Thursday, January 29, 2015

"A Lot of Buckwheat for Your Buck" at Uiryeong

Yangji sogukbap (양지소국밥) at Uiryeong Buckwheat Noodles

Buckwheat is not wheat. It's not a variety of wheat. It's not even a grain! ...well, if you're a botanist. 

But it is the feature ingredient at Uiryeong Buckwheat Noodles (의령소바) near Pyeongtaek Lotte Mart. 

Everything there contains buckwheat, also called soba (소바) or, more commonly, memil (메밀) in Korea. From noodles to mandu and even tea, everything has buckwheat at Uiryeong.

The place is primarily known for their unique, thick noodled naengmyeon (냉면) and bibim naengmyeon (비빔냉면). These dishes, cold noodle soup and cold noodles with veggies, typically have noodles so thin you can sew a traditional hanbok dress with them. But the buckwheat noodles at Uiryeong are almost as thick as udon, making these common dishes very different from the norm. 

Uiryeong's buckwheat jjin-mandu
This is January, though. The thermometer has been hovering just above freezing during the day and as low as 19 degrees fahrenheit at night. That's -7.2 degrees celsius for you metric people. Naegmyon is a summer dish. So lately my robot taste tester, The NetBot, and I have been taking advantage of Uiryeong's cozier fare. 

For almost a month now we have been taking delicious buckwheat mandu home for a light dinner, or to work for a quick energy boost. The dumplings have the right balance between squishy and firm. The fillings are savory. The buckwheat dough is tender. If I had to complain, I'd say they didn't pack enough danmuji (단무지) with the take-out box. Danmuji is yellow, pickled radish. Not everyone likes it. The NetBot doesn't. So I just eat hers. But if she did like it, there wouldn't be enough for both of us. 

Uiryeong serves two kinds of mandu: little jjin mandu (찐만두), and hefty wong mandu (왕만두). 3,500 won will buy eight of the little ones, and 5,000 won will buy five of the big guys. For a unique dessert, 3,500 won will also buy five whole-grain-tasting, red-bean-paste-filled buckwheat jjinbbang (찐빵). 

"That's a lot of buckwheat for your buck," said the NetBot.

Plain buckwheat noodles and rice
Most recently, though, we've taken to using Uiryeong's dishes as a palliative. The NetBot caught a mild virus, so we thought one of Uiryeong's hot soups would help reboot her system. The heartier soups there are a little more expensive. Naengmyeon (or Naengsoba as it is called on the menu) is only 6,500 won. But the strong soups, yangji sogukbap (양지소국밥) and golpeuchae galbi-tang (골프채갈비탕) are 8,000 won and 10,000 won respectively. We like saving money, so we got the first. It is pictured at the top of the page. Yangi sogukbap is a rich, spicy soup with lots of beef, leeks and radish. The flavor is really hard to distinguish from another rich, spicy, beefy Korean soup — yukgaejang (육개장). And like most Korean soups, it is served with a bowl of rice. However, since this is buckwheat land, they also serve a bowl of buckwheat noodles. Plain rice and noodles aren't meant to be eaten as they are, though. That would be too boring for your mouth. They are supposed to be mixed with the soup. 

What did the virus stricken NetBot think? "Oh that was delicious," she said upon finishing. "[but] I wish there was more meat, just 'cause the meat's so good."

Memil cha tastes like memil cha
If Uiryeong served just one thing, though, we'd be forced to choose their buckwheat tea, called memil cha (메밀차) in Korean. It is not uncommon for Korean restaurants to serve grain teas like corn or barley tea with their meals. But I had never experienced buckwheat tea before, so for weeks I raved that Uiryeong's tea was the best corn or barley tea I ever tasted. I couldn't decide which one it was. And then I saw the sign on the industrial coffee dispenser it came out of. 

Buckwheat tea is intensely yellow. It looks like pee after a day of not drinking anything, but it is truly the best "grain" tea I've ever had. It has a corn-like sweetness, but it doesn't taste like nonalcoholic beer, as some bottled corn and barley teas do. The true flavor is really beyond description. The best I can say is that it is delicious. The last time we ate at Uiryeong we drank two pitchers of it. 

"I'm very happy to drink tea now," said the NetBot done eating.

Getting to Uiryeong Buckwheat Noodles is simple. From Pyeongtaek Station take the 20 or 50 bus to Pyeongtaek City Hall (평택시청). Get off at the stop in front of Lotte Mart. Looking out from the bus, Lotte Mart is on your right. The stop in front of Lotte Mart is the City Hall stop. Keep walking down the street and take your first right. You'll come to an intersection and a park. Uiryeong Buckwheat Noodles is across the street on the corner of that intersection beside Chaeseondang Shabu-shabu (채선당).

(Please note: the address on the map below may or may not be accurate. Pyeongtaek Uiryeong is relatively new, so they don't exist yet on Naver or Google Maps. However, the location of the pin drop is accurate.)

(Editor's note: apologies for the puns. We can't help ourselves. Good thing we don't live in China.)

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