Hamhung Naengmyun in Yeongdeungpo

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hamhung Naengmyun - traditional North Korean mulnaengmyun in Yeongdeongpo-gu
by Lily
www.lunalil.com

I am slightly obsessed with naengmyun (냉면). It's one of my favorite Korean dishes. In fact I've been collecting information and pictures to write a giant post on this topic for over a year and a half. It's becoming more of a Wikipedia article than a blog entry.

There are several types of naengmyun, my favorite and one of the more common types is mulnaengmyun (물냉면).

Briefly, naengmyun is a cold noodle dish that originated in North Korea. There are two main varieties; bibimnaengmyun (비빔냉면) and mulnaengmyun. Personally I prefer mulnaengmyun over bibimnaengmyun.

Most of my coworkers know how much I like naengmyun. A few months ago one of them suggested that go to Hamhung Naengmyeun (함흥냉면) in Yeongdeungpo (영등포). This restaurant is known for its authentic North Korean style of noodles, from the city of Hamhung (함흥시). It was opened more than than 50 years ago by a former resident of Hamhung and has a reputation for authentic and delicious naengmyun.

I was excited because Yeongdeungpo is not that far from where I live, and although I've eaten a lot of naengmyun during my stay here I'm always willing to eat more. Especially if it's reputed to be authentic! (Did I mention that I am slightly obsessed?)

Hamhung Naengmyeun (함흥냉면)
Thanks to my coworkers I found the restaurant fairly easily. I noticed it had a "Good Restaurant" sign with the Rose of Sharon, generally a good sign, no pun intended.

The inside was packed. Everyone looked happy, and everyone was eating naengmyun. I sat at the first table I could and ordered mulnaengmyun. I attempted to order kimchi mandu (김치 만두) at my coworker's recommendation, but I accidentally checked the wrong box on my ticket and ordered an extra coil of noodles (사리) instead. Oops. I didn't realize my mistake until my meal came.

The extra noodles are to be added your soup after you finish eating all the noodles in the first serving. They are perfect when you have another person, or a very healthy appetite. Ordering the extra noodles is much cheaper than ordering another bowl of naeng myun.

After I ordered the server set some mul kimchi (물김치), a cup for water, a large bronze teapot full of hot meat broth (육수), and a brown ceramic cup for the broth on my table.


Mul kimchi



Meat broth

The hot meat broth was very tasty. It was flavorful and slightly spicy and had a satisfying kick. I believe it's meant to be enjoyed during your meal, but it smelled so good I had to try some before my food came.

The mulnaengmyun
My mulnaengmyun (and extra noodles) came very quickly. For once I got a picture before the noodles were cut up, because the scissors were placed at my table instead of the server coming by and doing it for me (which is what happens at most places I've been).
I recently read that some people believe that cutting the noodles destroys some of the "deep taste" 깊은 맛. I wonder if the scissors were provided so that you could choose how you wanted your noodles, or if it was just easier on the very busy workers.


The mulnaengmyun.

It had the typical toppings, half a boiled egg, some slices of beef, julienned cucumber, mul kimchi, and a few sesame seeds. I think the pear was on the bottom, but I can't recall anymore. I think there may have been some slivers of garlic, and there was also a little bit of gochujang (고추장) red pepper paste. The broth was cool, but not iced. I added hot mustard and vinegar, mixed everything together and tasted it.

It tasted good. I like my broth a little icier, but the taste was still tangy, cool and refreshing. The broth wasn't that spicy even with the gochujang. The vegetables were crisp. The noodles were chewy but not difficult to eat.

The noodles surprised me. These white noodles are made from sweet potato starch, and typical of the style of naengmyun from Hamhung. I didn't expect to like them because I generally prefer my mulnaengmyun with darker noodles made of a mixture of buckwheat and flour or of buckwheat and arrowroot, I like the texture of the darker noodles more. The sweet potato starch noodles have a much more chewy texture and are often stiff, tough, and difficult to bite. These, however, were chewy without making eating arduous or unpleasant.

I ate most of my soup, and dumped in the extra noodles and ate a little bit more. I sipped the meat broth in between slurps of naengmyung. I was almost full but I still had to try the kimchi mandu. My second order just as quickly as the first one.


One order of kimchi mandu - note the pink color hinting at just how much kimchi each mandu contains...

These were enormous. Along with the mandu came the usual sauce for dipping and some more kimchi. I knew there was no way I could finish of all of the mandu, but I dug in anyway.


Kimchi mandu

The mandu was quite spicy.
There was a lot of kimchi in the filling, along with tofu and green onion. The kimchi mandu was too spicy for my taste, and I can eat fairly hot foods. I ate one and decided I wouldn't be able to finish the rest. I had eaten too much already.

Earlier I had seen someone box up their leftover mandu and managed to ask for a box using a well developed combination of a few Korean words and a lot of body language. My mandu was boxed up swiftly, and I paid and left.

Verdict:
I liked this restaurant a lot. It doesn't have a great deal of atmosphere, but it's not the kind of place that needs atmosphere. The focus is on serving a few select dishes and doing it well. The servers were very busy, but still stopped to ask me if I was enjoying my meal.

The food was good, although I'm not sure it was the best mulnaengmyun I've ever had. I would like to try the naengmyun again, largely because this restaurant's sweet potato noodles were enjoyable. The accompanying hot meat broth was delicious, and I found myself wanting more even after I was full. I think I would go back just for the broth.

When I got back to my house and put my leftover mandu in the refrigerator I discovered that they had thoughtfully packed a plastic bag full of more meat broth to enjoy with my leftovers. I thought that was a nice touch.





Location:
Hamhung Naengmyun is ten or fifteen minute walk from the main entrance of Yeongdeungpo station.
From exit 1:
Take the escalators down out of the station, at street level cross the street. Walk straight for a few blocks, until you reach another large intersection. The road should run at a diagonal here. Turn right and keep walking, take the second smaller road on the right (you should see Kookmin bank) and walk for one more block. Hamhung Naengmyun should be directly in front of you.
If you get lost, you can call them at 02) 2678-2722.

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