So Kong Dong
130 Main Street
Ft. Lee, NJ
We learned after grilling Mike from Yonkers that his choice of So Kong Dong, a Korean “soft tofu” place in Fort Lee, New Jerseey was one he had frequented often. Not a risky discovery, but we had no restrictions that a choice had to be one that was virgin territory. But why would Mike from Yonkers be spending time in Fort Lee, New Jersey ?
“Taekwondo,” he blurted, as if that really meant anything to us. We knew he and Gerry are taekwondo students and masters of that Korean martial arts form. So that meant because of the taekwondo connection he obviously knew of the Korean restaurants in Fort Lee, New Jersey, of which there are many.
“My bank is here,” he admitted after being pressed further. Again, that could have led to many more questions such as why would Mike from Yonkers, New York be banking in Fort Lee, New Jersey? None of us, however, choose to continue our inquisition; we were all too happy with the end result of his decision and that was really what mattered most to us.
Anytime we have to go to New Jersey, usually at Gerry’s behest, we worry about traffic complications. But on this evening, Zio and I cruised effortlessly across the George Washington Bridge. We hit minor trouble when, thanks to the incoherent mumblings of the female voice of my GPS, we headed in the opposite direction of Fort Lee on the Palisades Parkway. We quickly got back on track and again, what she was directing me to do and what the map was showing were not in sync.
“Make a U-turn ahead. Make a U-turn ahead,” she blabbered as if it were easy to make a U-turn on a winding, hilly road. Finally, we righted ourselves, shut the bitch up by turning off the useless device, and found So Kong Dong, the pillars of the George Washington Bridge visible from the restaurant’s small parking lot.
I pulled into a municipal parking lot across Main Street from the restaurant just as Gerry and Eugene arrived. Eugene muttered that Mike from Yonkers would have to deduct the bridge toll and the parking from his share of that night’s dinner. When we told Mike from Yonkers of his obligation, he responded that by filling up our gas tanks in New Jersey, which both Eugene and I did, that we would actually be saving money, or at worst, break even, on the cost of getting to the appointed restaurant.
So Kong Dong was spacious with rows of wooden tables and Korean artifacts on the walls that no one could identify. The menu also served as a place mat and was limited to just nine varieties of tofu soup along with Korean bbq ribs. None of the soups were over $9 while the platter of ribs was $15, all well within our $20 per person budget.
Eugene suggested a kangaroo court to decide Rick’s fate since he was late. But before we had to actually figure out what goes on in a kangaroo court, Rick appeared and all of us ordered.
“Seafood tofu,” Eugene blurted out to the hovering waiter.
“How spicy?” the waiter asked.
We weren’t sure how So Kong Dong’s heat meter rated in our own spice universe. We looked to Mike from Yonkers for guidance.
“I usually get it hot,” he said. As opposed to the other options offered: “not spicy, not too spicy, medium hot or very hot.”
The waiter glanced at Gerry.
“Seafood tofu,” Gerry ordered.
And then to Rick
“Seafood tofu,” he said.
I was next.
“Seafood tofu,” I mumbled into my hand as the waiter scribbled.
Breaking the monotony, Zio went for the pork tofu and, with a knowing grin; Mike from Yonkers ordered the oyster tofu. “I always get the oyster tofu,” he said without any further explanation. We added two orders of the ribs and our waiter departed.
A few moments’ later bowls of Korean condiments began to assemble on our table; kim chee, bean sprouts, spicy pickles, cold cabbage soup, and six raw eggs. “You crack them into the soup,” said the soft tofu wizened, Mike from Yonkers.
And then the ribs arrived. Layers of thinly sliced beef short ribs in a slightly sweet marinade complete with huge scissors, resembling garden shears, to cut them up and portion them out to the members of our now salivating party.
Before we could finish with the ribs, the bowls of soup began to crowd our table. Each was bubbling; still boiling hot from the kitchen. As our waiter placed our bowls in front of us, I watched as the soup continued to bubble. How could it continue to bubble so long after coming off the flame? I tried to wait; to give it more time to cool, but I’m an impatient eater. I scooped some into my spoon, blew on it and then tentatively sipped. It had cooled down enough, or so I thought, not to have seared the inside of my mouth and was able to swallow it. The soup was fiery and loaded with shrimp, oysters, and clams. I cracked the egg into it and, as Mike from Yonkers instructed, stirred it before it turned into one solid hard boiled egg yolk. I also added rice into the soup in hopes that would also bring the temperature down, and it did, but not by much.
There wasn’t much conversation as we worked through the soup, intermittently draining our spice assaulted sinuses into the much too thin paper napkins we were administered, and, as usual, Mike from Yonkers trailed behind all of us, methodically spooning his soup into his bowl of rice instead of vice versa as I was doing. Some secrets of soft tofu, he obviously wasn’t willing to share.
Dessert was a stick of gum that held its flavor for less than five minutes. We all praised Mike from Yonkers for his choice but the next day, thinking I had escaped burn damage, realized there were blisters throughout the insides of my mouth, under my tongue, wherever the blistering soup touched. The mutilation of my mouth notwithstanding, if I’m ever “banking” in Ft. Lee, I won’t hesitate to return for another chance at a bowl of soft tofu.