If you watch enough Korean dramas or variety shows, there surely a thing or two that catch your attention and pique your interest, be it trend, places, or (in my case) food. Their production teams have a serious knack of prettifying everything — and everyone –, from top to bottom, from top left to bottom right corner. That poor drama leads are dressed stylishly with impeccable makeup and hairdo (and latest gadget on hand). That even instant ramyeon looks damn luscious and appetizing.
It wasn’t long before my eyes were fixated on tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and jajangmyeon (black bean sauce noodles).Perhaps it is thanks to how they — drama characters or TV personalities — always light up or get extra excited upon spotting either food in their vicinity, or due to the way they tuck into the food at a moment’s notice and stuff their faces with it like it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten (or perhaps they’re just hungry…). I was further intrigued because these two dishes are not readily available on the menu of Korean restaurants i’ve been to, unlike the likes of bibimbap, bulgogi, or japchae for instance, despite them being seemingly the comfort food of the Koreans. Tteokbokki is relatively easy to find compared to jajangmyeon, so much so that i thought i could only try the latter when i visit the country some time in the future…
…until i saw this post about a certain place in Senopati which serves this elusive slimy guy. I know in that area mushrooms a lot of Korean restaurants that if you ask me where to go to get your Korean food fix in town, i’d recommend you to go there and pull over at whichever name or place that appeals to you. However, they’re mostly grill/BBQ houses i never thought a noodle place will be there too. Sometimes i forgot the power of internet and the easily accessible information desk of the super knowledgeable Uncle Google XD.
Long story short, i was thrilled by this discovery. Legend of Noodles is its name, located at the end of the one-way street of Jl. Senopati which branches out to Jl. Bakti to the left, Jl. Kartanegara to the right, and Jl. Suryo if you go straight. The restaurant is right in the corner as you make a left turn toward Jl. Bakti.
It is apparently quite legit too, which is always a plus point, as at least 70~80% of the patrons are Koreans, which should say something about the taste, food quality, and authenticity. At first the service quality worried me since i have a low tolerance for bad service and/or rude wait staff but then i’ve patronized the eatery 4~5 times by now. I would’ve gone a lot more frequently if it’s located nearer my residence and doesn’t always look full house whenever i pass by it — although chances are there are still seats available despite the overflowing vehicles parked in front of the premise.
Upon seating, plates of banchan and a large tumbler of cold (roasted?) tea are served. While both are usually offered for free and are refillable, do note that not every Korean eatery does this. The varieties of banchan are pretty limited, but its kimchi is one of the best. Seasoned generously and thickly, it gives a great balance of tart and spiciness — one serving is never enough!
Now, onto the noodles!
[jajangmyeon 50K, haemul jjamppong 75K]
The homemade noodles are straight, flat, wide; texture is smooth, chewy, not mushy. Not the kind i’m used to — the curly local instant noodles or the thin Japanese ramen — but i like it.
Thick black bean sauce and onion poured on top of the noodles you need to mix and stir them well before the jajangmyeon looks like the left picture above. It may look somewhat icky but i was too excited that i finally get to try this guy to care about its appearance — not that i don’t know it’ll look that way anyway. The taste doesn’t disappoint, much to my relief. The more i eat it, the more i realize how sweet it is. Not that i don’t like it, but i generally prefer to reserve my sweet tooth for dessert and would rather have salty or spicy food for the main dish.
This brings me to the dish that tops the menu and is also ordered by (nearly) every table: haemul jjamppong (spicy seafood noodle soup). The broth is thin and pretty salty but not spicy enough for me. I’m bad at describing tastes, but it is similar to the one you get from the regular instant ramyeon — not as bland of course. The big bowl is topped with loads of vegetables and seafood; there are squid, octopus, shrimp, multiple types of clams/mussels… i think i got scallop and abalone too. Have fun picking which seafood to eat, slurping the long noodles, and spooning the soup!
They have haemul kalguksu and sujebi for those who prefer clear, non-spicy broth. The type of noodle used is different from that of jjamppong: the former is “knife-cut”, the latter is “hand-torn” (info from google). Haven’t tried these two as i read the soup is pretty bland.
[top: bibim naengmyeon and hey naengmyeon, 70K each
bottom: chapsal tangsooyook 170K, wang dongas 65K]
They also offer three variants of naengmyeon (cold noodles): bibim comes with slices of beef, hey with slabs of stingray, mul… i have yet to try this one, but the stainless-steel bowl is filled with ice-cold water-like broth. The noodles are very thin, much firmer and harder to chew, the sauce is way tangier and spicier than the jjamppong‘s soup, but the portion is smaller.
If you don’t feeling like eating noodles (why not?), there are other dishes that can be eaten with rice. I’ve ordered wang dongas (pork cutlet with rice and salad) and chapsal tangsooyook (sweet and sour pork) before, none was to my liking. The former is too dry and insipid even with the dipping, the latter is all about sticky flour i didn’t taste the meat at all =(
Apart from these, there are several more items i didn’t mention here. There are set menus as well, which basically is a combination of two or three items at a much lower price. The selections aren’t that many although the huge menu plastered on the walls can be intimidating because everything is written in hangul and their romanization. I advise that you study the menu and google a couple of them prior to making a first visit if you’re unfamiliar with Korean food to spare you the agony of staring blankly at the menu, deciphering what the pictures are, not knowing what to order. On a couple occasions, the staff gladly explained the dishes in question, but it’s always better to get a rough idea in case the staff taking your order isn’t that helpful.
Oh, almost forgot to mention the medium to big serving. If you are not a big eater, a bowl can definitely be shared. They say sharing is caring, but for me it’s getting the most of out your expenditure — eat more for the same price, sounds good?
Now, why is my stomach growling?
— UPDATED: 11 July 2016 —
Sometimes i’m reluctant to blog about an eatery after the first visit or two because food is quite a tricky thing to review, and keep consistent. There are a number of names i seldom patronize now due to a dip in quality. But, one and a half years and several more meals later, i’m happy to say that the above opinions still stand and Legend of Noodles still tops my to-go list for Korean noodles. Its menu has expanded and the prices have gone up a bit since my last post, yet both the taste and portion remain as pleasant as i remember them — if not getting better.
On my most recent visit, the jajangmyeon came with bite-sized pork when it’s usually only topped with loads of onion, which was a pleasant surprise as the meat adds a nice fragrance to the dish. It was also the second time i ordered its japchae (glass noodles stir fried in sesame oil with vegetables), after which i can confidently announce that it’s the best i’ve tried thus far, of all Korean eateries. I was so thrilled upon seeing it on their revamped menu and has been fully satisfied with the appearance and taste. It looks like what i imagined it to be — colorful with a variety of veggies — that totally tantalizes the taste buds. The ingredients give a great balance of texture and replete with strong sesame oil flavor, it is sooo savory and delish.
I mostly just rotate the above dishes whenever i went there to quench my craving, but i did try its kalguksu out of curiosity. I can’t recall its exact taste now, but i remember it was much better than expected. The broth is clear, and despite being a vegetarian dish, it isn’t as bland as it looks. None of its noodle dishes is a letdown that i’m pretty sure you can order any of its noodles and your tongue will dance in joy.
Of all the new menu items (see the full list here), i’m most interested in yangjangpi (assorted cold seafood with various vegetables with mustard sauce) due to its colors. It reminds me of Chinese’s yusheng/lo hei. Now they also serve japchae, jajang, and jjampong with rice — for rice-eaters out there =)
[hongdukkae kalguksu 60K, japchae bap 70K (japchae 150K)]