4.204 Mul Naeng Myeon

Cycle 4 – Item 204

28 (Sun) July 2013

Mul Naeng Myeon

2.0

at Hwanghae Sikdang

-Okcheon, Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-

with W and DJ

Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (Part 4 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 (28 in Seoul) that are least 50 years old or have been owned by at least 3 generations.

Hwanghae Sikdang is a Korean restaurant.  According to OKRKL, it was founded in 1952, the 3rd oldest of just 4 restaurants listed for Gyeonggi.  The owner, from the province Hwanghae-do up north, fled south during the Korean War and settled in Okcheon, where he opened a restaurant (“sikdang”) and named it after his homeland.  The business started out as a seafood restaurant serving the daily catch from nearby streams.  The current menu, including the signature naeng myeon, as described below, was established in 1967.

This is actually the second location.  The original restaurant (see 3.212 Mul Naeng Myeon), which isn’t even mentioned in OKRKL – even though it would seem to be a highly critical/relevant piece of information – is located deeper in Okcheon, away from the highway.

Deviating from the plan to target the restaurants in Seoul, Hwanghae Sikdang is located in the neighboring province Gyeonggi-do.  I happened to be passing by, as I do every time driving to and from the cabin.  I’ve been to the place on two prior occasions, once decades ago, and again more recently for lunch.  I went back this time to sample the food de novo with a more critical/clinical mindset in consideration of the OKRKL project.

If nothing else, Okcheon is famous for a set lineup of dishes: (1) mul naeng myeon (MNM), (2) bibim naeng myeon, (3) wanja, (4) pyeonyuk, and (5) spicy pickled radish.  No more, no less.  This exact menu is offered at 10 or so restaurants in the area – I’ve been to 8 of them – as indicated by “Okcheon Naeng Myeon” on the signage.  However, the quality of the food, as well as the taste, fluctuates from place to place.  People’s opinions about Okcheon-style cuisine tend to be polarized love-it-or-hate-it depending on where they’ve eaten.

Many of the restaurants claim to be the original, though Hwanghae Sikdang would seem to be widely acknowledged as such.  Certainly the biggest/busiest of the bunch, located out in front, visible from the highway, it’s become the de facto standard bearer for Okcheon-style cuisine, whether it was indeed the progenitor thereof.

For starters, the wanja and pyeonyuk were not good.  First, both were served at room temperature, probably plated en masse in the morning for quick service during the lunch rush, not freshly fried/boiled upon order, which would’ve made them crispy/juicy.  Instead, they were lifeless and dry.  And third, the portions were much smaller than at other places.  The best thing that I could say about them is that the meat didn’t taste like anything, especially the pyeonyuk, by which I mean that at least it didn’t exude that porky funk sometimes detectable in boiled pig.

The spicy pickled radish, supposedly salted for three years – I call total bullshit – also wasn’t as good as elsewhere.   Then again, if the three-year claim is true, they should consider just using store-bought pickled radish.

Applying the tasting framework from my Pyongyang-style MNM project (see SSPYSP):

TOPPINGS.  2 slices of boiled pork, julienned cucumber, boiled egg (1/3).

BROTH.  Strong flavor of soy.  Sweetish.  Similar in that respect to the broths at the recently reviewed Woo Lae Oak and Kangseo Myun Oak, as well as Sam Won Garden, all overwhelmingly popular mainstream restaurants in their own rights, indicating how the majority of customers tend to like their MNM.  But here, made from pork bones, as the manager informed me, resulting in a bit lighter mouthfeel.  Slushy.

NOODLES.  No flavor either way.  Blend of buckwheat and sweet potato starch, like a hybrid of the Pyongyang and Hamheung styles, darkish in color but without any flavor (that’s bad), extremely chewy but not to the point of being rubbery (that’s good).  Interestingly, the manager explained that it’s actually “Hwanghae-style.”  When I asked my parents about this, both of whom were born in Hwanghae-do, neither had ever heard of such a thing.

CONCLUSION.  As noted in previous posts, I’m a huge fan of Okcheon-style MNM generally, but not the one here.  Noodles and toppings being passable, the sweet soy broth was a dealbreaker for me.

OKRKL tells a story about how the noodles, back in the day, were made by a wooden press that produced 10 portions at a time.  Because the process was so labor-intensive, the restaurant would only take orders of 10.  As such, smaller groups sometimes had to wait, often 30 to 40 minutes, for additional customers to arrive until the order could be filled.  But wait they would, because the food was so great.

I find this story completely implausible.  For example, what if a group of 5 had been waiting for 30 minutes, then a group of 10 came in?  Would 5 of that 10 be served and the remaining 5 be left to wait another 30 minutes for another group?  Ludicrous.

The meal at the restaurant was lunch.  All 1,299 prior posts have featured dinner items, more or less, though some may have been consumed during mid-afternoon (e.g., to beat the dinner crowd) or later at night (e.g., with postprandial drinks).  But I’m making something of an exception this time, necessary because I never pass through Okcheon at suppertime.  As a preemptive remedial measure, however, I deliberately took most of the wanja and pyeonyuk to go, plus radish, and had them again for dinner at the cabin.

(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)

(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)

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