4.154 The Nampo Myeonok MNM: Seoul-Searching for Pyongyang-Style Perfection (2)

-Cycle 4, Item 154-
8 (Sat) June 2013

(Mul) Naeng Myeon


at Nampo Myeonok

-Da-Dong, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, Ian

I'm on a mission to determine Seoul's best representative of Pyongyang-style (PYS) mul naeng myeon (MNM).  The idea was inspired by a 2011 newspaper article that I recently saw (see 4.141 Mul Naeng Myeon) featuring customer surveys on the most popular MNM joints in the city, including 8 that reportedly do the dish à la Pyongyang; I'll start with those.

This is the 2nd restaurant, in no particular order, to be reviewed (see previously 4.148 The Pil-Dong Myeonok MNM...).  Actually, we'd gone to Woo Lae Oak at first, but they were so crowded that we decided to go elsewhere.  

Nampo Myeonok is a landmark restaurant, at least by virtue of longevity.  It's been around for decades, still housed in a traditional Korean building, nestled in a back alley in the old part of the city.  The menu is vaguely northern in composition, along with some mainstream items thrown in for good measure.  However, as embodied by the kitschy/ersatz antique knickknacks lining the walls and hanging from the rafters, the food seemed like cheap copies of the real deal, like the pseudo-rustic fare at a folk village food court.  Bogus, blah, bland, banal.  Even their signature dongchimi (white radish kimchi in broth), which may or may not comprise part of the MNM broth, though it is given as a complimentary side dish (see below), was awful.  The prices weren't cheap--for example, the bulgogi came at an outrageous 24,000 won for 150 grams, a minimum order of 2 (see for comparison 1.325 Bulgogi).  I can't believe that the place has remained in business for so long.

Upon entering the establishment, customers are greeted by the sight of these kettles half-submerged into the ground, supposedly filled with dongchimi (see more below), each labeled with a month and year to show everyone how exactingly old school the restaurant's aging methods are--for all anyone knows, those could just be lids with nothing underneath; in fact, unless the lids uncover pipes leading to immense vats elsewhere, the kettles here couldn't possibly hold enough dongchimi to last a single week.

Ironically, the sign proclaims: "customer is king."

Here, by definition, "naeng myeon" = "MNM," while "bibim naeng myeon" is listed separately.

The tasting process: (i) two sips of broth; (ii) two bites of noodles; (iii) two bites of noodles with various toppings; (iv) another sip of broth; (v) another bite of noodles; and, if necessary, (vi) another sip of broth following an adjustments with vinegar and/or mustard, although the necessity of any such adjustment probably means that the game is already lost.

BROTH.  No beef flavor whatsoever.  Bitter aftertaste, vaguely herbaceous, like canned green tea.  Maybe crappy dongchimi was partly responsible.  At least it was neither sweet nor sour, the only characteristic that might qualify this as "PYS."  Then again, to counteract the bitterness, I was forced to add liberal amounts of vinegar--which I rarely do, as most PYS enthusiasts don't--so it turned out sour in the end.

NOODLES.  Totally devoid of buckwheat flavor.  Tasted a bit artificial.  Thin and rubbery, almost to the point of Hamheung-style, necessitating a few snips of the scissors before they could be handled.

TOPPINGS.   Sliced beef, sliced pork belly, boiled egg (half), salted cucumber, pickled radish, julienned Asian pear.  The pork belly was kinda gross because the cold fat felt waxy.

CONCLUSION.  I can't believe that anyone would consider the MNM here to be good, much less PYS.  Granted, as objective as I try to be in every post, this scathing review and low rating are probably influenced by my higher personal standards for MNM, especially those purporting to be PYS.  But the MNM here was perhaps even inferior to the crap provided at cheap barbecue restaurants for 2,000 won.  If Nampo Myeonok could make the list with garbage like this--granted, it was ranked last--I have to question whether I should even continue reviewing the other places on the list.

PRICE.  11,000 won + (an unbelievable) 7,000 won for a double order (gobbaegi (곱배기)) or extra noodles after the fact (sari (사리))

HOURS.  11:30 - 22:00; closed on national holidays

CONTACT INFO.  Seoul Jung-Gu Da-Dong 125 (서울시 중구 다동 125); (02) 777-2269

These points will be summarized, maybe in a chart of some sort, once I'm done reviewing all the restaurants.

These pathetic side dishes were on par with a neighborhood BBQ joint (see for example 4.140 The VIP Cut).

That's 48,000 won worth of bogus/blah/bland/banal bulgogi (1.5).

The Cusp of Conception (I swear, I didn't arrange them like this): this complimentary broth is the restaurant's signature dongchimi.

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