29 (Tue) May 2012
Wanja & Pyeonyuk Ban-Ban
at Okcheon Goeup Naeng Myeon (옥천고읍냉면)
In the town of Okcheon, in every single restaurant serving the regional brand of mul naeng myeon (MNM) (see 3.005 Mul Naeng Myeon), the menu also offers this pork duo platter. The two items are usually listed as separate dishes, but smaller parties may request half orders of each; the term "ban-ban (반반)" just means "half-half."One half comprises wanja, a dish described in a prior post on Okcheon (see 1.261 Wanja).
The other half comprises pyeonyuk (편육), another classic Korean pork dish. Perhaps the simplest dish of all, it consists of pork, often pork belly (as here), boiled whole, usually in water seasoned in some way, sliced, and served with a simple dipping sauce, such as soy sauce or fermented shrimp paste. Northern in origin, pyeonyuk is a staple item at most northern-style restaurants throughout the south (see for example 2.201 Mandu Guk). Because it's so naked, as northern fare tends to be, the meat must be fresh and top quality. To kill/mask any lingering off-flavors, some restaurants add a trick ingredient to the boiling water, such as doenjang or ginger or ginseng or slivers of oak or some combination thereof, though too much would overwhelm the delicate porcine character and defeat the purpose of the dish.
At Okcheon Goeup Naeng Myeon, my favorite restaurant in the area, the pork platter is nonpareil. The wanja is perfectly seasoned and balanced, perfectly juicy and crispy and chewy. The pyeonyuk is perfectly pure, perfectly pristine, perfectly porky. It does not get any better than this. And at 13,000 won for the platter, a major bargain.
Lately, I've been shuttling back and forth from Seoul to Hoengseong, where construction on our ("our" = "my parents'") cabin is nearing completion. The trip, exactly 99.8 km door-to-door, takes me through Okcheon. Today was the wife's first visit to the site.
I've come to the conclusion that this MNM, recently given a 3.5 rating, also embodies perfection and thus deserves 4.0, though the wife insists that it's barely worth 2.0.