Review: Maehwa in Yeonnamdong (연남동 매화)

Yeonnamdong has become one of the best known "rising" neighborhoods of Seoul with its hip, laid-back feel and swell of restaurants, cafes, and shops. Before the rise of this neighborhood, adjacent to the ever-popular Hongdae area, it was a largely sleepy residential town with a significant community of "hwagyos" or Chinese emigrants. Having settled in this area long ago, many of the most famous Chinese restaurants in this area have operated for decades and now having passed onto the children of the original founders.

Maehwa is one of those restaurants and well-known with nearly 70 years of history and currently run by the third generation of the same family. There's actually a really fascinating interview of the current owner (grandson of the restaurant's founder) about the illustrious history the restaurant has gone through which is in Korean but if you can understand, it's worth a read:

The restaurant has stood at this cozy place for decades and has multiple floors.

Menu is extensive featuring everyday Korean-Chinese classics as well as some less familiar entrees for the Koreans like Canton noodles, shrimp soup noodles, etc.

Their seasonal menus include in summer the beechwi naengmyeon (8K), for which they are particularly well-known for, the blowfish jjambbong (8K) and in winter their oyster jjambbong (9K), special oyster jjambbong (11K), and their seaweed and oyster jjambbong (11K).

Noodle dishes run from 5K for the most basic jjajangmyeon to 13K for the shrimp soup noodles.

Their rice dishes are in the similar price range between 6K for the basic fried rice to 13K for the seafood rice.

They also have homemade mandu which you can choose to get 15 small, thumb-sized ones for 5K or 7 bigger ones of the oyster variety, also 5K.

The name Maehwa comes from the Korean word for the Japanese Apricot Blossom, the fruit of which you may know as being used in the pickled Japanese dish of umeboshi. The fruit is also used quite heavily in Korean cooking, specifically the liquid from the fruit as an ingredient to provide a natural sweetness, mask any gamely smells, etc. Interestingly here, the menu specifies that it uses it in all their main dishes, including noodle dishes.

Pork comes from Korea, Chile, Spain. Beef from Australia, chicken from Brazil, rice from Korea, and chili powder from China.

For the real avid fans of the restaurant, you can even sign up for a membership bonus benefit in which you can accumulate points from your dine-ins, so long as you spend over 10,000 won on your meal and pay by cash.

Standard Korean-Chinese restaurant spread though the addition of the boiled peanuts makes it more on the latter than the former (by one dish)

If you're wondering if that's peanut butter, than yes, yes it is. Por que you ask...?

For Maehwa's very own bichwi naengmyeon. Also known as their jade naengmyeon. This take on the cold noodle favorite is found occasionally in a few Korean-Chinese restaurants around Seoul. Visually it's quite different from any Pyongyang, Seoul, or Hamheung style naengmyeon with the inclusion of toppings like shrimp, broccoli, quail egg, jellyfish, and five spice pork.

Anyone like me who isn't sure what to expect will find that this is quite a spectrum in the tastes department. There's a bit of tartness (and even lemon slices) in the broth, a broad umami taste that clings to your taste buds, a bit of pungency from the spices, and then the peanut butter- which you add according to your taste- adds an earthy foundation to it all that sort of acts as a vehicle for all these flavors going on.

If you also wondered about why the name of the dish is jade naengmyeon, take a look at the viridescent noodles. The noodles' green hues are quite bright but actually comes from plant ingredients which are evident by the speckles of green in the noodles. You can't taste it though and the thinner noodles have a surprising bit of elasticity to it.

As I mentioned, there are quite a lot of ingredients that goes atop and particularly ones that one would not associate with traditional Korean naengmyeon. Carrots, broccoli, quail eggs, jellyfish just to name a few. As complex as it is for the palate, it is too with its broad textures.

This dish is quite the unique experience and one that I can only compare as a kaleidoscope of tastes constantly twirling around in your mouth.

As a Pyongyang naengmyeon lover, my first experience with this kind of naengmyeon elicited a similar reaction from its range of flavors; I found myself surprised by the flavor, then overwhelmed, enjoying it, then back on the fence again.

Even now thinking back on this dish I can't quite settle my feelings on it though I'm more than game to come back for a second take on it in the near future. It's like that first date who you're not entirely sold on a follow-up date immediately but you're intrigued enough to give it a go.

What I definitely wasn't on the fence about was the samseon jjajang here. My pictures don't do justice but this jjajangmyeon was really something. From from the hot wok it was cooked together in, this steaming mixture of meat, vegetables, seafood, and chunjang comes separately from the yellow noodles which you then combine together on a DIY basis. Before some of you start hollering about having to do the mixing work, understand that this initial separation not only keeps the noodles nicely plump and elastic but gives the jjajang a bit of time to settle. 

My picture of it all combined was too blurry but this was some fantastic jjajangmyeon. Not too watery and a bit on the dry side if you compare to the cheap neighborhood delivery jjajangmyeon but each ingredient was just alive on a textural basis and a match made in heaven with the noodles with the right bit of chew.

Seriously. I still dream about this jjajangmyeon time to time.

On a whim, I also ordered the mul mandu (steamed dumplings) which comes in at only 5K for 15 of them. Mind you they are little thumb-sized dumplings but they are stuffed and make good bite-sized eats to accompany one's meal here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
I came for, and was intrigued by, the bichwhi naengmyeon but I left surprised and loving the jjajangmyeon. The bichwhi naengmyeon I’m open to exploring here or elsewhere as it’s a complex dish worth uncovering but I’ll be back for sure to take in the jjajangmyeon again and to sample the other dishes here. With its rich history and generations of know-how passed down by the same owning family, there’s no doubt that Maehwa knows what it’s doing and it does it well. The reasonable prices and great service are also major boosts. 

서울특별시 마포구 성미산로 192
192, Seongmisan-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea

Come out of exit 2 of Hongik Station and walk straight along Yanghwa-ro for about 150 meters. You'll come to major 3 way intersection and you'll want to keep hugging the road as it curves left and heads northward and joins into Yeonhui-ro. Walk another 250 meters north until you get to Seongmisan-ro and turn left. Walk about 100 meters and you should see Maehwa on your left.



Valet parking available

Traditional Korean and Chinese liquor available

On weekdays breaktime is between 3-5 PM and 3-4 PM on weekends.

They have a membership club here which frequent diners can amass and use points here. Scroll up in this post for more information about it.