.99) was swimming with cuteness: wittle baby clams, jaunty pink, shell-on shrimp, teeny purple squid tentacles. It came out roiling like hot lava in its stone bowl, and “spicy” was almost too spicy, especially when intensified by the hot temperature. The custardy tofu melted to the bottom and soaked up all the flavors to yield delicious last bites. A tangy flavor permeated a bowl of kimchi and mushroom tofu soup ($10.99), to which the mushroom contributed an earthy undertone. But the seafood soup is the one that lingered in my mind.
As with most Korean restaurants, the memorable seafood soup and every other dish are preceded by a parade of complimentary tidbits known as banchan. This bonanza is my favorite thing about Korean food, and I watched a couple—who said they were new to Korean—marvel as it was presented. It is a truly generous custom. Seasonal touches, such as lightly pickled-and-salted cucumber and sweet, chili-laced hunks of zucchini were reflected here as well as on the seasonal menu. I like my kimchi spicier, and the cold bean sprout and noodle banchan were booorrrring, but the sweet, cold fish cake, umami-bomb dried seaweed dish and sliced cheongpo-muk (mung bean jelly) were better. The server shared that the pleasing texture of the cheongpo-muk (she termed it “Korean jello”) could be attributed to eight hours of stirring and thus “can’t be made every day.”
The pan-fried pork dumplings ($10.99) could have used a bit of this labor of love; they were dried-out and sad. The bimbimbap ($9.99) fell in the middle of the pack from what one finds at other Sacramento Korean spots. The addition of enoki mushrooms and copious greens elevated this healthful dish, and the price is right for a meal with three food groups.
The banchan at Hankook is not as creative as that at Pine Tree House, and it lacks the funky, late-night ambiance of Sa Rang Bang, but it’s the spot to hit for soups that are either served boiling and bubbling or on ice; they can keep you refreshed in the summer and warm in the winter.