5 Mul Naengmyun Spots We Love
Every week we pick 5 spots to grab a specific food. We’re not trying to say they’re the best 5, because we’re not looking to start fights – but these are definitely top spots to try. Stay tuned each week to see if the food you’re craving is featured.
Korea’s love of soups and stews doesn’t stop for hot weather, and neither should you.
While in regards to food traditional East Asian thinking is “heat beats heat” – i.e., eat hot things when it’s hot to make the weather feel relatively cooler – one Korean soup goes the other way. Mul naengmyun [물냉면], often served so cold that the broth has ice in it, is a traditional dish of thin, chewy buckwheat noodles in cold meat broth. Usually served with minimal garnishes like a few pieces of lean beef, a slice or two of pickled radish, and a hard boiled egg, mul naengmyun comes to your table only partially finished; it’s customary to complete the broth by adding in a bit of white vinegar and a dash of Korean mustard, which will be served along side.
For some, mul naengmyun is an acquired taste, or even an acquired concept. Once you’ve tried it, though, you’ll have a hard time finding anything as refreshing on a hot day. This week we’re listing five of the best mul naengmyun spots in Seoul to help you beat the heat.
고래면옥 – 방배동
Mul naengmyun is one of those foods that a lot of places will serve, but generally if you get it at a spot where it isn’t the specialty, it won’t be anything special. At Gorae Myun Ok, which means Whale Noodle House, it’s the first thing on the menu. While a lot of other places keep their naengmyun minimal, Gorae does it topped pretty generously with chili paste, cucumbers, pickled radish, meat, and of course an egg. The broth comes out basically as a slush, and is really, really flavorful; the noodles are perfectly soft and chewy. Their mul mandu [물만두], steamed dumplings, are also really good and great to dip in the naengmyun broth.
Bukchon Son Mandu is actually a chain, with a handful of locations all over Seoul. Their original shop is a tiny spot up in Bukchon (naturally), but the food at all locations is equally good. Son Mandu means handmade dumplings, and full disclosure, this is a dumpling spot. They have several varieties of steamed and fried dumplings, and they’re all crazy good. But, to complement the dumplings, they also serve naengmyun, which they’ve low-key become famous for apart from their dumplings. They go pretty light on the toppings, but their heartier noodles are perfectly cooked and the broth is exceptionally tasty. A bowl of their naengmyun with a bunch of their dumplings on the side is a perfect summer meal.
삼미 냉면 칼국수 – 똑도시장
Sammi is a small, low-key spot that sits at the end of the equally low-key (but fantastic) Ddokdo market [똑도시장]. While the location may seem out of the way, this is a great spot to hit up if you’re at Common Ground or just in Gundae [건대] for the day and could use a walk. While they offer both naengmyun and kalguksu (as the name suggests), their mul naengmyun is what they’re known for. Naengmyun often comes served with grilled meat on the side, but Sammi does suyuk [수육], or steamed meat. Theirs, specifically, is samgyupsal suyuk [삼겹살 수육], or steamed pork belly, which is basically bo ssam [보쌈], and comes with your naengmyun in a set for pretty cheap. It’s delicious, and of course, so is the naengmyun – they tend to go a little lite on the broth, which is savory with a hint of sweetness, and instead load on pepper paste and crisp vegetables.
4. Ryunnam Myun Ok – Yeonnamdong
련남면옥 – 연남동
Ryunnam is a pretty new spot in Yeonnam, Hongae’s hipper, quieter older sibling. To match the neighborhood, this is less of an old school spot and has more of a contemporary vibe, though the naengmyun is as good as most traditional joints. The toppings are lite and the noodles are decent, but the focus here is on the broth. What makes Ryunnam unique is that, instead of vinegar and mustard, you’re served a house made clam broth [초계육수] on the side to add to the naengmyun broth at your discretion. The restaurant refers to it as a “natural flavoring agent,” and in addition to adding a really pleasant, lite seafood flavor to the dish, my guess is it’s also very high in glutamate, the naturally occurring version of MSG. It works really well to boost the flavor of the broth, keeping it sweet, salty, and a little bit sour.
오장동 함흥 냉면
A lot of times if there’s a classic Korean dish that people really love, there will be a neighborhood somewhere in Seoul with a street where almost every restaurant specializes in that dish. If you’re a naengmyun fiend, you’re in luck, because yes, there’s a naengmyun street. Nestled in Ojangdong, below Euljiro 4, Hamheung Naengmyun street boasts several restaurants specializing alternately in mul naengmyun and bibim naengmyun, a variety with a spicy sauce instead of beef broth, which is equally delicious but not what we’re talking about today (stay tuned though). A lot of these spots have been around since the 50’s and because competition is fierce, they’re really all on point. My personal recommendation would be Oorae Ok [우래옥], a spot that focuses on mul naengmyun instead of bibim, in the traditional Pyeongyang style (mul naengmyun is traditionally North Korean, btw). Their broth is darker than most and has a super rich, meaty flavor, while still maintaining a refreshing coolness. Another great spot is Heungnam Jib [흥남집], which has been around since 1953 and is hyped up accordingly.
Anyone who’s been in Seoul during a summer knows it can get ridiculously hot. If you’re spending a lot of time outdoors during these few months, there are three things you need for your safety: a bottle of water, a thing of sunscreen, and a knowledge of the nearest mul naengmyun spot. Let us know how you like these, or your favorite spot that we left out. For another list like this, check out next week’s installment, where we look at old school shaved ice.
Photo credits: Author, @kunming2016, @ttukdomarket_sammi_cold_noodle, @canureturn, @119he