I updated this recipe versus the original using some rice vinegar and brown sugar in place of the apple cider and part of the nashi pear. This revised version is much closer to my husband's favorite naeng myun from Soo Ra Myun Ok in Daejeon and Chil Bo Myun Ok in LA. Almost there!
This is the story of one of the greatest love affairs of all time. It involves a boy and a bowl of cold noodles and the lengths to which he will go to be united with his beloved. Our protagonist tells me it began in high school -- at least, that's his earliest memory of it, and it's not the type of meal a kid would enjoy anyway. There was a restaurant in Daejeon where he and his family would go after church. The best in the city, his mom had said. And when he tasted that sweet-tangy-spicy sauce coating those ice cold, chewy noodles, it filled both his stomach and his heart.
For a while, it seemed that these lovers were destined to be star-crossed. He moved to Northern California, and though he knocked on the door of every Korean restaurant, he was met with head-shaking and shrugs. A few of them offered something with the right name, but the first bite unmasked the lie. Then, nearly 20 years later, his wife happened upon a restaurant in LA's Koreatown where the bowls were ice cold, the noodles were perfectly chewy, and they even served the traditional steaming cup of yook soo (beef broth) alongside. On his next trip down south, he stopped in to try it. It had been so many years that his tastebuds could have been mistaken, but the flavor was so fully ingrained in his memory, that if this wasn't the real thing, it sure was close.
So our young man has once again been reunited with his lost love, and now trips to LA have become pilgrimages not only to convene with good friends but also to savor those noodles that have long eluded him. For the recipe, read on.
It's amazing the difference between what you learn at college versus what you learn and retain during those four years. I went to (some) classes, took exams, and came out the other end with a degree, but can I solve the limit of a function when x approaches a constant or recall the dates and significance of the Han Dynasty? Sorry. I do remember all of the places I could use my student ID to buy meals on campus and who played point guard my freshman year (Anwar McQueen). And the first time I had niu rou mian was when Dave and I first started dating, and he took me to Taste of Taipei in the Durant Food Court for one of his favorite dishes. Our palates (and stomachs) demonstrated incredible tolerance back then.
Of course, if we went there today, we'd wonder what we were thinking. But for a couple of college kids who were accustomed to eating instant ramen, Jack-in-the-Box tacos, and sorority-house salad bars, it was heavenly. Later, we discovered the nuanced styles and varieties of niu rou mian at Queen House in Mountain View (fiery chili) and Spices in the Richmond District (numbing peppercorn) who both put Taste of Taipei to shame. But all had a few key ingredients: star anise, ginger, onions, soy sauce, and loads of tender beef. Mine has all of the above plus a bunch of tomatoes which really deepens the flavor of the broth. Not a bad evolution considering it all began at a dirty hole in the wall near Telegraph Avenue. For the recipe, read on.
Today was one of those days where inspiration took a long time to strike. The weather was gorgeous, so Lily and I went for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood before I headed to the Richmond for lunch with one of my best high school friends. By the time I got home and looked in the fridge, I had no ideas for dinner except the pangs of guilt that I had tons of fresh produce in the vegetable bin. So nabeyaki-ish udon was born! As I don't have single-serving iron pots such as the ones traditionally used for nabeyaki, I had to make do by cooking my noodles separately and carefully poaching each egg in the broth, but it was tasty all the same. For the recipe, read on.
One of the most memorable experiences of our trip to Japan earlier this year was visiting Hiroshima. It happens to be the city from which my mom's family emigrated over 100 years ago, but it obviously has great international historical significance. Peace Plaza was incredibly powerful, and the bleakness of the events that occurred here 65 years ago seemed accentuated by the cold, rainy weather. Whether it was the emotion or the walking, we worked up quite an appetite and soon went in search of Hiroshima's famous okonomiyaki.
We found it in a place called Okonomimura -- literally, "okonomi town." A 4-story building, each floor houses several stalls specializing in a different type of Japanese "pizza" (for lack of a better comparison). The difference between Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and, say, the varieties found in Osaka, is the fact that each ingredient is layered on top of the next. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also frequently uses noodles -- typically yakisoba or udon -- as one layer in the pie. The stall we eventually chose offered toppings, from Hiroshima's famous oysters to kimchi, but you can also just eat it on its own, which I find equally delicious. For the recipe, read on.