Cycle 4 – Item 185
9 (Tue) July 2013
Pyongyang Naeng Myeon
at Kangseo Myun Oak
-Seosomun, Jung, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with W and DJ
Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (Part 2 of 11) (see also OKRKL)
As an on-going project, GMTD is undertaking to review restaurants featured in the book Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당), which includes 100 restaurants that are least 50 years old or have been owned by at least 3 generations.
Kangseo Myun Oak is a Korean restaurant chain. According to OKRKL, it was founded in 1948, which would make it the 13th oldest of the restaurants in Seoul. However, the book explains that 1948 was the year that the owner first opened a small unrelated noodle shop up north. The current business was established in Seoul sometime after the Korean War (dates aren’t specified – perhaps during the mid 1960s). The chain has several locations throughout the country.
Korean restaurants, including many in OKRKL, tend to stretch the “established in” date as far back as possible, often to the year in which the founder had first opened any preceding restaurant of any kind, even if it had no connection to the current one.
OKRKL also recounts a series of stories that explain how the mul naeng myeon came to be called “The Blue House MNM.” Back in the early 1970s, agents from President Park Chunghee’s Blue House came to the restaurant and demanded the recipe for the broth. The owner rrefused, 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. Each story is dumber and clearly more fake than the next.
Applying the tasting framework applied in my Pyongyang-style MNM tasting project (see SSPYSP):
BROTH. Sweet and savory, like a sugar-sweetened soy sauce beverage for kids (that’s the secret!) (DJ 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 Pyongyang-style, distantly reminiscent of the one from Woo Lae Oak. Nothing wrong with it per se, but too sweet for my tastes. 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).
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. 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 thing at the time. She was so sweet that I should go back to see her again and ask her about the stories.
(See also MUL NAENG MYEON)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)