FROM THE DESK OF: Nina
I am an L.A. transplant. I arrived here almost ten years ago for college (yikes, where did the time go?!), and while I initially hated this city for a good two years, I eventually realized that I could re-channel that hatred into curiosity strong enough to uncover hidden gems that make L.A. unique. And re-channel that hatred I did: nowadays, I’m fascinated by the dynamic, eclectic vibe of this city, and can’t think of anywhere else where I’d want to live at this point in my life.
That said, I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to leave. Many of my college friends have relocated since we graduated, and with so many of them musing about their days living in this crazy place, I wonder if I would miss the city just the same. If I left, what would I take for granted? Would I ever be able to return to L.A.? What new things happening here would I miss out on while I’m gone? And, most importantly, would food ever be just as good and cheap in my new city as it is here?
Reflecting on this hypothetical sense of FOMO, certain gastronomical go-to spots – places where I’ve forged some great friendships over unassumingly delicious food, creating fond memories along the way – come to mind. One of these spots sits at the corner of Wilshire & Harvard, and it’s called Myung Dong Kyoja.
(To my Korean friends and/or friends who are fiercely protective of how the Ktown dining experience is depicted: I apologize in advance if I butcher any description, spelling, or interpretation of any part of this eating encounter. Know that any statements of ignorance made are completely unintentional, and that the following account is coming from a place of pure curiosity and admiration.)
In my figurative pocketbook of places where I eat with my friends, Myung Dong Kyoja is synonymous with “noodle soup.” That’s because the spot is our default source of dak kalguksu , a type of chicken soup with knife-cut noodles.
Sometimes referred to as Korean fettuccine, kalguksu is a soft type of noodle made from wheat and egg, with a texture similar to that of Japanese udon. Dunked in a chicken broth with ground chicken, kelp, shredded vegetables, and a few chicken dumplings, dak kalguksu is the perfect source of comfort on the occasional nippy day here in L.A. (yes, they do exist… every once in awhile…). It’s a must-eat for returning Angelenos who crave a Ktown Korean food that isn’t barbecue or bar food – and, for me, it’s one food that evokes memories of those fresh-out-of-college days when my friends and I ate our ways through L.A. on appetites of massive proportions.
When eating Myung Dong Kyoja’s version of this soup dish, my friends and I have a very particular selection of items we make sure to have on hand to round out the meal. To us, the dining experience really isn’t complete without two major additions: the banchan and the shrimp and pork dumplings.
I once heard somewhere that one can tell the quality of a Korean restaurant’s food by the freshness of their banchan, or the complimentary side dishes that are served prior to the main course of the meal. I will not pretend that I’m a connoisseur of banchan, but I can tell you that Myung Dong Kyoja’s is pretty darn delicious. Sharp, pungent, and fresh, the banchan – specifically the generously garlicked spicy kimchi – complements the warm, mellow taste of the dak kalguksu with a punch of sour and spice. When you’re tired of grabbing tufts of slippery noodles with your metal chopsticks*, and the garlic taste from the spicy kimchi starts sinking in (trust me, it will… and with a vengeance)… that’s the time to take a bite of the baek, or kimchi made without the chili pepper. It’s a refreshing breath, or bite, of fresh air, and you’ll want to get more of it as the meal progresses.
*Lots of Korean restaurants carry metal chopsticks, which if you didn’t grow up using chopsticks as a kid, can be perceived as advanced-level chopsticking. (Yes, I just made that word up.)
Between this ping-pong game of soft and sharp flavors, it’s fun to add some weight to the meal with an order of shrimp and pork dumplings, which usually come out juicy and piping hot. This addition is almost 90% of the reason why I tend to roll out of Myung Dong Kyoja with the itis, but 100% of the time I do not regret ordering them: they are delicious.
So, back to my original point of reflection: would I miss L.A. if I ever left? Yes. I think I would miss it dearly. And it’s because of places like Myung Dong Kyoja – places that give me a little slice of comfort and good memories – that make me think this.
Myung Dong Kyoja (L.A. location), 3630 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010.