Cycle 4 – Item 261
23 (Mon) September 2013
Pyongyang Naeng Myeon
-Pangyo, Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with Mom + Dad, Aunt H
I’m off to Manila tomorrow for a research trip – more details when my boots are on the ground.
As a personal travel ritual, I eat my favorite dish for dinner the evening before taking a flight. The morbid rationale is to ensure that I would die happy, at least gastronomically, as represented in one final meal, if the plane were to crash. For decades, that dish has been jjajang myeon, but the time for a change has come. From now on, the dish will be Pyongyang-style mul naeng myeon, which has become my favorite dish in recent years.
The shift wasn’t gradual. It came about during my recent assessment of various Pyongyang-style MNM restaurants in Seoul (see SSPYSP). I’d initiated the project as an interested yet impassive investigator. A few reviews in, however, the process triggered a latent lust for the dish that soon turned into a full blown manic obsession. In addition to the servings that I was having for dinner and featuring in the posts, I was going back to the restaurants at lunch to confirm my previous impressions. It was the last thing that I’d think about while falling asleep and the first thing on my mind upon waking the following morning.
Eating MNM just before hitting the road makes sense also because it’s unavailable outside of Korea – South Korea, ironically, as explained below – while jjajang myeon can be found in any major city where Koreans live around the world. I’ve had jjajang myeon or at least seen it on menus, mostly in Korean restaurants, from Switzerland and France, Sri Lanka, to Laos and Cambodia, even at a North Korean restaurant, ironically. But, if proper Pyongyang-style MNM isn’t available in New York (thanks, DS!) or Los Angeles (thanks, LJY!), I’m inclined to think that it’s unlikely to be found anywhere.
MODERN PYONGYANG MUL NAENG MYEON
Last month, I’d dispatched Number One Swedish Fan GK to Pyongyang on an undercover intel op to photograph, taste, and document MNM at the source. Traveling to DPRK via Beijing, he also tried MNM at a North Korean restaurant in Bejing. Mission accomplished, he sent me his findings (thanks, GK!), which I am honored to present here.
As GK’s images and notes reveal, in stark contrast to the so-called Pyongyang-style MNM found in Seoul, modern MNM in Pyongyang has mutated through 60 years of divergent and isolated evolution. Tangy broth. Dark, rubbery noodles. Gochujang topping. I’ve experienced the same thing at a DPRK “laeng myeon” restaurant in Phnom Penh (see (3.269 Fried Beef with Red Ants).
The Pyongyang-style MNM down here should more accurately be described as “Contemporary Southern Pyongyang-Style MNM.” It too is likely very different from the original Pyongyang-style MNM as it was pre-1950, before the country was split, a form that probably no longer exists in any formal setting, as in a restaurant, just perhaps in a few homes scattered across the northern countryside, where some very old women may still make the dish as they had learned it from their mothers, a tradition that may soon die with them.
(See also MUL NAENG MYEON)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)