Every summer during especially sweaty stretches, the kitchens at the Korean restaurants along Northern Boulevard in Flushing, churn out huge orders of one particular dish: mul naengmyun. It’s a cold noodle soup, often with crushed ice glimmering on the surface of the beefy dongchimi (radish pickling liquid) broth, where Koreans from Flushing to Fort Lee, Los Angeles, Seoul, and possibly still Pyongyang (where it originated) can find refuge from the sticky heat.
In NYC, a preponderance of mul naengmyun appears on the tables of Hahm Ji Bach, Chilsung Garden, Tang, and so many more. There’s one place though that keeps its focus on this cold noodle soup year-round, just as much under a scorching sun as in a snowstorm: Choiga Naeng Myun at 209-35 Northern Boulevard, between 210th and Corporal Kennedy streets. I asked the owner, who wished only to be described as “Korean, old lady,” what she does once mul naengmyun season ends.
“What do I do?” she says, laughing. “I just stand around.”
Wiping sweat from my forehead, I put in my order, took a number, and headed to a table. Across from me sat a family of four: two parents who’d re-purposed bandanas into bibs, a teenage daughter in all black save her bleached tips, and a teenage son who donned big clunky headphones. Two girlfriends chatted in Korean. A mixed-race Black and Korean couple that resembled me and my husband came in, dressed like they’d come from church. They all dug into their cold noodles.
Finally, my order was up, and before me sat a wide silver bowl with a cool pool of broth (unfortunately without the crystalline ice). Slivers of radish swam beside cucumber slices. The nearly translucent noodles shimmered. The mountain of noodles was topped with slices of beef, cucumber, Asian pear (there’s always too little pear), and half of a boiled egg. I drizzled in some vinegar and spicy mustard, and tasted a spoonful of broth. A bit sweet, sour, spicy, heavily radish-y, but most importantly, cold. The noodles were thin, bouncy, and chewy. Finally chilled down from the inside, I came back to earth.
The girlfriends had left. The couple was ignoring each other. The teenage son had finally taken off his headphones to comfortably rest his head on his arms for an irresistible food coma.