Summertime dish is best in winterMost of life’s ironies are not as dramatic as Beethoven’s loss of hearing or Monet’s loss of sight, but every winter I come to the point where I must decide whether or not to eat mulnaengmyeon (Korean cold noodles), despite the freezing weather outside. Buckwheat, the main ingredient used in manufacturing naengmyeon, is picked during winter, making this the best time for this dish, especially Pyongyang naengmyeon, which uses a lot of buckwheat mixed with flour to make the noodles. So although the cold noodles are great as a light, refreshing meal during the heat of summer, they actually taste much better in the winter.
There is a way to get the best from this ironic situation. The broth for a good bowl of Pyongyang naengmyeon is made by boiling pork and brisket of beef while getting rid of the fat which rises to the top. At Euljimyeonok, a Pyongyang naengmyeon restaurant that boasts a 20-year history in Seoul, the broth is clear and light but is still hearty with a deep flavor as a result of the time-consuming boiling process. The meat used for the broth is sold at the restaurant as well, sliced into bite-sized pieces (suyuk is boiled beef and jaeyuk is boiled pork). If you run into a restaurant that serves naengmyeon but does not offer either suyuk or jaeyuk on their menu, you might suspect that the restaurant is using cheap chicken stock blocks. Having pieces of the meat with a sip of soju before diving into the mulnaengmyeon warms up your system to prepare your stomach for the chill to come.
The average age of the diners at Euljimyeonok is usually over 30. The clearness of the broth is often thought to be synonymous with a bland taste by younger diners, who are used to dishes that have a fuller palette of spices. It is definitely a taste that the young cosmopolitans of Seoul find hard to acquire, but the dish is increasingly winning a new band of “addicts” who crave this healthy, clean food that has no aftertaste of monosodium glutamate or other kinds of artificial additives found in a majority of restaurant broths.
So given my practice (or excuse) of taking some soju and meat before the noodles, I find myself frequenting the halls of Euljimyeonok and ordering up my year-round favorite dish, despite the cold winds blowing outside.
Take-outs are available for all dishes including the cold noodles. There is an extra charge of 100 won ($ 0.11) for take-outs. Mulnaengmyeon is 6,500 won, suyuk is 14,000 won and pyeonyuk is 10,000 won. The restaurant is located in Jung district and the nearest subway station is Euljiro 3(sam)-ga, line No. 3, exit 5. For more information, call (02) 2266-7052
by Cho Jae-eun