It's summer. The heat is turning up and sometimes the best best way to beat it is with a bowl of cold noodles. So in this edition of Squid Ink Food Fight, we pit two ethnicities against each other that actually have a long history of battling: Japan and Korea. In the Japanese corner, we have cold soba, and it's hard to find a better bowl of the stuff than at noodle specialist Ichimiann in Torrance. In the Korean corner is naengmyeon, a Northern dish that was originally a winter delicacy but is now an extremely popular summer lunch. For this, LA Korean food lovers have long been singing the virtues of Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun.
While both restaurants serve excellent versions, their differences couldn't be more pronounced. If it's something mellow, soothing and relaxing you're after, Ichimiann, which hand makes their noodles every day, is the easy choice. With options like umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum) and mentaiko (spicy fish roe), you won't be lacking in flavor. You will though, walk away feeling like you just meditated on a lotus blossom until all your concerns (life, the world, your place in it) have vanished without a trace.
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But if yoga, set to the sounds of raindrops and dulcimers, isn't your idea of a good workout, then naengmyeon, the kick-boxing cold noodle equivalent may be right up your alley. At Yu Chun, you can order a hearty pile of black noodles, nestled into a spicy red broth with shredded vegetables, half of a hard-boiled egg, beef and raw fish, surrounded by crushed ice. If you haven't had it before, it will take your brain a few moments to process exactly what's going on. The meat and fish freeze a bit in the cold, slightly sweet broth, but as you slurp up the dark noodles, crunching the ice between your teeth, you will slowly find yourself unable to keep from going back for more. You should be warned, however, that this dish has been known to magically replenish itself no matter how much of it you eat, like some kind of infinity soup.
In both cases, you will be cooled off. The way in which you do it, however, is a matter of personal preference. So are you a cold towel and iced tea sort of person, or a take-that-fire-extinguisher-and-shoot-me-in-the-face kind of person? Both options, I assure you, are completely acceptable.
Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun: 3185 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 382-3815. Ichimiann: 1618 Cravens Ave., Torrance; (310) 328-1323.