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Seoul, Korea – Woo Lae Oak 우래옥: The House of Many Returns

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥

Naengmyeon 냉면, or cold buckwheat noodles, is one of the most ubiquitous traditional summer food in Korea. Interestingly, this dish first appeared in North Korea as a specialty dish that was eaten only during the winter. It can now be found throughout Korea year-round, and one of the most famous restaurants serving this humble dish in Seoul is Woo Lae Oak 우래옥 (又来屋,which means House of Many Returns ). Opened in the pre-Korean War era in 1946, it is one of the few places in the city that serves authentic North Korean Pyeongyang-style naengmyeon. For the older generation Northerners, it is also a nostalgic reminder of the home they left behind during the war.

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥

To get to Woo Lae Oak, take the subway to Euljiro-4-ga Station, Line 2 & 5, Exit 4. I wish the “Sewing Factory” shop just opposite the road abundant prosperity and be in business for a long long time, cos’ it is the best landmark along the endless row of shops :p

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
Walk straight for about 10 metres from Exit 4 and turn right at the first alley you see. Go 50 metres further and turn left at the first alley. Woo Lae Oak 우래옥

Voila – right before you is the famous Woo Lae Oak. It was freezing that night, but I was determined to taste the naengmyung which came highly recommended by the owner of the Hanok (traditional Korean house) I was staying at.

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥You are greeted by a wall of awards and commendations just as you enter the restaurant.
Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
Besides its famous Pyeongyang Naengmyeon, other popular dishes include Bulgogi (pan-fried beef), Yukhoe (sliced raw beef),  North-Korean style Bok Jaeng Ban (steamed sliced beef in broth) and Chap Chae (stirfried vermicelli noodles with beef & vegetables).

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
The restaurant’s founder, Chang Won-il, moved his family from Pyongyang to Seoul after World War II, and opened Seo Lae Oak (House from the West) specializing in bulgogi and naengmyun in 1946 with much success. The beginning of the Korean War which started shortly after forced the family close its business to seek refuge, only returning to re-establish their popular restaurant at the same place after the war ended and changing to its current name Woo Lae Oak, meaning “House of Return”. I was surprised to see that the restaurant looks upscale as I was expecting a more traditional and boisterous atmosphere.

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
With its storied reputation, eating at Woo Lae Oak is a meal infused with culture, and nostalgic for its older North Korean customers.

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
Time to satiate those hunger pangs!

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥An ubiquitous dish to start every Korean meal – kimchi
Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
What’s special about naengmyeon at Woo Lae Oak is that its noodles are made to order each time. It is also made of 100% buckwheat, giving the noodles a soft and earthy flavour. A rich beef stock is used instead of traditionally used pheasant stock (which some may find the taste too gamey).

There are basically two types of naengmyeon, differeing in the way they are served – Pyeongyang naengmyeon (mul naengmyeon) is served in a chilled broth (above) and Hamheung naengmyeon (bibim naengmyeon) comes topped with Korean chilli paste. Both versions are usually garnished with cliced beef, boiled egg, cucumber and strips of crunchy pear.

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
A fiery-red Hamheung naengmyeon which tastes less potent than it looks.
Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
Mix it up and slurp away! I enjoyed this version more as I like some spice in my food. The noodles had a firm yet smooth bite.
Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
While keeping close to its 69-year-old roots, Woo Lae Oak has opened several branches in the United States, all run by members of Chang Won-il’s family. They readily admit that the American outlets’ food tastes different because Korean ingredients are not readily available. Until I get a chance to visit Okryugwan restaurant in North Korea, the origin of naengmyeon (it is said that the late leader Kim Il Sun instructed that the distinctive taste of Okryugwan naengmyeon be preserved forever), Woo Lae Oak would be the closest I can get to tasting a slice of North Korean culture.

Woo Lae Oak 우래옥
Address:
118-1, Jugyo-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea (서울특별시 중구 주교동 118-1)
Subway: Euljiro-4-ga Station, Line 2 & 5, Exit 4. Walk straight for about 10 metres and turn right at the first alley you see. Go 50 metres and turn left into the first alley you see.

Opening Hours: 11:30AM to 9:30PM (Last order 9:00PM); Closed on Monday, Seollal Lunar New Year 설날 (1 January) & Chuseok Korean Thanks-giving 추석 (15th of August of the lunar calendar)

Reservations: +82 2 2265 0151 2 (in Korean; or you can try speaking in Chinese)

Wesite: http://우래옥주교점.com/index.php (in Korean)

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Movie Review - To The Fore《破风》

To the Fore 《破风》
To the Fore《破风》revolves around three young cyclists breaking into the world of competitive cycling as members of the Taiwanese Category III team Radiant, and the mental/physical trials they have to overcome in order to succeed in this endurance sport. Chou Ming (Eddie Peng 彭于晏) and Qiu Tian (Shawn Dou 窦骁) are fellow upstarts hired to be pacers, or ‘破风手’,for Korean sprinter Ji-won (Choi Si-won 崔始源) during his races.

To the Fore 《破风》
“破风“ basically refers to how pacers shield their star sprinters from winds with their bodies by riding in front of them by creating a slipstream, and navigating the sprinter into the last metres of a race, creating ideal conditions for the final burst to victory.

Eddie Peng
Chou Ming is a cocky go-getter who risks it all to get the win – to the point of beating up his teammates. The gentle Tian prefers to play it safe but struggles with his physical condition and constantly being overshadowed by his compatroits, both in race and in love when he vies for the affections of Shiyao (Wang Luodan), a once-promising track cyclist now trying to make a comeback after suffering from pulmonary embolism. All that happens test the characters’ friendship, and more importantly, show how they grow over time to excel in the sport.

To the Fore 《破风》
Filmed on location in Taiwan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea and the Tengger Desert, the film merges cycling with stunning nature and urban landscapes.

To the Fore 《破风》
Even if you are not into the cycling, it would be worth watching the movie just for the amazing scenery. To the Fore 《破风》It took the director Dante Lam 林超贤 15 years to realise this movie, not surprising considering the amount of planning and budget that needed to go into making it – more than 1,000 cyclists, expensive bicycles and gear, and actors having to undergo at least 3 weeks of intensive professional training to adequately portray their roles as professional cyclists. The actors cycled over 100,000km and took 6 months to complete the movie.

To the Fore 《破风》
The movie was well-paced, with realistic heart-stopping crashes making the viewers scream each time (especially when Eddie exposed half a butt lol).

To the Fore 《破风》
Another reason to catch the movie – eye candy. :)To the Fore 《破风》
Seems that the friendly rivalry portrayed on-screen also progressing into friendship off-screen, with the actors having fun on their social platforms.

To the Fore 《破风》
The only part which didn’t really work for me was the romance between the actors – it felt awkward more than anything. It felt predictable, although I was touched by what Chou Ming did for Shiyao.

To the Fore 《破风》
Actual cycling champions Mauro Gianetti and Rui da Costa made cameos in the movie too.

To the Fore 《破风》
It seems that even the stars themselves were star-struck by their presence :)To the Fore 《破风》
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and Dante Lam’s choice of cycling as the movie subject makes it quite unconventional (only less than 3 such movies have been made in the world). I also liked that he focused more on the supporting pacers than the usual star sprinters for the show, empathizing with their mental struggles and bringing back the point that teamwork is more important than personal glory, and not getting lost in the chasing fame.
To the Fore 《破风》To the Fore is now showing at theatres in Singapore. Go watch.