4.165 The Pyeonglae MNM


19 (Wed) June 2013

Naeng Myeon


at Pyeonglaeok

-Jeo, Jung, Seoul, Republic of Korea-

with the Family

Seoul Searching for Pyeongyang-Style Perfection (4 of 8) (see also SSPYSP)

On a mission to determine Seoul’s best representative of Pyeongyang-style (PYS) mul naeng myeon (MNM), among 8 restaurants named in a newspaper poll a couple years back.

In no particular order, Pyeonglaeok is the 4th restaurant to be reviewed.

Located in Jeo-Dong (저동), which I’d never heard of, even though it’s adjacent to Myeong-Dong.
By the time that I arrived at 1800, the line was already 10 customers deep; by 1815, before a single table had opened up, customers were lining up down the street; while waiting, I heard several passersby – all younguns, of course – comment something along the lines of: “I don’t get why people wait in line here; the food’s not that good.”

Pyeonglaeok (평래옥) is a Korean restaurant.  Landmark.  Established in 1950, presumably before June 25th, when the North invaded the South to start the Korean War.  Menu offers northern fare, including their signature chogye tang, as well as eobok jaengban (referred to here as “Pyeongyang-style jaengban”), mandu jeongol, and of course MNM.

Yet another place where mul naeng myeon is “naeng myeon” by default, and bibim naeng myeon is “bibim naeng myeon.”

Oh man, I just realized that I should’ve come on June 25th, just 6 days from now.

I’m curious what happened to the business during the war years.

However, I’m mindful that Korean claims of establishment tend to be exaggerated, so 1950 might’ve been the year that the owner’s father had started a different restaurant elsewhere, which eventually led to this place, or something like that.

The customers are predominantly male, and old – i.e., the Ajeossi Bellwether Standard.

Their prices are generally pretty reasonable.  The bulgogi, for example, is available in Australian beef at 6,500 won per 100 grams or in hanwoo (domestic beef) at a bit less than 15,000 won per 100 grams.  Although I only had the MNM this first time, I can see why the restaurant remains so popular, customers lining up all day; I’m eager to go back to try some other dishes, especially the chogye tang.

Conveniently, the restaurant offers bar seating for solo diners; a person in front of me in line refused an offered spot and opted to wait longer for an inner table because, as he explained for everyone around to hear, he didn’t want the people outside watching him through the glass; I took the spot, happily.

As a complimentary side dish, they provide a unique salad comprising shredded chicken, pickled radish and cucumbers, all mixed in a spicy/sweet/sour dressing, undeniably Korean in flavor, though I’ve never seen anything remotely similar; I really really enjoyed it.

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

BROTH.  Tangy, requiring some mustard to tone it down.  Nil beef flavor.  Disturbingly, a distinct aftertaste of tap water, or something vaguely chemical, even with the mustard, an impression that persisted from the first sip to the last.  As such, I left most of the broth untouched, although I tend to chug the broth clean when it’s reasonably good.  The aforementioned article suggests that the broth includes pheasant stock – some internet sources describe traditional PYS MNM as being pheasant-based, though I’ve never seen any definitive references to substantiate such a claim.  In fact, I called the restaurant later and asked about the quail, lying that I had a deadly poultry allergy, and the person answering the phone stated that the broth is made purely from beef and that the quail thing is a myth.  Score: 1.25.

NOODLES.  Some buckwheat flavor, some graininess in texture, though barely.  Chewiness and slight translucency suggested high starch content.  Score: 2.25.

TOPPINGS.  Sliced beef, boiled egg (half), pickled radish, salted winter green cabbage (얼갈이배추).  Although I can’t recall ever seeing cabbage in any form as an MNM topping, I took to it immediately.  Then again, I really like the bitter/herbaceous quality of winter green cabbage in general; objectively, I can see how someone might not appreciate it, especially on this dish, which traditionally comes with sweet/sour toppings, like the pickled radish.  Score: 3.5.

CONCLUSION.  Despite the decent noodles and toppings, a mul naeng myeon with undrinkable mul is unforgivable.  Factoring in the chicken salad, I did enjoy the meal on the whole, so I’ll give it a 2.0 overall, but the MNM itself was closer to a 1.5.   Weighted score: 1.91.

PRICE: 8,000 won + 4,000 won for a double order (gobbaegi (곱배기)) or extra noodles after the fact (sari (사리)); the main photo shows a double order.



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