Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Best Mul Naeng Myeon (and it's right in our neighborhood)

Procrastinating grading exams to post about a newish restaurant discovery right in our neighborhood...

Summer in Seoul means naengmyeon 냉면 - cold noodles. My first actual meal after moving here in late August 2009 was mul naengmyeon 물냉면 - buckwheat noodles in an icy broth (usually with big chunks of ice floating in it). It's a bit vinegary, fairly mild, and I love the accompaniments of sliced bae (a.k.a. Asian pear), slivers of cucumber, and egg. The yolk mixes in the broth and creamifies it; on the whole, a refreshing and delicious light summer meal.

A few weeks ago our friend A. took M. to a naengmyeon place very close to our apartment building, around Daeheung station, and he came home raving about it. So last Friday we went for dinner. The restaurant, called 을밀대 (Eul Mil Dae), is located on a quiet street behind the Mapo Art Center, and advertises Pyeongyang style naengmyeon. It's a very popular place with lines out the door on hot afternoons and Japanese reviews posted on the walls, and has spilled into another smaller space next door. As soon as we sat down we were served a silver teapot filled with warm yuksu (meat broth) which we poured into water cups and drank as a kind of savory aperitif, and a dish of thick pink pickled mu (Korean radish) ribbons, which also came with the noodles.

Decadence in a teapot
Bowl of perfection
A good bowl of mul naengmyeon is all about how the elements work together. The yuksu was rich and meaty, reminiscent of pho broth (but not as herby), which provided a great backbone for the dish. The noodles themselves had a sort of subtle bumpy texture and a slight fishy flavor (which I've found with buckwheat before). The suyuk, or brisket, that came atop was a bit dry but very flavorful. Usually when I get mul naengmyeon there are squeeze bottles of white vinegar and yellow mustard on the table for adding to your broth, but here instead we got a dish of coarse ground mustard that reminded me of the heady horseradishy shoots-up-your-nose Chinese mustard that Grandpa used to serve with his eggrolls at the restaurant.

Verdict: It was the most expensive mul naengmyeon I've ever eaten (at 9,000 won a bowl), but also the most delicious - in a class apart from anything I'd tasted before - and more filling than normal (probably because of the substantial noodles). Wish we'd found the place sooner! It made me want to seek out other mul naengmyeon places in the same category.

Okay, and now for those exams...

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