4.207 (Mul) Naeng Myeon

-Cycle 4, Item 207-
31 (Wed) July 2013

(Mul) Naeng Myeon


at Pyeonggaok

-Bundang, Gyeonggi-


This used to be one of my favorite restaurants for northern-style Korean food (see most recently 2.088 Tojong Dak Oban).  After awhile, however, the crowds got to be too much during peak hours.  Indeed, business got to be so good, apparently, that the restaurant moved to a brand new building a couple blocks away, even though it feels even smaller than before.   As I began finding other northerly establishments closer to home, also crowded but close enough to allow for visits off peak, I stopped going to Pyeonggaok altogether.  

More than two years later, I've ventured a return visit to review their Pyongyang-Style (PYS) mul naeng myeon (MNM) in light of my on-going exploration of the subject (see generally 4.184 The Eulmildae MNM...).  I did feature the MNM here in a prior post, if vaguely (see 2.065 Mul Naeng Myeon).  This time, I sampled the dish de novo with a more critical/clinical mindset.

Next time, if ever, I'll try to get a shot with better lighting.

On my way home from work, at 9:30PM, 30 minutes before closing, I called the restaurant from the road to confirm that they'd be serving upon my arrival in a few minutes.  As the kitchen was then closing up, the woman asked me for my order over the phone.  When I arrived, at 9:45PM, the food was waiting for me.  I got the last empty table in the house.    

Classic northern menu.

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 additions of vinegar and/or mustard, although the necessity of any such adjustment probably means that the game is already lost.

Complimentary side dishes include [clockwise from top left]: pickled radish, northern-style kimchi (less spice), and oiji--all excellent, especially the oiji.  

BROTH.  Dry.  But not beefy, at least not like the "beefy" at the other places.  Light and clean, almost like chicken broth.  Even the color was kinda yellowish.  To the last drop, I couldn't quite place the flavor.  When I asked the manager, she claimed that it's 100% beef.  In any case, pretty good. 

NOODLES.  Scant buckwheat flavor.  Firm.  Not at all grainy.  But passable.  

TOPPINGS.  Sliced beef + pork belly (ick), pickled cucumber (nice), pickled radish, julienned pear (ugh), sliced scallion, minced red chili, boiled egg (half)...and a pheasant meatball (or so they claim)!  As mentioned in a prior post, I refuse to believe that PYS broth was ever made from pheasant stock as a general practice (see 4.165 The Pyeonglae Ok MNM...), though I am willing to concede that someone somewhere sometime did so, perhaps more than once, on the rare special occasions when he somehow managed to snag a wild bird flying by.   However, my mother does recall that fancy restaurants back in the day would top a bowl of MNM with a tiny pheasant meatball--which is curious, because pheasant otherwise isn't really a part of traditional Korean cuisine.  Anyway, the meatball here was so highly seasoned, mostly soy sauce, that it didn't taste much like any animal in particular.   But fun, just to think about it.

CONCLUSION.  Unique, both in broth and topping.  And still a perfectly legitimate PYS MNM, perhaps closer to what it might've been 60 years ago?  I wouldn't be surprised if both the broth and the meatball contained some/all chicken, rather than beef/pheasant, which wouldn't be such a bad thing.

PRICE.  10,000 won + 4,000 won for a double order (gobbaegi (곱배기)) or extra noodles after the fact (sari (사리)).

While the skins were factory-made, thin and rubbery...

...the stuffing was well-done, white and light in the classic northern style.

Address: Gyeonggi-Do Seongnam-Si Bundang-Gu Jeongja-Dong 83-1 (경기도 성남시 분당구 정자동 83-1)
Phone: (031) 786-1571
Hours: open 11:30 - 10:00; closed on holidays
Parking: valet
Menu: Korean

In the wake of my PYS MNM quest, reader David from New York was inspired to find the best representation of the dish in Manhattan.  Alas, despite his best efforts, combining internet research and on-site investigation, spurred along the way with some long-distance kibitzing by me (see comments under 4.184 above), he was unable to find any restaurant on the island that came close, at least not to the standards that I described.  As described in David's photos and below (my follow-up comments in italics), the closest was Shilla.  He's promised to expand the search to Queens.  And maybe even Los Angeles when he gets a chance to visit.  Thanks, David!

The broth is mostly dongchimi brine, with just a bit of meat flavor to it. Out of all the naengmyeon I've had on 32nd street, this was the most subtle. Most of them are very fruity and sweet. This was very dry, although maybe not as dry as the PYS MNM in your project.

There is a lot of ice in this, as I mentioned once before, I'm a big fan of it. There are usually some pieces of ice left over in there by the time I'm done, so I can crunch those, too. This dish is really, really cold.

A few strips of radish, some cucumber, one or 2 slivers of pear, and half an egg.

PYS MNM here is (almost) never served with slushy broth, though Hamheung-style MNM (usually) is; the reason is probably because PYS broth is so subtle that the cold would numb the flavor, a theory that I've advanced before (see for example 4.071 Mul Naeng Myeon), whereas the aggressively tangy Hamheung broth can stand the extreme chill.

It was hard for me to get a good photo of those noodles, it was dark in there. But eventually I stirred them up and got one.

The noodles are most surely hamheung style, a pretty chewy and pretty thin. I don’t think there is a lot of buckwheat in these, certainly not enough to make them nutty or gritty. They're very good, but not nearly as thick or grainy as the ones in your photos. I asked the waitress if they were made in house, and she said no, and then another waitress standing next to her corrected her, and said yes. I'm pretty sure they are, or at least made somewhere else and brought in.

 Yeah, these look like Hamheung-style all the way; beyond appearance, the definitive test is whether they can be easily eaten without first cutting them--if a few initial snips are required, then the noodles are certainly not PYS.

Hands down, the best I've had in Koreatown, to the point where I'm not even going to fool around with any other place, I'm just tired of crappy, overly sweet naengmyeon, made with packaged noodles. The sweetness might be the American influence (everything is sweet here) and the noodles are surely a cost-cutting measure.

As I mentioned on your website, I've asked up and down the street for PYS MNM and they are usually confused at first & need to ask their coworkers, and then come back with a no. Once it was a yes, but when I got it, it was just regular ol' MNM.

Doing research online, I see raves for You Chun (now closed) and this NYT article about the obsessive owner of Dae Dong (now closed):

A sign from Kang-Suh across the street. A Soju Only 10 Bucks! That is actually cheap here. Thought you might get a kick out of it.

 Ah David, how well you know me!  I love the grammar, like "Hey, let's go grab a soju after work."

4.206 OKRKL/5 Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan: Jeonju Gobdol Bibim Bap

-Cycle 4, Item 206-
30 (Tue) July 2013

OKRKL/5 Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan: Jeonju Gobdol Bibim Bap


at Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan

-Chungmu, Seoul-

with Dominic

Given 100 landmark restaurants listed in the book Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (OKRKL) (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당) (see generally 4.173 OKRKL/1 Woo Lae Oak...), I'm taking it upon myself to visit and review as many as I can.  For obvious reasons, I'll start with the 28 restaurants in Seoul, which I hope to complete within this cycle.

This is the 5th restaurant, in no particular order, to be reviewed (see previously 4.204 OKRKL/4 Hwanghae Sikdang...).  

Down a narrow alley, on one of the busiest side streets, in one of the busiests neighborhoods in the city.

Plastic food models, yum.

That dude in the hanbok, see photo at bottom.

Other than us, the only Korean people in the joint were working there.

According to OKRKL, Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan (전주 중앙회관) was established in 1959, the 24th oldest restaurant listed in Seoul.  Launched in the city of Jeonju under a different name, moved to the neighborhood of Jungang-Dong in 1969 and adopted its current name--"hoegwan = meeting hall."  The business expanded to Seoul in 1974 and settled into the present location in 1982.  The book doesn't say what happened to the restaurant back in Jeonju.  

As noted below, Korean would seem to be the least important language on these wall menus.

All the international favorites, including dolsot bibim bap, samgye tang, bulgogi.

Ready for this?  The book claims that the restaurant invented bibim bap (BBB).  Supposedly, the original owner took what was a simple dish, ubiquitous in Jeonju, consisting of rice mixed with bean sprouts and, hoping to make it more tasty and healthful, added a wider variety of ingredients to the mix.  But that's as far as the explanation goes, one sentence dropped in an otherwise mundane paragraph about the restaurant's relocation history.  Considering that BBB is one of Korea's most iconic foods, easily within the top five, an origin story would seem to merit a few more words.  Anyway, I ain't buyin' it.  

Clockwise from bottom: kimchi, eggplant, radish, dried laver.

kongnamul guk (bean sprout soup)

In fact, other much more reliable sources date the first printed reference to or description of BBB or something like it as far back as 1849 (see for example Naver on bibim bap), though popular belief would have the dish itself going back much farther without any specific geographical origin.  Not a single source mentions Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan, by the way.

Generally, Jeonju is renowned for dolsot bibim bap (D-BBB).

The nokdu jeon was okay, decent crust but a tad mushy in the middle (2.0); pricy at 15,000 won.

At Jeonju Jungang Hoegwan, the D-BBB included two twists.  First, instead of the typical gochujang (chile paste) as a condiment, either dolloped on top or provided separately (e.g., in a squeeze bottle), the rice came already mixed in a secret proprietary sauce, which I'd wager is essentially gochujang with some sugar, sesame oil, etc.  Extra sauce wasn't offered on the side.  I didn't think to ask if I could get more upon request.  Indeed, the dish seemed sufficiently seasoned as is.  Not any particular flavor, just a bit spicy, mild enough for the kid to handle.  Next, instead of the typical earthenware bowl ("dolsot"), the food came in a hand-carved stone bowl ("gopdol").  In two on-line dictionaries, the Korean term for "gobdol (곱돌)" is translated as "agalmatolite" in English, a soft carving stone.  In any case, the stone is excellent for absorbing and retaining heat to keep the food hot to the last bite, which it really does.  In fact, unaware of the stone thing at the time of the meal, I was wondering how the bowl could remain so hot for so long.  

Toppings included beef, laver, radish, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, carrot, bean sprout, squash, egg, ginko nut, chestnut.

The rice at the bottom of the bowl, crispy after a few seconds on the piping hot stone.

Fully mixed.

Natural nonstick.

Overall, the D-BBB here was a respectable representation of the dish.  Twists aside, the toppings were well-balanced, well-made, and varied if a bit gimmicky.  D-BBB isn't really my thing, however, as I prefer my BBB cool, like a salad.  Decent array of sides, including a small bowl of soup.  A bit steep at 10,000 won, but not too bad considering the whole package.  

Apparently, the food must not have been too bad.

From our very first glimpse of the place, the rear entrance, the lack of Korean writing on any of the signage strongly suggested that this would be more of a tourist trap than a restaurant with local patronage.  Inside, the placed was half-full, all with customers who looked to be Chinese or Japanese.  On the walls and on the menus, the descriptions of the food were mostly in Chinese and Japanese, Korean in smaller letters underneath.  When I asked the server whether Koreans were even allowed on the premises, she kinda hemmed/hawed at first but then explained that tourists tend to come in large groups during the off hours--we did get there a bit early, around 5PM--whereas the locals come later in the evening after work--nice try, but I didn't buy it.

Nary a lick of Korean on the signage at the rear entrance (on the main thoroughfare Twegye-Ro, a block west of Myeong-Dong Station Exit 5).

Address: Seoul Jung-Gu Chungmu-Ro 1-Ga 24-11 (서울시 중구 충무로1가 24-11)
Website: (English)
Phone: (02) 776-3532
Hours: open 08:30 - 23:30; open every day
Parking: none
Menu: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, English
Wingspoon Rating (as of this writing): 6.02/10 (15 ratings) 

More evidence that locals never eat here and aren't the target customer base: this dude dressed in traditional Korean peasant garb stands outside the front entrance in the evening and holds a placard of menu items written in Chinese and Japanese (the photo was taken on a different day around 8PM; he wasn't there during our visit, which had ended around 5PM).