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Desert Companion

Dining: Eat This City: You Need These Noodles

soyo_bibim_naengmyeon_by_jon_estrada-5444b.jpg

bibim-naengmyeon at Soyo
Photography by Jon Estrada

bibim-naengmyeon at Soyo

Six soul-warming Korean dishes to cozy up with this season

Just about every culture along the Silk Road has its version of noodles (it’s why the Korean suffix for noodles, myeon, is related to the Chinese mein and Japanese men). In Korea alone there are dozens upon dozens of noodle recipes, but these six dishes are especially familiar standbys — easy lunches, comfort food, a whole meal in a giant bowl.

Noodles used to be a delicacy. Wheat was scarce and making noodles was time-intensive, so they were served at feasts and on holidays. But during the Korean War, U.S. food aid flooded the market with wheat flour. Noodles became (and still are) some of the cheapest meals you can buy in Korea. And, of course, in Las Vegas, where Korean noodles come in countless forms.

(Hint: Koreans traditionally use metal chopsticks, making noodles a special challenge for your skills. Don’t be ashamed to ask for wooden chopsticks if you’re struggling.)

                                              

Mul-naengmyeon

Thin buckwheat noodles are doused in an icy broth and garnished with cucumber, egg, brisket and sometimes pear and radish. Originally from North Korea, it’s equally popular in the South and inspires raging debates around which noodles (more buckwheat or less? sweet potato starch or no?) and which broths (cloudy? clear? beef? pork? both?) are best. Use the scissors to cut your bed of noodles into halves or quarters, then season your broth with a generous dash of vinegar and mustard. It’s especially popular in summer, but is eaten year-round. Try it as a palate-cleansing second course after a round (or several) of Korean barbecue.

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Bibim-naengmyeon

While this dish typically uses the same noodles as naengmyeon, there’s no broth here — these cold noodles are generously slathered with a spicy gochujang-based dressing. Warning: It can get spicy and messy. One overly-eager slurp will send bright red sauce flying in all directions. Cut and mix your noodles, and devour with caution. Both mul-naengmyeon and bibim-naengmyeon are often served as a final course to a dinner of Korean barbecue, but also make for a refreshing lunch. Bonus points (and extra protein) if you opt for hwe-naengmyeon, the version served with raw fish.

Mul-naengmyeon and bibim-naengmyeon ($10 each) at Soyo Korean Barstaurant, 7775 S. Rainbow Blvd. #105

 

Jjajangmyeon

Oh, jjajangmyeon! A childhood classic, it’s what you eat when you’re hungry and nostalgic and don’t want to break the bank. It’s the meal you have while sitting on your floor when you’ve just moved to a new house and you’re surrounded by boxes. It’s what parents feed toddlers and regret while cleaning up. While this is originally a Chinese recipe, Koreans put their own twist on this hot black bean-and-onion sauce served over long, chewy wheat noodles. Comfort in a bowl.

 

Jjambong

Jjambong is the Mr. Hyde to jjajangmyeon’s Dr. Jekyll. Where jjajangmyeon is placating and sweet, jjambong is a fiery orange broth over the same chewy wheat noodles, loaded up with a medley of shrimp, mussels, squid, and more. But it gets better: If you can’t choose, most restaurants will now let you order half and half, dubbed jjam-jja-myeon. For best results, order either of these noodle dishes with a side of tangsuyuk, sweet and sour fried pork.

Jjanjangmyeon ($7.99), jjambong ($9.99), and tangsuyuk ($15.99) at Tae Heung Gak, 6870 Spring Mountain Road #10

 

Kalguksu

Kalguksu literally means “knife-cut noodles.” The flour noodles, rather than being pulled and stretched for maximum glutinous chewiness, are rolled and cut for a slightly more tender texture. Kalguksu is usually made with summer squash, small clams, and a hot, savory anchovy broth that thickens as the noodles release their starch. Clam kalguksu is a little hard to come by here in Las Vegas and tends to be a seasonal special, but you can find hearty chicken kalguksu more readily — it’s a chicken noodle soup for the soul.

Chicken or seafood kalguksu ($9.99) at Kkulmat, 5600 Spring Mountain Road #A

 

Gomtang

Jon EstradaWhile not typically considered a noodle dish, this beef soup almost always comes with a handful of noodles, either the thin, white flour noodles (somyeon) or clear rice noodles (dangmyeon). Gomtang broth is made from ox bones boiled for hours, resulting in a milky color and rich, almost creamy flavors. The broth usually comes unseasoned, but you’ll find green onions, salt, pepper and chili paste on the table to season however you like. Dip the meat into the small bowl of seasoned soy sauce on the side.

Gomtang ($10.99) at E Jo Korean Restaurant, 700 E. Sahara Ave. #D

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