Bibim Naengmyon

We went to our favorite foreign-food hangout for dinner tonight, the Ichiban restaraunt and sushi bar on Burnet Road. We’re “regulars” there, going at least once a month (if not multiple times a week), and often getting free interesting sushi delicacies from the sushi chefs and almost always, free mochi ice cream cakes for dessert.

When we were seated, the head waitress came over, having “taken” our table from the girl who had seated us (normally, the person seating would be the person taking the order as well). Amy ordered her usual, tempura roll sushi and gyoza. I’ve been known as the “big American who likes Korean food”, after surprising them a couple of years ago and ordering spicy kimchi. For about a month, I’d ordered bibim bap every time we visited, to the point where our waitress would just look at me and go “and you want bibimbap, right?”. Now, its a joke among us. Tonight I decided to try something new, and ordered bibim naengmyon.

I couldn’t pronounce it, of course, so I just said “Number 11”, pointed at the menu, and tried to say it. The waitress laughed and pronounced it for me, then said “Are you sure? Very spicy.” I said “Yeah! I’ll try anything.” She looked at me again and said “Are you very sure? Very, very spicy.” I told her, “Yep!” She looked over at one of the chefs and called back in Korean for a minute. I don’t know if she was saying “do we have the supplies to make this” or “do you think this American can take it?”, but she smiled and said “okay!” and went back into the kitchen.

Amy’s order arrived, along with our miso soup and the various side dishes that come with most of the “bowl” meals at Ichiban. Part of mine was a bowl of bright red sauce, and she explained “this is the sauce for naengmyon”. I tried a bit, and it wasn’t very spicy (at least to me) at all; I tried more on one of the egg side dishes and decided that I liked it. The sauce wasn’t as spicy as, say, the red pepper paste they put on the bibim bap, which I always use.

A few minutes later, the naengmyon arrived. Buckwheat vermicelli noodles, with various vegetables (radishes, etc) on top along with thinly-sliced beef and a hard-boiled egg. Our waitress took over, taking pity on the big American who didn’t know how to prepare the dish. She cut the mound into manageable pieces with kitchen shears, then poured most of the red pepper sauce on top, followed by some soy sauce, and then straight vinegar, and mixed it well with the chopsticks. She said that most American people she’d encountered didn’t like the hotness of the sauce, or the combination of the peppers, soy sauce, and vinegar.

I dove in, and it was very good – I enjoyed it, and will probably order it again. Amy said that our waitress was watching me when she could while running other tables, seeing me enjoy it, and that she had a big grin on her face too, happy that the big American was enjoying yet another “strange” Korean dish.