OKPWMC

OKCHEON CHALLENGE

Kimchi v Pyeonyuk v Wanja v Mul Naeng Myeon

The town of Okcheon, about 50 km east of central Seoul, is home to a handful of restaurants offering the same suite of 5 dishes, 4 of which are unique to these restaurants.

  1. Mul Naeng Myeon.  Purportedly originating from the northern province of Hwanghae-do, the noodles are made from a buckwheat and potato starch, somewhere between Pyongyang and Hamheung styles.  The broth is derived from beef/pork stock, slightly sweeter.  The toppings tend to be minimal, usually half of a boiled egg and julienned cucumbers.
  2. Bibim Naeng Myeon.  Same noodles as above.  Slathered in a spicy sweet gochujang-based sauce, rather than broth.
  3. Pyeonyuk.  Boiled pork belly.  This dish can be found elsewhere (aka jeyuk, suyuk).
  4. Wanja.  Pancake of ground pork, plus eggs and aromatics, each about the size and thickness of a burger patty.
  5. Kimchi. Pickled radish, dressed with sugar, vinegar, red chili powder and/or paste.  The result is sweet/sour/spicy and chewy/crunchy, a taste/texture combination that pairs perfectly with the wanja and pyeonyuk, as well as the MNM.

For years, long preceding the birth of GMTD, my favorite restaurant has been Okcheon Goeup Naeng Myeon – the “OG.”

The Okcheon Challenge was conducted in late 2021 to confirm that OG was still the best in town.  The restaurants were evaluated on 4 dishes (not bibim naeng myeon) (I have never tried bibim naeng myeon at any restaurant in Okcheon), each scored on a 4-point scale (16 points total).

OG did confirm its supremacy, but the runner-up proved to be a worthy alternative (perhaps better in some respects).

    1. Okcheon Goeup Naeng Myeon (see 12.291 Ban-Ban): score = 15 (94%)
    2. Okcheon Jeontong Naeng Myeon (see 12.327 Pyeonyuk Muchim): score = 14 (88%)
    3. Okcheon Myeonok (see 12.325 (Garlic) Abalones): score = 10.5 (66%)
    4. Okcheon Naeng Myeon Hwanghae Sikdang (see 12.292 Wanja + Pyeonyuk): score = 8 (50%)

Okcheon Goeup Naeng Myeon

Total score: 3.5 (kimchi) + 4.0 (pyeonyuk) + 4.0 (wanja) + 3.5 (MNM) = 15 out of 16 (94%).

Kimchi (3.5): well-balanced in flavor, just the right amounts of spicy + sweet + sour.
Pyeonyuk (4.0): perfectly silky fat, perfectly juicy meat.
Wanja (4.0): perfectly crispy on the outside, juicy inside, perfectly seasoned, not greasy.
Mul Naeng Myeon (3.5): dry clean crisp broth, a subtle trace of meatiness; firm noodles, the right amount of chewiness; loads of fresh cucumbers.

Okcheon Jeontong Naeng Myeon

Total score: 4.0 (kimchi) + 3.5 (pyeonyuk) + 4.0 (wanja) + 2.5 (MNM) = 14 out of 16 (88%).

Kimchi (4.0): perfectly crunchy, perfectly tangy.
Wanja (4.0): perfectly seasoned, perfectly light and fluffy in texture + Pyeonyuk (3.5): juicy and tasty, but cut a bit too thin.
Mul Naeng Myeon (2.5): the pork-based broth was a bit odd, couldn’t quite put my finger on what, but a dash of mustard + vinegar, which I would typically never do, made it okay; the noodles and toppings were fine.
Pyeonyuk Muchim (4.0): perfectly balanced, delicately spicy sweetish-savory sauce, plus shredded cucumbers.  Never seen anything like it.  One of the best pork belly dishes in my experience

Okcheon Myeonok

Total score: 3.5 (kimchi) + 2.5 (pyeonyuk) + 2.5 (wanja) + 2.0 (MNM) = 10.5 out of 16 (66%).

Kimchi (3.5)
Pyeonyuk (2.5): twice-cooked, first boiled then seared; nice contrasting textures, but a tad porky in flavor.
Wanja (2.5): decent, but a touch greasy on the outside, somewhat dry within.
Mul Naeng Myeon (2.0): more of a wannabe Pyongyang-style MNM, with a dry beefy broth and gritty buckwheat noodles, though not quite hitting the mark in either regard.

Okcheon Naeng Myeon Hwanghae Sikdang

Total score: 3.0 (kimchi) + 1.0 (pyeonyuk) + 2.5 (wanja) + 1.5 (MNM) = 8.0 out of 16 (50%).

Kimchi (3.0): balanced in flavor, the right amounts of spicy + sweet + sour, but not much depth.
Pyeonyuk (1.0): cold, dry, flavorless.
Wanja (2.5): okay flavor, but greasy.
Mul Naeng Myeon (1.5): garlicky broth, a tad bitter; mushy noodles; limp stringy cucumbers.

(See also MUL NAENG MYEON)

(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)

(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)

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