4.185 OKRKL/2 Kangseo Myun Oak: Pyongyang (Mul) Naeng Myeon

-Cycle 4, Item 185-
9 (Tue) July 2013

OKRKL/2 Kangseo Myun Oak: Pyongyang (Mul) Naeng Myeon


at Kangseo Myun Oak

-Seosomun, Seoul-


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 should be able to do within this cycle. 

This is the 2nd restaurant, in no particular order, to be reviewed (see previously 4.173 above).  Ideally, I would've preferred to do something other than mul naeng myeon (MNM) the day after completing my treatise on Pyongyang-style (PYS) MNM (see 4.184 The Eulmildae MNM...), but I don't always plan these things.

According to OKRKL, Kangseo Myun Oak was founded in 1948, the 13th oldest of the restaurants in Seoul.  Actually, the book explains that it began as a small noodle shop by a different name up north in Gangseo-Goeul (district), Pyeongan-Do (province).  The owner fled the north during the war in 1951 and settled just south of Seoul in the city of Pyeongtaek, where he set up another restaurant (a few years later?) (dates aren't specified) and then moved the operation to Seoul ten years after that (mid-1960s?), when it took on its current form and was given its current name.  So really, that "since 1948" is a stretch; otherwise, by that logic, any restaurant can be dated back to the year in which the owner had first opened any preceding restaurant of any kind.  Currently, the business has several locations throughout the country, including one in Gangnam that I've been to before.

The old woman visible through the glass, I suspect that she's the famous owner.

As the name would suggest--"myun/myeon (면) =  noodle" + "oak/ok = (옥)"--Kangseo Myun Oak's signature item is naeng myeon, particularly MNM.  

"The Blue House MNM."  Supposedly, back in the early 1970s, agents from President Park Chunghee's Blue House (official residence) came to the restaurant and demanded the recipe for the broth.  The owner, now the founder's daughter, refused, even when threatened at gunpoint.  Taking a different tack, the Blue House then attempted to analyze the broth in a lab but failed to determine the secret.  For 20 years thereafter, the Blue House settled for getting the MNM via delivery.  Whenever the owner fell sick, the Blue House sent her cold medicine so that she'd recover quickly and get back to making the broth.  Right.

complimentary yeolmu (열무) (young radish) kimchi 

BROTH.  Sweet and savory, like a sugar-sweetened soy sauce beverage for kids (that's the secret!) (Dominic would love it); if any beef, indiscernible.

NOODLES.  Buckwheat in appearance but bland in flavor; kinda chewy.

TOPPINGS.  Sliced beef (dry), pickled radish, raw cucumber, pear, boiled egg (half).

CONCLUSION.  With all due respect to presidential preferences, I wasn't so impressed.  Generally, a modern Seoul-style MNM, hardly PYS, reminiscent of the one from Woo Lae Oak.  Nothing wrong with it per se, but too sweet for my tastes personally.  Over-priced at 11,000 won + 4,500 won for a double/1.5 order (gobbaegi (곱배기)) or extra noodles after the fact (sari (사리)).

The hanwoo grilled ribeye is 42,300 won per 100 g, 55,000 won per 130-g order, 2-order minimum!

By contrast, the bulgogi with American beef is more reasonable at 10,000 won per 100 g, 18,000 per 180-g order, 2-order minimum.

Most of the items, like mandu jeon-gol, are northern-ish by origin.

Interestingly, the restaurant serves Hamheung-style bibim naeng myeon with actual potato starch noodles, which I noticed by glancing over at the table next to me; I don't think that I've ever seen the 2 types of noodles at the same restaurant--PROPS on that count.

Like Woo Lae Oak overall--even the odd "oak" translit is the same--Kangseo Myun Oak has become more of a mainstream meat establishment than a hardcore northern noodle joint.   The MNM was one example.  Another example, the gigantic hand-made mandu looked like a northern-style dumpling from the outside but the stuffing was overly complicated/colorful to qualify (see for comparison 2.201 Mandu Guk); but it was significantly different and fortunately much better than the ones that I'd had at the Gangnam branch years ago (see 1.135 Steamed Mandu).  Mainstream is not inherently a bad thing; I wouldn't mind a second shot at tasting some of the other dishes on their own merits.


I was engaged throughout the meal by an old woman.  She'd been sitting by herself with a walkie-talkie at a nearby empty table.  Initially, she asked if I was enjoying the food.  When I ran low on the kimchi, she brought me another helping.  When I ordered a mandu after the MNM, she brought me a couple additional side dishes, normally reserved for meat customers.  When I finished the mandu, she asked if I wanted some rice and soup.  I politely declined.  If I'd accepted, it probably would've come with some meat.  She was so sweet that I should go back just to see her again.

Actually, these were quite good.

Judging by her actions and appearance, about 80-ish, I'm guessing that she's the owner, the daughter of the founder, the woman who'd stood up to armed government agents to protect her MNM recipe.  I hadn't read the OKRKL entry before going to the restaurant, not until after I got home later, so I wasn't aware of the Blue House story at the time.  I'll ask her about it on my return visit. 

Address: Seoul Jung-Gu Seosomun-Dong 120-15 (서울시 중구 서소문동 120-15)
Phone: (02) 752-1945
Hours: open 10:30 - 22:00; closed 2nd/4th/5th Sundays
Parking: public nearby
Menu: Korean only
Wingspoon Rating: 6.58 (24 ratings)


  1. You can tell by the first photo that it's a halfassed MNM. If I don't see ice when the bowl lands on the table, it's a failure for me.

    Thanks for doing this series on OKRKL - I can't find this book here in the US, in any language. With such a big push to "globalize" Korean food, I'd hope that books like this one would be easier to find, preferably translated into English, but it's not the case.

  2. as i mentioned in the first post, the book was published by an agency whose mission partly is to promote korean food globally. and this is the kind of book that would be great if translated into english. i wonder how much they'd pay me to translate it? that might be fun.

    thanks for reading and giving me purpose on this new side project. i'll try to cover the restaurants as quickly as i can.

    ice? really? not one of the MNMs that i reviewed came with ice. although eulmildae does come with ice by default, most regulars specifically request to withhold the ice, which makes the flavor more intense. maybe ice is a NY PYS MNM thing....

  3. Yes after looking over your photos again, I see none of them have ice. It might just be a personal preference on my part. Of course the ice needs to be made with frozen broth.

    The strange thing about that Korean food promotion agency is that a lot of the materials they have are in Korean only. They have 2 Facebook pages, one in English and one in Korean, and the Korean one is much better. I actually contacted them about getting a copy of the book sent to me and they said it was impossible.

    So yes, I'm interested in those restaurants, what they serve, and what they look like. Keep em coming.

  4. yes, of course the ice (slush, actually) is frozen broth.

    i guess it's like how (white)wine/beer aficionados like it cool but not cold, which deadens the taste buds.

    i'm trying to recall the MNM that i had in the states, mostly in CA, and i can't remember whether it came with ice.

    i could send you a copy of the book, no problem, unless you looking for an english-language version? if just the korean version, let me know.