Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cold comfort

Cold noodle soup - Dongchimi gooksu
Our southern California climate can be unpredictable. One week it can be cold, and the next a hot wind blows in from the desert and temperatures rise. Though the marine air tempers the heat by beach, over the mountains in the Valley it can be 90 degrees in March.

Such dry heat can sap the appetite. When the Santa Anas blow, we need something cool and refreshing to nourish us.

Cold noodle soups and salads are a staple of Korean cuisine, and there is a surprising variety of different tastes and styles, ranging from smooth and creamy to intense and spicy. Here's a sampling of good dishes to help beat the heat.

The dining room at Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun
The most well-known Korean cold noodles dish is naengmyeon. There are two versions of this dish, made with thin, chewy noodles of buckwheat flour. In Los Angeles, one of the best places to get this is Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun, a modern, airy little cafe off Olympic Boulevard.

Mul-naengmyeon is like a cold noodle soup, with slices of cooked beef, Asian pear, julienned cucumber, and pickled radish in a rich, flavorful beefy broth. The broth is so tangy and refreshing you want to guzzle it. Garnished with toasted sesame seeds and a hard boiled egg, it's served in a large, stainless steel bowl, and comes to the table so cold it's almost slushy.

Mul naengmyeon
When my son and I had some for lunch, he remarked that the broth would make a good base for a Bloody Mary style cocktail.

The other version of naengmyeon is called bibimnaengmyeon, and it's served like a cold noodle salad with a spicy chili dressing on the same chewy buckwheat noodles.

We had something similar to this at another Koreatown restaurant famous for its noodles, Ma Dang Gook Soo. Here, you can get a bowl of chicken noodle soup made with wide wheat noodles knife-cut by hand. But they also offer more unusual noodles, made with various grains and herbs.

Spicy Acorn noodles
My son had what the menu called Spicy Acorn noodles - these were made with acorn flour, and had a rich nutty taste. Similar to bibimnaengmyeon, these were tossed with a spicy red chili dressing, and mixed with cucumbers, bean sprouts, sesame seeds and a boiled egg.

Konggooksoo with buckwheat noodles
At Ma Dang Gook Soo I tried kongguksoo, which is buckwheat noodles served in a thick, white creamy chilled broth made by blending soy nuts and sesame seeds with soy milk. Very austere, this dish was bland and filling. A touch of sea salt brought out the nutty flavor of the broth, which had a slightly gritty feel. I felt it was good in small amounts, but a huge steel bowl of it was a little too much. Indeed, the two ladies seated next to us split a bowl.

Dongchimi gooksu from The Corner Place
A very delicate cold noodle dish is dongchimi gooksu, the signature dish at The Corner Place on James Wood Boulevard. Plain white wheat noodles and chopped scallions float in a clear, colorless cold broth made from the pickling brine for white radish pickle, dongchimi. It's refreshingly sweet and tangy, and its recipe is such a closely guarded secret that The Corner Place doesn't allow take-out, so as to foil those who would try to crack the code in home kitchens.

After Max's cocktail suggestion for naengmyeon broth, I reflected on how delicious a soju  martini made with dongchimi broth would taste. Garnish with a cucumber spear and a wee pearl onion!

Next time you're in a heat wave, try something tangy with Korean cold noodles.


Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Oh my gosh...I would like one of each please! These look amazing.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

When my son and I had some for lunch, he remarked that the broth would make a good base for a Bloody Mary style cocktail.

In a bar I frequent, the "Bullshot", a beef broth and vodka cocktail, became popular for a brief spell.

I am partial to bibimnaengmyeon. One of these days, I swear I'll get around to tackling the edible acorn thing... I frequent a park with numerous oak trees. The nuts need to be soaked in multiple changes of water to leach out the tannins- some authors suggest tying the shelled acorns in cheesecloth and putting them in your toilet tank for a couple of days.

Oh my gosh...I would like one of each please! These look amazing.

Korean food typically looks like a work of art. It's obvious that a lot of care has been taken in the "composition" of a dish.