I don't know how I ever survived childhood summers in the sunbaked San Gabriel Valley without the help of mool naeng myun. A cold Korean noodle soup anchored by in an intensely flavorful, slightly tart beef broth and garnished with kimchee, shredded vegetables, a couple slices of meat and a handful of ice, it is both refreshing and fortifying. Like taking a cold shower while eating a pastrami sandwich, but not as soggy.
Though it's not quite chilled noodle weather yet here in LA, I asked Marie of the food blog Starchy Marie, a fellow naeng myun lover, to suggest a good place when we met for lunch. She came up with Yu Chun in Koreatown, a restaurant known for its naeng myun made with chewy black arrowroot noodles (called chik naeng myun in Korean) and gigantic dumplings (mandu).
Marie confessed later that she was worried I would get to the restaurant ahead of her and they wouldn't know what to do with me since I don't speak Korean. But the guy who greeted me in Korean at the door just waved me toward a table near the kitchen and a few minutes later dropped two menus in front of me with a thwap. Marie arrived shortly after and ordered for us in Korean (two bowls of chik naeng myun, one order of super-sized dumplings), but the menu is translated and has pictures, so even the Korean-challenged should be fine.
The mandu were as big as tennis balls, soft, elastic tennis balls filled with a flavorful mince of pork and kimchee. Wrangling one into my mouth bite by bite took all my chopstick skills, but was well worth the challenge.
And then there was the naeng myun. Served in big metal bowls kissed with condensation, the ice-flecked broth held julienned cucumbers, some sliced beef and a bright red dollop of chili paste. We added a squirt of vinegar and stirred, revealing the translucent black noodles and ribbons of pickled zucchini. Marie said she had been worried the arrowroot noodles would be too chewy, but because they were so thin, like soba noodles stretched to twice their length, it was never a problem.
The soul of any noodle soup is its broth and Yu Chun's is good enough to make it through the pearly gates, no problem. Lurking below its vinegar bite and slow chili burn is a beefiness of staggering depth. I would have drained the bowl, but I had to leave room for our post-lunch visit to Scoops. Also, I already had two tennis balls of dumpling in my belly.
Were it possible to fill a swimming pool with Yu Chun's naeng myun, I would spend the summer happily paddling past crunchy vegetables and slippery noodles, gulping down icy broth for sustenance. Until I figure out the mechanics, I'll just settle for lunch once in awhile.
Full review with photos here:
Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun
3185 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006