Ice-cold noodles can freak people out, but when it’s hot outside and your stomach is growling, a refreshing bowl of the chewy-thin Korean cold noodle dish naengmyun is the next best remedy to mile-high froyo.
North Korea actually takes credit for the tastiest naengmyun and its origin, but while Mo Ran Gak in Garden Grove gets all the local attention for the dish, Gangnam Umuyi (“uh-moo-yi,” the North Korean way to pronounce “mom”) just down the street is where you should be eating it.
Umuyi specializes in something called chic-naengmyun. The biggest difference: the noodles are made from arrowroot rather than buckwheat, and hence have a dark-brown tone. The best difference: taste, texture, and chomp.
“There are a lot of older Koreans here in Garden Grove who used to live in North Korea and are really picky about their naengmyun,” said owner Jonathan Haan through a translator. “So we’ve updated our recipes and menu to match their tastes, as well as the tastes of the large Vietnamese population here; some menu items are also translated in Vietnamese.”
The reason why Umuyi’s naengmyun beats out others (even, debatably, the popular Yu Chun in K-Town) is because the restaurant shops for its ingredients fresh every morning. So if something runs out, they close for the night—that’s how serious they are about their craft.
“We also use a lot of natural ingredients in our seasoning,” said Haan. “It just looks red, but there’s a lot of ingredients that go into it that’s really quite complex, and we work hard to make this dish refreshing rather than just cold.”
The two most common ways to eat naengmyun are studied contrasts. The most popular, “mool-naengmyun,” is famously served in an icy broth with a perfect blend of sweet and salty if done right (don’t forget to add a dash of vinegar and hot Korean mustard to accent the rest of the flavors). The second, “bibim-naengmyun,” is a spicy, chilled version of the noodle without the icy broth. Umuyi does the latter right because it’s not overly spicy, and they’re generous with their sesame seeds and sesame oil, offering just enough nuttiness for the tastebuds.
Each bowl is topped with layers of pickled radish, fresh cucumbers, thin slices of chilled beef (or spicy raw fish, if you’d like) and a hard-boiled egg cut in half. Like Yu Chun, Umuyi also has a self-serve all-you-can-drink hot broth stand.
Umuyi officially opened nine months ago and is still toying with its menu. On weekends, Haan and his chefs serve at the tables to get a better feel for their customers’ reactions. To make your naengmyun experience even better: get the combo with the galbi. A hot and cold duo always kicks up the senses!
Gangnam Umuyi, 10031 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-8888.