Loading...

Korean Comfort Food 

Gook Soo is more than just a noodle

Wednesday, Jan 19 2000
Comments

Gook Soo is more than just a noodle

Tokyo has its share of noodle shops; so do, one must concede, Taipei, Singapore and Seoul. But Los Angeles may have a bigger variety of Asian noodles than any city in the world, bowls of pho and skeins of soba, hand-pulled mein and hand-pulled udon, Filipino mami and Polynesian long rice, Malaysian laksa and Sumatran bakmi, noodles from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka . . . from practically every noodle-eating culture this side of Bhutan.

Not least among these are the many noodles of Korea, which range from delicately herb-scented North Korean noodles to the robustly chewy potato-starch noodles that dwell at the bottom of funky bowls of cold organ-meat broth, from pencil-size rice noodles sauteed in chile paste to the extremely Korean version of hand-thrown chachiangmein. Korea is as much a noodle culture as Vietnam (the latest Korean craze, it seems, is Vietnamese noodles; a dozen or so brand-new pho parlors, all serving sort of a B-minus version of the ubiquitous Vietnamese beef-noodle soup, suddenly popped up last year in Koreatown).

Location Info

Related Stories

  • 5 Colorful Things to Do in L.A. This Week for $10 or Less

    The big event of this weekend is the L.A. Pride Parade, but we've got plenty of awesome things to carry you through the rest of the week on a rainbow slide of fun. Once you've marched through West Hollywood, you deserve a break. Sit back and watch others work their...
  • Nick Ut: The Shot of a Lifetime 2

    It was a lucky shot, some say of Nick Ut's famous Vietnam War photo The Terror of War, or Napalm Girl, as it is more commonly known. Less lucky, of course, was the little girl in the photo, Kim Phuc. She was running down the street, naked, after a napalm...
  • L.A. Map Attack

    Google Maps recently rolled out a new feature that essentially lets you travel back in time by accessing street views from as far back as 2007. That wasn't so long ago, but it's pretty remarkable to see how our streets have changed in just seven years. Remember 2007? It was...
  • Men Oh Tokushima Ramen: From Little Tokyo to Torrance

    In Los Angeles, the geographical trajectory of ramen shops is usually from south to north: A ramen-ya opens in the Japanese-intensive neighborhood of Torrance or Gardena and then, after the noodle gods deem it worthy, it expands into Little Tokyo, or Sawtelle or even further afield. In the case of...
  • Yunnan Cuisine 10

    Despite the obvious wealth of Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley, it’s always worth it to take a moment to appreciate what is truly an incredible landmark in the world’s culinary sphere. There is, maybe, one other area outside of China that serves Chinese food as wonderfully diverse and...

I have eaten hundreds of bowls of Korean noodles over the years. But until I stumbled into Ma Dang Gook Soo a couple of months ago, a Korean noodle shop tucked into a corner of a big Koreatown mall, I had never tasted what are probably the signature noodles of Korea, the thin, hand-cut, wheaten noodles known as gook soo. To understand Korean food without having had a bowl of gook soo is almost like trying to understand the concept behind Italian pasta without ever having tasted spaghetti. It is the ultimate Korean comfort food: Everything else is just a noodle.

Ma Dang is a homey place, a tiny bit of Korean countryside fitted into the most urban context imaginable, next to a soontofu place and facing out, past an iron security fence, onto churning Western Avenue. The walls are lined with rustic rice-paper screens, like the Korean equivalent of Japanese shoji, and are hung with mural-size photographs of a muddy Korean village that seems largely populated by chickens. The thump-thump of noodle making echoes from the kitchen. A long line of people curls past some wooden benches outside the door of the restaurant, and eventually a waitress comes out to take your order, which will be ready -- along with a few different kinds of kimchi and a cup of barley tea -- almost as soon as you sit down.

There is a decent sort of bibimbap at Ma Dang, mounds of simmered ”mountain vegetable,“ bean sprouts and greens topped with a runny fried egg, and vegetarian sushi -- the establishment is liberal enough in its definition of ”vegetable“ to include a little sliver of hot dog in the roll. You can get most of the common kinds of Korean noodle here too, elastic potato-starch noodles in chile paste, sweet rice-cake noodles, noodles made from mung beans and noodles made from buckwheat. The unusually delicate steamed mandoo, Korean dumplings, are delicious. But mostly there is gook soo.

Gook soo, especially as interpreted here, is a marvelous thing, flat and slightly stretchy, about the size of fettuccine but more fragile somehow, knife-cut from a thin sheet of rolled dough. The basic gook soo here -- identified on the menu as ”handmade noodle“ -- is served in a broth based on dried anchovies, clear and slightly earthy, garnished with seaweed, kimchi or bits of meat, concealing a few chunks of boiled potato, and adding a presence, a depth, to the noodles, which seem almost to melt into it. (Chicken gook soo is bathed instead in a thick, white chicken broth, whose body -- like that of Korean beef soup -- seems enriched with the milky meat proteins that Western cooks tend to filter out.) You can eat the gook soo as is, or spike it with the restaurant‘s marvelous chile-scallion condiment.

A Korean friend practically collapsed with nostalgic longing when she tasted Ma Dang’s cold gook soo bathed in fresh soy milk, embellished with julienne cucumber, a few drops of sesame oil and very little else: the most refreshing hot-weather food imaginable.

Dessert, as always, consists of a stick of Korean chewing gum.

869 S. Western Ave.; (213) 487-6008. Open daily 8 a.m.--10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12--$15. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Recommended dishes: handmade noodles, soybean handmade noodles, steamed dumplings, elastic spicy noodles.

Related Content

Related Locations

Now Trending

  • Taste of the Farmers Market: Happy 80th Anniversary!

    It was 1934, and when Blanche Magee arrived at a patch of the Gilmore family’s land and served sandwiches to hungry fruit and veg growers at the new “Farmers Market,” she couldn’t have imagined it was going to turn into one of L.A.’s biggest attractions. Magee gambled on good food...
  • Hershey's Raises Prices After Cocoa Costs Soar

    Time to hoard the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (if you don’t already). Hershey’s, the No. 1 candy producer in the United States, on Tuesday raised its prices 8%, and that will affect Reese’s, Kit Kat, Hershey Bar, Almond Joy, Mounds, York Peppermint Patty, Kisses and every other piece of chocolatey...
  • 10 Best Gluten-Free Pizzas in L.A.

    Pizza is something that invariably inspires heated debate.  Lately, it seems only one other thing invites such passionate argument: gluten. The gluten protein is what gives wheat dough its structure, loft and elasticity.  Which is why trying to find a really good gluten-free pizza has always been like looking for unicorns...

Slideshows

  • Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar
    Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar, with chef Jason Fullilove at the helm, is in the two buildings at the pier’s entrance that used to be Beachcomber Cafe and Ruby’s Diner. Those buildings, which have been overhauled completely, reflect both the pier’s 109-year-old history and the cultural import of Malibu itself.
  • The Tasting Menu Trend
    In Los Angeles especially, but increasingly across the country, restaurants are either switching to tasting menus, putting a greater focus on a tasting-menu option (while offering à la carte items as well), or opening as tasting-menu operations from day one. The format that used to be the calling card of only the fanciest of restaurants is becoming ubiquitous, even at places where the waiter calls you “dude” and there isn’t a white tablecloth in sight.
  • Milo's Kitchen: A Treat Truck for Dogs
    Milo's Kitchen, a part of California-based Big Heart Pet Brands, is taking its homestyle dog treats on the road this summer with the "Treat Truck." The dogified food truck is making stops all over the country, ending up in New York early September. The truck stopped at Redondo Beach Dog Park Friday morning entertaining the pups with treats, a photo-booth and play zone. Milo's Kitchen Treat Truck offered samples of the line's six flavors, all with chicken or beef as the first ingredient, and all made in the U.S.A. with no artificial colors or preservatives. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.