A Taste of Home at Nun Namu Jip – Seoul
It seems North Korean food is a trend in Seoul right now. With tensions running high between North and South Korea and Kim Jong Il acting crazier than ever, I’m not sure how this happened (Is it like, another missile?! That crazy motherf*cker! I wonder what he ate this morning?), but for me it was quite nice. My mom’s side of the family is from Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea), so I grew up eating a lot of North Korean food. Nengmyun (냉면, cold buckwheat noodle soup) is probably the most well-known, but another cold soup dish I grew up with is kimchi mari (김치말이). It’s very similar to nengmyun, but the soup has kimchi, kimchi liquid and/or mul kimchi (물김치, water kimchi), and sesame oil in it, and instead of the buckwheat noodles, there’s rice. (Rice noodles instead of rice is another option, but rice is more common.) Until recently, no one — unless they were North Korean — knew about kimchi mari. My mom’s friends and my friends always assumed it was something my mom made up with leftover mul kimchi and rice. Now everyone eats it, as they should, but those who doubted before, recognize my mom’s skills y’all!
On our second day, Joo Hyun took me and David to Nun Namu Jip (눈나무집, Snow Tree House), a cute restaurant in Samcheong-dong (삼청동) famous for their kimchi mari. We got there early, but there was already a line out the door. Joo Hyun said the line wasn’t so bad, so we queued up and people watched as we waited.
Completely unrelated to food, but check out the young men leaving Nun Namu Jip. I love how Korean guys are so fabulous, even the straight ones. By the way, I think murses are hot.
After about fifteen minutes we got a table (the line moves fast) and settled in at a table on the second floor. We took Joo Hyun’s recommendations and order one Kimchi Mari Guksu (김치말이국수, kimchi mari with rice noodles) each, and an order of Dduk Galbi (떡갈비, minced galbi steak) for the table.
Kimchi and some banchan arrived at the table while we waited. Clockwise from the top left: kimchi, daikon kimchi (깍두기), sautéed garlic scapes/stems (마늘쫑볶음), and pickled peppers (고추장아찌). We ate a lot of garlic scapes while we were in Korea. It’s similar to asparagus, but skinnier, more fibrous, and has a mellow garlic flavor. You can get them here in the States also, but it’s not as readily available, and also more expensive. Although I have heard, before the garlic scape craze, farmers would give scapes away for free because no one wanted them. If you don’t know a farmer living under a rock, when in Korea, take advantage of the scapes.
The Dduk Galbi (KR ₩7000/US $5.98) arrived shortly after the kimchi. Dduk galbi is made from minced beef short ribs, vegetables, and rice flour. It’s very similar to meatloaf or Salisbury steak but made with better meat and galbi (갈비, marinated beef short ribs) flavored. The version at Nun Namu Jip was pretty tasty; the meat tasted fresh and it was seasoned well. It didn’t blow me away (meatloaf never blows me away either), but it was good. I did like the soft sautéed dduk (떡, rice cakes) on the side. Dduk, similar to garlic scapes and kimchi, was seen at every meal in Korea. We even got roasted green tea dduk at a tea house as a free snack. After a while I started calling Korea “the land of the morning dduk.”
Kimchi Mari Guksu (KR ₩4500/US $3.84), however, was my favorite. The noodles were chewy and the soup was cold, vinegary, and had just enough spice to keep you from getting bored. Overall, it was extremely refreshing and satisfying in a familiar way. I can’t say it’s better than my mom’s, but I’d say it’s just as good.
If I lived in Seoul, I’d probably never go to Nun Namu Jip. The menu there is too similar to the menu at my mom’s house, but since I don’t, I’ll be visiting again the next time I’m in Seoul. It’s nice to have a homey spot away from home when you’re on vacation. Next time, I’ll be ordering the Nokdu Bindaedduk (녹두빈대떡, mung bean pancakes). I guess I don’t even have to mention; my mom makes the meanest bindaedduk out there.
Nun Namu Jip (눈나무집)
110-230 Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu
Seoul, South Korea (map)