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My Favorite Kalguksu Restaurant in Korea: A Journey Through Korea's Beloved Noodle Dish


As a Los Angeles native, my go-to spot for kalguksu has always been Myeongdong Kalguksu, which has recently rebranded to MDK, in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Their extra garlic kimchi and the impeccably soft noodles have never failed to satisfy me. And the dumplings served in each kalguksu dish – they truly are the cherry on top. So, when my travels took me to Korea, it was a must to visit Myeongdong KyoJa in Myeongdong. But, before diving into how it was, let me share a snippet about this beloved noodle dish's rich heritage.


Historical Origins of Kalguksu

Kalguksu , which translates to "knife noodles," highlights the unique method of its creation—wheat flour dough rolled out thinly, then cut into wide, flat noodles. This labor-intensive process is a testament to the dish's artisanal quality and the dedication to preserving traditional cooking methods.

 

The origins of Kalguksu are not documented with precise dates, but the dish is believed to have been a staple in Korean diets for centuries, offering sustenance and warmth. Historically, it was considered a luxury item, as wheat flour was a prized commodity, and the dish was often reserved for special occasions and royal feasts.

 

As Korea entered into the modern era, Kalguksu began to shed its image as a luxury item, becoming more accessible to the general public. The dish's versatility allowed it to incorporate local and seasonal ingredients, reflecting the agricultural bounty of different regions. This adaptability ensured that Kalguksu remained a beloved comfort food, capable of embodying the flavors of each season and the culinary preferences of various locales.


Meehl Gah Mah Noodle House


Traditional Preparation of Kalguksu: An Artisanal Craft

 At the heart of Kalguksu lies its traditional preparation. The making of Kalguksu noodles is an art form in itself, rooted in the principles of Korean culinary craftsmanship.

 

The Dough: The journey begins with the dough, a simple yet crucial blend of wheat flour, water, and a pinch of salt. Achieving the right consistency is key; it must be firm enough to hold its shape yet tender enough to yield the perfect chewiness once cooked. Kneading the dough thoroughly ensures it develops the necessary gluten structure, giving the noodles their signature texture.

 

Rolling and Cutting: Once rested, the dough is rolled out into a thin sheet. This requires patience and skill, as the dough must be evenly thin to ensure uniform cooking. A knife, sharp and precise, then slices through the dough, cutting it into long, slender noodles. This knife-cut method, from which Kalguksu gets its name, distinguishes the dish from other noodle varieties. The width of the noodles can vary, but they are typically cut wider than other types of noodles to provide a more satisfying bite.

 

The Broth: While the noodles are undeniably the star, the broth in which they swim is equally important. A rich, savory broth, often made from anchovies, kelp, and dried shrimp, lays the foundation. It's simmered for hours, allowing the flavors to deepen and meld together. Variations exist, with some regions or families preferring a chicken or beef base, but the goal is always the same: to create a broth that complements the noodles' simplicity without overpowering their delicate taste.

 

Finishing Touches: As the noodles cook to perfection in the boiling broth, an assortment of fresh vegetables—zucchini, potatoes, carrots—and optional proteins like seafood or chicken are added. The result is a harmonious dish that balances the chewy texture of the noodles with the broth's depth of flavor and the fresh crunch of the vegetables.


Myeongdong KyoJa, Kalguksu and Dumplings


Myeongdong KyoJa

Myeongdong KyoJa certainly lived up to my expectations. The efficiency of service was fast. It was faster than ordering a burger at Shake Shake back in the States. It's a testament to Korea's quick-paced lifestyle, but that's a post for another time. The noodles were delightfully soft, and the broth was rich in depth and flavor, making every sip a taste of heaven. However, upon my return to L.A. and revisiting MDK, the magic just wasn't the same. The noodles had a chewier texture, and the broth seemed diluted. I found myself yearning for the authentic taste back in Korea.



Meehl Gah Mah Noodle House

Despite the excellence of Myeongdong KyoJa, another gem stole my heart. Regrettably, I can't provide the address, as it slipped my mind to jot it down. With a founding year of 1993 proudly displayed, the owner himself greets patrons, kneading noodles by hand at the entrance. True to Korean efficiency, the queue, despite stretching out the door, moved briskly. The broth here was heartier than that of MDK, with noodles that seemed hand-torn, evoking memories of the kalguksu my eldest aunt used to prepare for me in America. My mother speculated that the similarity in taste might be because the noodle house's style originated from the same region as my aunt. The memories flooded in.


Meehl Gah Mah Kalguksu


Kalguksu embodies the spirit of Korean hospitality and the communal nature of its food culture. It's a dish served with love, meant to be shared among family and friends, bringing people together over a meal that warms the heart as much as it satisfies the palate. In every bowl of Kalguksu, there lies a story of Korea, a narrative woven from the threads of history, culture, and tradition.

 


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