Review: Naksan Naengmyeon (낙산냉면)

This summer marks the 10th I've notched in Korea and this one has been a doozy. Temperatures have fluctuated in the 35-37 range (95-98F) which doesn't seem so crazy high for some of my SoCal buddies if not for the fact that even at night it's remained in the 30s and also the fact it's crazy humid in Korea in the summer.

I can attest firsthand that when you're going through days of sweltering, humid heat your appetite takes a hit. That bit of sweetness, tartness, spiciness... that oomph is sometimes needed to pique your taste buds and get your digestive juices flowing again. There's a reason why so many cuisine from hot and damp regions are known for their bold flavors (Mexican, Thai, Indian, etc).

I think my love of Pyongyang style naengmyeon here is already well known but sometimes you need something with more pizzazz and snap, crackle, pop.  Well look no further than the spicy, refreshing, crunchy and chewy naengmyeon from Naksan Naengmyeon.

The name of Naksan Naengmyeon is a bit leading since the restaurant isn't found at all on Naksan, the popular hill in the eastern part of Seoul known for the wall murals in the Ewha Art Village. Originally though, the restaurant was found atop the hill before it moved to its current location near Dongmyo Shrine.

The restaurant is tucked behind a side alley but its popularity will particularly be evident in the summer seasons when people search for this fan favorite cold dish. The two-story restaurant offers one dish and one dish only which is their signature dish, the Naksan Naengmyeon. The twist is though that you can get it in four levels of spiciness. The Naksan Naengmyeon is the "regular" spicy level while just below that you can get the less spicy and the mild. At the other end of the spectrum is the "uhl-keun-ee" or spicy. I emphasize "regular" in quotation marks because this is geared towards the Korean palette so you can expect that it already packs some heat. Regardless of the spicy level, the price is the same 7K a bowl though you can opt for extra noodles for 2K or simply go big from the beginning with a big size (9K) which you can also select the spicy level. I've also seen a sign in wintertime they have onmyeon or warm noodles but I'm not sure if it's the same dish that's heated or a different take...

The restaurant emphasizes that their yooksoo, or broth, is made with hanwoo beef and that the cucumber, garlic, and radish they use in the dish are all sourced from Korea.

They also recommend that you taste the broth first before adding the condiments provided at the table (like sugar and vinegar) as it's already seasoned.

Interestingly, if you find your naengmyeon is too sweet, salty, tart, or spicy, they tell you to let them know so they can customize the seasoning and taste to your preference. This is definitely one of the biggest draws of Naksan Naengmyeon as they go above and beyond to customize their signature dish to the customer's preference. Would someone make a similar request at a respected Pyongyang Naengmyeon restaurant, he or she would probably get laughed at.

A sign of any proper naengmyeon isn't complete without some serviced yooksoo (stock). They emphasize they use hanwoo beef for their stock and the variety here has a pleasant beefy savory taste to it. Interestingly for naengmyeon, yooksoo is considered especially good for drinking before eating your cold noodles as the cold nature of the dish is said to be bad for digestion on an empty stomach. This is also the reason many food experts recommend you eat the hard boiled egg that comes atop most naengmyeon dishes first.

Served in silver bowls, the naengmyeon here is particularly visually striking for the absolutely enormous mountain of julienne cucumber atop the dish. Seriously, there must be half a cucumber that goes into every bowl. Contrasting vividly against the green is the crimson chilled broth which is dotted with a generous sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Seeing the volume of the chopped cucumber alone, you could almost mistake there being no noodles at all in the dish.

As the regular spicy version, when you take a deep intake of the broth you'll find delicious chilled beefy savoriness which then goes through a chameleon-like change of flavors. The savory/beefy flavor is immediately followed by a tart sweetness. But there's no chance to dwell on that as the heat then builds up. It's a nice peppery natural spiciness that grows as you go through the dish. The noodles are on the thinner side and with just a bit of elasticity to give it a bit of chew. It's that bit of chewing that helps to really bring in the mellow, grounded flavors of the noodles with the sharper, dynamic flavors of the chilled broth. What gives the dish that extra dimension is the cucumbers, adding a refreshing crunchy texture to the mix while the grounded sesame seeds adds a bit of nutty element with the mini drops of sesame oil being released.

The closest example I can give is a hybrid between naengmyeon and makguksu which admittedly I wasn't sure if I was completely sold on my first visit. Like many others though, I've since developed a hankering for it that comes and goes- particularly when my appetite is in need of some stimulation.

And in this utterly miserable heat, I will take some cold stimulation please.

Final thoughts: 
Though certainly not traditional, Podam shows its effort in creating solid takes on these favorite dishes. They're not afraid to make an occasional twist which, more importantly, works making it a nice dining experience for the open-minded.  

서울 종로구 지봉로5길 8
8, Jibong-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

From exit 9 of Dongmyo Shrine station, walk straight along Jibong-ro for about 60m until you get to Jibong-ro 5-gil and turn left. Walk up about 40-50 meters and you'll come across Naksan Naengmyeon to your right.

11:30AM-9PM everyday except Tuesdays (closed on Tuesdays)





As mentioned above, you can order between the levels of spiciness!
Don't go on Tuesdays when they're closed!