Home Of The Black Noodle

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 18, 2006
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Myung Cha and wife In Hye of Yu Chun
Myung Cha and wife In Hye of Yu

“You like eat black noodle?” my friend Ron asked the other day when we were trying to decide where to go for lunch.

“Sure, I love black noodles,” I replied thinking of the black squid ink noodles served at some Italian restaurants.

When he asked me to meet him at Yu Chun, however, I started to have some doubts that we’d be eating Italian. We were in fact, headed to a Korean restaurant on Keeaumoku Street that’s been around for about 10 years. Their specialty dish is naengmyeon - Korean black noodles. They are absolutely nothing like pasta. In fact if you heat these noodles they become gelatinous, and they lose a lot of their texture and interesting flavor.

It’s pretty obvious from the minute you enter Yu Chun that you’re in for a really different dining experience.

Green Formica tables and orange plastic cups give the small restaurant a casual, delightfully clashing feel and service is immediate. It gets busy at lunchtime, but if you go early right as lunch begins, or later in the afternoon you’ll be assured of a seat - and some very interesting food.

The menu is unlike those favored by most Korean restaurants in Hawaii. A handwritten menu on the wall lists the daily specials - and a lot of black noodles. Black noodles are made from arrowroot. Yu Chun’s chef-owner Myung Cha imports them from Seoul.

“Arrowroot is healthy and used in Chinese medicine,” he tells me as we chat after lunch, “and so the black noodle is good for you - and good in helping digestion.”

If you really want to taste this noodle at its impressive best, then you have to order the signature iced soup. I know, it sounds weird - black arrow-root noodles in chilled soup - but trust me on this one, it’s fabulous.

The noodles come in a stainless steel bowl packed with crushed ice. At first the broth looks a little like thickened miso, but as the ice begins to melt you can see the soup and other ingredients more clearly. It’s a little like eating cold soba noodles with kim chee, and as a dish to beat the heat it’s unbelievably good. You add vinegar and mustard to taste and mix the ingredients together in the bowl before you begin.

More recognizable items on the menu include mandoo and noodles in soup, fried chicken with hot barbecue sauce, and bulgogi(beef), so you can order hot food - but it’s the iced soup that everyone seems to come for. “You can have hot noodles too,” says Myung, but the cold ones are best - and this is the best way to serve them.”

Myung and his wife In Hye obviously enjoy the attention that new diners give to their unusual dishes and are happy to explain the menu to novice black noodle eaters.

I love this place. As a lunch spot it’s quick and casual and inexpensive - black noodle in iced soup is $8.65. My friend Ron took another friend of ours - one with a considerably good palate - to Yu Chin recently and his comments were all good. “I brought Russell Siu here one day for lunch,” he says, “and he thought it was so good we came back three days in a row so we could eat the whole menu!”

Happy eating!

Yu Chun Korean Restaurant 825 Keeaumoku St. 944-1994

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