Food Issue - Around the world: Korea

Harm Heung's bowls of steel

Thursday October 21, 2010 04:00 am EDT

A poster for Korean director Park Chan-wook's classic cult thriller Oldboy hangs on the wall of Harm Heung Cold Noodle next to vintage movie posters and advertisements for the current Korean beverage of the moment: Makkoli (a fizzy, fermented rice wine drink). Clusters of old black-and-white photos add warmth to the eclectic atmosphere. A glossy red model airplane hangs in the center of the room filled with other bric-a-brac and tables fashioned out of oil drums topped with rounds of plywood. It's all very new Korea with a wink to its military past.

Cold Noodle — as it's simply written on the restaurant's facade — serves many excellent styles of its namesake, aka naengmyun, in chilly, stainless steel bowls. The bibim naengmyun is more salad than soup. Chewy arrowroot noodles arrive topped with a spicy dressing made with kochujang (Korean red pepper paste), julienned vegetables, and a boiled egg, which your headscarf-sporting waitress will happily cut up for you with every Korean's favorite cooking utensil: kitchen shears.

Beyond the noodles, Harm Heung crafts beautiful dolsot bi bim baps, sizzling cast iron bowls filled with rice crisped on the bottom by a touch of oil; a plethora of vegetables you might recognize from standard banchan (side dishes served with most Korean meals); and a squeeze bottle of spicy pepper-based sauce to mix in as you eat. Skinny platters of sundae, Korea's version of blood sausage, offer a funky counterpoint to the vibrancy of the kochujang-laced dishes. Fried chicken is up for grabs, but it isn't the usual Korean fried chicken you may know. The chicken here is more seasoned than battered, but the frying dries the skin to a texture resembling beef jerky that offers a pleasant little tug before you reach the flavorful and juicy interior. There's also barbecue grilled on a tabletop burner if you want some more meat in your diet. But at Harm Heung, the cold noodles are king.

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