>> Restaurant Ham Hung | Eat the World Los Angeles

Thursday 24 October 2019

Restaurant Ham Hung


EDITOR'S NOTE: This article from 2019 was updated in June 2021 to include information about another visit, which can be seen at the bottom. An updated version of this article (18 December 2023) is available as part of the Historical section of our Substack page. Check that out here:

Since Los Angeles is in the middle of another October heat wave, the brilliant dishes of summer are still roaming through the city's craving cycles. A recent visit to Koreatown's long-running Ham Hung, named for North Korea's second largest city, gave another chance to satisfy these off-season midsummer needs. You can of course do this all year long here, unlike back home in Korea where a cold noodle joint is likely to be closed in the country's very bitter winters.

North Korea's most delicious contribution to what is just thought about as "Korean food" is naengmyeon, now eaten all over the Korean peninsula and by food lovers worldwide. A dish always served cold, it usually consists of thin buckwheat noodles. Each recipe is slightly different with the addition and subtraction of various ingredients. Normally the noodles are cut immediately by the server to make eating the thick, chewy mound a little easier.

Mul naengmyeon is the non-spicy version "basic" version of the dish, served more as a cold soup with ice to make sure it stays that way. They serve that here as well as three other spicy versions, sometimes referred to as bibim naengmyeon but here given three different names, and one warm noodle soup in beef broth given the general name of onmyeon.

The gogi naengmyeon ($11.99, above and below) is served with beef and pork slices, some fatty, some lean, but this is never really the reason to order. The focus of the dish is always the greyish-brown noodles, here made from 95% potato starch, that are thoroughly laced in a gochujang-based dressing too thick to call a sauce. The perfect noodles are made here at Ham Hung, and each order is extruded and boiled on the spot for incredible freshness.

These noodles are thin like vermicelli and stick together firmly, so the bowl will be scissored into quarters when it arrives. While there is no "right" way to eat your naengmyeon, there are a couple additions you may see others making and are recommended.

A little jar of (possibly homemade?) horseradish-spiked mustard shows up and should be approached with caution. Just a little portion on the spoon goes a long way. On each table will also be a bottle of vinegar and a squirt of this should be added as well. Give everything a real good mix before proceeding and check your levels. Feel free to add more.

As is customary with spicy naengmyeon dishes, a hot broth will be served alongside your order. At Ham Hung this arrives in a tea thermos and can be replenished as desired. Rather than using this in the bowl, spoonfuls or warming sips on the side can be a good back and forth from the cold spicy noodles.

UPDATE 17 JUNE 2021: Right before the first real summer heat wave, a return visit to Ham Hung was awarded with a simple yet delightful bowl of onmyeon ($11.99, above). This beef soup uses the same light and fresh noodles and is more popular during colder months as it is served warm.


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