I will preface this review by saying that I hold very high standards for Korean cuisine — we’re literally talking about home food, folks! Despite the relatively plentiful options of classic Korean dishes in Ithaca, I have not really found a place that rises above mediocrity; Ithaca’s Korean selections have yet to elicit a blissful grin of satisfaction from me and my fellow Korean friends.
Consequently, when SoPoong magically appeared in Collegetown, I just had to go check it out! I first passed by the newly opened restaurant, which says it offers “Kimbap & Korean Snacks Take Out,” a few days before my official visit, when I tried to peer inside its large and intriguingly foggy windows. I had been making a late trip to Kung Fu Tea with one of my friends, who not only informed me that SoPoong had sold out on its first night, but also encouraged me to give it a whirl.
Due to its relative newness — a business Facebook page was created just seven days ago — SoPoong has not had much coverage. A quick Google search for the restaurant amusingly reveals a single Google review from a (presumably) Korean woman named Jinju Ock, who gave the place five stars but left no comment! The only other public Google review Ock has made is for an owl cafe in Tokyo, Japan, so I cannot testify to her credibility as a food critic. More promisingly, SoPoong’s Yelp page revealed two five-star reviews that both enthusiastically endorse its kimbap and udon, so I ultimately made the visit to C-Town with much excitement!
Located next to Kung Fu Tea, SoPoong occupies a fairly small space. There is not much seating available, but the place was pretty empty during our early Monday lunch. My companion, who had already been to SoPoong multiple times, later informed me that it is usually super packed.
SoPoong is organized like an indoor street food stall; you wait in line, order, pay, pick up food at a booth and return to your table to lovingly devour it. The set-up actually reminded me of the countless bunsik (a catch-all term for inexpensive Korean food) vendors that line the streets of Seoul. Interestingly, the menu is only in English and romanized Korean, which was a bit confusing for me — I was definitely not used to having to read 유부 초밥 or 꼬마 김밥 as “yubu chobap” and “koma kimbap” — but I eventually decided to order the C3 combo of dduk bokgi and two rolls of koma kimbap. My friend chose to have a spicy tuna kimbap. I wanted to order one of the strikingly vibrant fruit smoothies they had a gorgeous picture of, but SoPoong only offers free water (but it’s filtered!) and a few different kinds of canned soda.
Service was actually very quick; it felt as if I did not wait at all. Although the dishes were not that visually appealing, I brought my tray back to our table with great anticipation. My dduk bokgi, to be frank, was bad. Although the rice cake and fish cake — dduk and odeng — were soft, the spicy dduk bokgi sauce did not stick to both, making every bite of the dish taste too bland. A bit deflated, I proceeded to try my two koma kimbap rolls; koma, which is the word for “tot,” is an accurate descriptor for the rolls — they were so tiny! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed them; I gobbled up everything in a handful of bites in the span of a few minutes. The pickled radish, which I usually dislike due to its strong taste, was detectable but not overpowering; the rice soft; the sausage not too salty and the seaweed tasty, clearly adorned with lots of sesame oil. I also had some of my friend’s spicy tuna kimbap — the main difference between the two dishes is the choice of the meat — and although it also did taste good, the tuna was a bit dry.
So poong (소풍) is the Korean word for a trip, picnic, outing or excursion; it implies that you are taking a short trip — the destination is often not far — with someone else. In Korean culture, so poong is usually associated with spending time with family or classmates, and a picnic outside is often accompanied by homemade kimbap rolls. As someone who has never really loved kimbap, I peculiarly enjoyed SoPoong’s versions! And although I’m not so sure about the other menu items, and the seating and presentation leave much to be desired, I do think I will be going back often, especially due to its inexpensive prices and speedy service. I truly hope the place is here to stay; more Korean options means a more satisfied Ruth. Overall, I do recommend trying SoPoong out — go on a so poong to SoPoong — but maybe take the food outside instead! When the sun is out, Libe Slope looks like a beautiful place to be happily munching on some kimbap with friends.
Serves: limited selection of Korean bunsik
Vibe: think Oishii Bowl but with less space and simple Korean food instead