Kaju Naengmyun – Kimbap Is OK

23 Oct

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I had heard this place in Koreatown was great for two of my favorite Korean snacks, kimbap and ddukboki. Would Caju Naengmyun make me forget dear old mom’s versions?

Uh, no.

CJNM is in a strip mall (I guess what restaurant in K-town is not in a strip mall?) in Koreatown at the corner of Wilshire and Western. The address is 3839 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA – I mention it because the sign is only in Korean and the place is a little hard to find. There are a few tables and you can order a variety of Korean dishes, including the eponymous Naengmyun, a bowl of cold noodles served in beef broth.

But I was here for the kimbap, the Korean improvement on Japanese maki rolls. The CJNM version has spinach, carrot, egg, fish cake, takuan (pickled radish), and ground beef. Yes, that’s right, ground beef. Every other version I’ve had uses bulgogi, the marinated sliced beef that you actually want to eat. Let’s just state the obvious – ground beef is a terrible choice, dry and flavorless.

The rest of the kimbap was OK, nothing to really write home about. For $6 you get the equivalent of two regular rolls, maybe three. It’s a pretty good deal, or would be if the kimbap weren’t so disappointing.

When I asked the cashier which kimbap she’d recommend, she said the tuna. I was taken aback. Tuna? I’ve eaten literally thousands of kimbaps in my life, and had never come across a tuna kimbap. Do you mean like a tuna maki? Uh, no, more like tuna salad, with canned tuna. Maybe I should have just listened to the cashier and tried it, but I couldn’t get over what a strange idea this was.

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Maybe the ddukboki would be better. Ddukboki is another dish I had grown up with eating at home. It’s basically rice ovalettes or loggettes cooked in gochujang with onions, green onions, carrots, and sometimes meat. In this case the protein was fish cake.

It was OK. Not bad, but too sweet and a little simple.

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KJNM was a disappointment overall. I’ve heard it gets really busy with locals during lunch, which should be a good sign. But I found the food not great. Honestly, it just tasted like it was made by non-Koreans cooking out of a cookbook. The flavors were a bit bland, lacking the stronger sesame and umami flavors of Korean cooking. It’s a strange critique considering this place looks legit, run by honest to goodness Korean people. But I would say you’re better off just getting stuff from the Korean grocery store food courts near by.

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