Yuchun Kudzu Cold Noodles Restaurant
Posted 29 December 2003 - 09:20 PM
825 Keeaumoku St.
Honolulu HI 96814
One of our family's favorites.
Yuchun Restaurant specializes in naengmyeon (Korean cold noodles) made out of chik (kudzu root). Yes, it's the same kudzu that is the pestilent scourge of the Southeastern U.S. (see below), but is viewed by as a uniquely healthy gourmet food ingredient by Koreans and Japanese. Indeed, the restaurant's clientele seems to consist of approximately equal parts Korean tourists, Japanese tourists, and local people of all ethnic groups.
Kudzu has been traditionally used as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including fevers and alcohol addiction, in a variety of East Asian countries. The roots can be made into a number of different preparations, the most popular being a kind of tea made from the roasted ground roots, a very expensive cooking starch made from the filtered and purified ground roots, and the specialty here, noodles. They look a bit like buckwheat noodles but are an even darker gray color, almost black. In fact, my daughter (who is a great fan) always tells us she wants to go to the "black noodle" place. The noodles are pretty gelatinous in consistency, though not quite to extent as bean thread noodles, and have a slightly sweet taste.
There are two traditional ways of preparing kudzu noodles in Korea, both adaptations of cold noodle dishes that are more commonly prepared with buckwheat noodles. The first is mul naengmyeon ("water" cold noodles), a kind of cold beef broth over noodles, garnished with slices of boiled beef; pickled cucumber, radish, and Asian pear; half a boiled egg; and some sesame seeds. The second is bibim naengmyeon (tossed cold noodles), which consists of the noodles served with a generous amount of chili sauce and the same garnishes as the water cold noodles. Both are popular way to cool down in the summer, in particular, in Korea. In Hawai`i of course, cooling down is a popular passtime both summer and winter.
Most people who come to Yuchun Restaurant order one of the sets that allow you to combine either of the naengmyeons with either kalbi (broiled marinated beef rib) or bulgogi (broiled marinated boneless loin). One naengmyeon of either kind with a meat of either kind is $14.95, and two naengmyeons with one meat is $21.95. We usually order one of each kind of naengmyeon, along with a platter of bulgogi (our daughter doesn't like meat on the bone).
Here my wife and daughter wait patiently while I take a picture. The mul naengmyeon is in the foreground. The cloudiness is one unusual aspect of their presentation. While some places will place pieces of ice in the broth to cool it down even further, Yuchun actually reduces its broth to an icy slush and presents it to that way. It's a nice touch - you get a really cold broth without the dilution that comes from putting ice in it. Though I'm not a connossieur of naengmyeon broths, my wife says that it's very good and I take her word for it. The chili paste on the bibim naengmyeon is very hot and slightly sweet, not quite as palate-numbing as you might find at some other Korean restaurants. Both bulgogi (on the cow-shaped hotplate) and kalbi (not shown) are cut relatively small for easy chewing. Your food always comes with complimentary cups of roasted kudzu root tea. In all, a kind of comfort food experience - one that is heightened by the extremely nice and solicitous staff.
Other than the aforementioned dishes, Yuchun Restaurant also features a full range of Korean restaurant standards. Among their better dishes are those that feature their hot sauce - one is the special tteokboki, a dish of rice cakes, beef, fish cake, and veggies cooked in front of you in hot sauce. The other is their yangnyeom dak twigim, fried chicken legs doused in hot sauce.
The restaurant's appeal to multiple communities is exemplified by its gaudy multilingual sign, which features English, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese writing. It ornaments the facade of an ancient, fraying-at-the-edges commercial building also housing, bizarrely enough, a large striptease joint, a porno emporium, a Vietnamese karaoke bar, the conveniently located Korean Senior Citizen's Center, and an antique furniture store. The Korean Full Gospel Church is located in the next building, presumably to rescue seniors who go astray.
Botano-historical note: Kudzu (Pueraria lobata aka Pueraria hirsuta aka Pueraria montana var. lobata) was officially designated a "noxious weed" by the USDA in 1972. As Southerners know, millions of dollars a year are spent to eradicate it from hillsides and highways in this country. While the various culinary uses of the vine are not exactly unknown to specialists, they have never been exploited in the U.S. to anywhere near the extent that they are in the vine's East Asian home countries. For a great overview, see the Amazing Story of Kudzu home page from the University of Alabama. A plethora of photos of kudzu-covered buildings, trees, and everything else can be found on Jack Anthony's Kudzu pages. Finally, you can find a bunch of recipes for Kudzu-related foods.
Posted 02 January 2004 - 12:05 AM
Edited by rlivings, 02 January 2004 - 12:35 AM.
Posted 02 January 2004 - 05:39 PM
Mul Naengmyeon. No kidding - the noodles are pretty black. Note the slushy cold broth.
Bibim Naengmyeon. The sauce is not too thick or beany. Will still burn your tongue, but the noodles immediately counteract that. . .
Posted 02 January 2004 - 06:24 PM
Posted 30 April 2004 - 04:13 AM
In old-fashioned bunshik places, the tteokbokki was cooked over coal (not charcoal, coal) fires, which effectively made it impossible for eaters to breathe or taste anything. Thankfully, Yuchun, which is not a bunshik place anyway (it's actually interesting that they have tteokbooki on their menu given that their specialty is naengmeyon), uses a gas burner. It also attempts a fairly deluxe version of tteokbooki, one that includes carrots, fat green onions daepa, asian cabbage baechu, fishcake (eomuk), and chewy noodles known as ccheolmyeon. A big dollop of gochujang is place on top and a little water poured in before the heat goes on:
After it's been boiling away for a while, the waitress starts to stir the sauce to reduce it and so that residual rice flour from the tteok starts to thicken the sauce.
The result still has a thinner sauce than you would see with tteokbookis elsewhere, but that's not a bad thing. Chewiness runs through the final product. The different kinds of chewiness offered between the noodles and tteok is perhaps the most interesting textural sensation here. The fishcake holds up enough to keep its (desirable) rubbery texture. Even the baechu, which absorbs a surprising amount of the sauce, is chewy, losing its crispness but not becoming soggy.
Posted 30 April 2004 - 08:35 AM
I don't know that it's worth it to make it at home. for approximately $7-$10 you can get it at the restaurant with all the fixin's.
I like the idea of slushy broth as opposed to ice cubes. I think I've seen that here as well. Now, that's progress.
My father once entertained me with stories about the hard times, during the war, when they used to go up to the mountain and dig up chik roots to make a sort of survival gruel. I don't know if he actually did it, or that he was relating stories he had heard. But kudzu is apparently nutritious, even to other plants. The world record holder for the largest tomato plant ever, Charles Wilbur, fertilized his tomato plants with kudzu compost.
Posted 30 April 2004 - 09:09 PM
Joan, I'm not surprised that chik noodles are available in LA Koreatown. Just about everything Korean is available in LA Koreatown, including some stuff you can't find in Seoul.
I started a topic a while ago on the Southeast forum called Eat Kudzu, and it got some interesting responses. . .
Posted 10 July 2004 - 03:10 PM
Gamasot bibimbab is a version of bibimbab (garnished rice for mixing up) that is cooked an served in a carbon steel post. Bibimbap is rice that has been topped with an arrangement of meat and vegetables, usually including raw or cooked beef, egg, soy bean sprouts, and shredded kim chi, as well as various additional vegetables. The whole thing is mixed with gochujang (chili-fermented soybean paste) and sesame oil. There are numerous versions, depending on the family or restaurant, as well as specific types associated with regions of the country. Cheonju (in north Jeolla province) is famous for its bibimbab made with raw beef and lots of soy bean sprouts. "Bibinba" has recently also become very popular Japan as part of the decade-long boom in Korean cookery, and ready-made versions can be found on the shelves of many convenience stores.
The Yuchun version contains a topping of shredded cooked beef, shredded egg (most places give you a fried or even raw egg), carrots, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, fiddlehead ferns, shredded radish kim chi, and soy bean sprouts. The gamasot retains head from the cooking and creates a nice rice crust (nurungji) that may people find the best part of eatin it. Gamasot bibimbab is closely related to dolsot bibimbab, which is served in a igneous stone bowl to similar effect. Dol is the korean word for rock, and sot for the kind of small pot used for cooking. Gama is actually derived from the Japanese word kama, which means pot, and (in Korean) stands for a Japanese-style pot made from cast iron or carbon steel, having either wooden lides or metal ones with a small round bulb for grasping on top. So a gamasot literally means "pot pot". Similar to "mochi tteok", which literally means "rice cake rice cake", but refers in Korea to Japanese-style rice cake, but that's a digression. . .
Another dish that we like is yukkejang, which is a chili-hot beef soup with shredded beef, green onions, gosari (fiddlehead ferns), and other vegetables. Aside from the spicing (and the sometimes the goat meat), it's a little like the north Mexican birria, which is why a lot of the Koreans who live on the Arizona-Sonora border seem to tkae to birria quite well. Yuchun's version has a lot of egg on top, which does help to cool things down and compensate for the huge amount of chili. . .
Good for a hot summer day, on the principle of "iyeol chiyeol" (use heat to cure heat).
Posted 11 July 2004 - 07:28 PM