I was feeling very nostalgic this weekend. I was craving a bowl of spicy korean ramen noodles, specifically the instant kind like Shin or Neoguri ramen. The bad thing about instant noodles is that they are full of sodium and MSG, which take all the fun out of eating them, so I had to come up with a plan B. When I browsed through the Instagram feed of Mokbar and saw page after page of ramen noodles in a bright and fiery red broth, I knew I had found the solution.
Mokbar is located in one of the food courts at Chelsea Market. There are a few bar seats around the counter and towards the back wall, and they usually turn around pretty quickly. I ordered the mokbar classic “bibimbap” ramen, which sounded like the closest thing to the Shin ramen noodles of my childhood, while Ruoxi ordered the army “budae” ramen. The two bowls of noodles in bubbling, red broth arrived, and as I took a bite, I couldn’t wait to go down memory lane.
Except it didn’t quite happen that way. The pork broth in my classic ramen was a very intense tonkatsu-style broth. It was thick, fatty and definitely not slurpable. Which was disappointing, because one of my favorite parts of eating instant ramen is slurping the soup at the very end. They were quite generous with the pieces of braised pork, which were tender and fall-off-the-bone quality, but it was just too much rich meat in rich broth. I felt like I was slogging through a bog of pork fat, which is contrary to what a ramen experience should be like–the noodles and broth should go down easy.
The same could be said for the budae ramen. I actually preferred the broth in this one, as it tasted more like a traditional kimchi jigae soup. But again, budae is a very thick sort of stew–it originates back from the Korean War, when food was scarce and people would dump in foods they received from the US army bases like spam and hot dogs into a gochujang broth–and as such the slurp factor was also very low with this one.
We ordered a side of tteokboki, another one of my favorite Korean street foods, but this was a much more refined and different approach. The rice cakes had been caramelized in brown butter and were topped with crispy bacon and a mild white kimchi. It was unlike the gloriously messy plate of rice cake and gojuchang sauce that I was used to. Which is fine, but I wanted more of a connection to its scrappy past. Ruoxi has no frame of reference to traditional tteokboki, which probably explains why he liked this so much and deemed it the star, but I wasn’t in agreement. Maybe I should have gone in with different expectations, as hoping for something to recreate the magic of your childhood will be near impossible, but unfortunately that’s what I was expecting from Mokbar and left feeling unfulfilled.
In Chelsea Market
75 9th Ave (between 15th and 16th St)
New York, NY 10011