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The Endorsement: Cho Sun Ok’s brain-freezing mul naengmyeon

The Endorsement: Cho Sun Ok’s brain-freezing mul naengmyeon

It can be hard, if you’ve never slurped from a bowl of Korean mul naengmyeon, to understand why so many people rave about the stuff in summertime. It’s a cold soup, sure, but then so are Spain’s tomato gazpachos and China’s fruit-based ching po leungs—and unlike their Korean cousin, those ones aren’t made from wintery foods.

Mul naengmyeon’s main ingredients are chewy, starchy, toasty-tasting buckwheat or kudzu noodles and a super-rich, red pepper -spiced beef broth. Yet it’s mul naengmyeon’s temperature that gives it the edge. Where other summer soups are merely cold, this one’s the original Slurpee. Mul naengmyeon’s key feature is slushy, brain-freezing broth.

You can get the Korean soup at a few spots downtown, including at Tofu Village, on Bloor Street West near Christie, where it’s pretty good. But the soup at Thornhill’s Cho Sun Ok is worth seeking out. Though the simple, cheery room has a full menu of home-style Korean dishes, its mul naengmyeon has rightly put the place on the map.

Cho Sun Ok’s broth is a thing of beauty: it’s as rich and deeply flavoured as the best-made consomme (or as it’s known of late: bone broth), but with a smoky, red pepper backnote from the kitchen’s house made chili paste, and a punch of acidity from daikon kimchi brine. The kudzu noodles, meantime, come in a nicely chewy, earthy tasting ball that the servers cut up as they arrive at the table (you will know them by their giant kitchen shears). And that pool of beefy, bright-flavoured slush is studded with cucumber for refreshing crunch, as well as the crisp, surprising, sweet-juicy burst of Asian pear.

You can add hot mustard or vinegar to your soup if you like, though I wouldn’t bother. The seasoning is perfect. And if you’re not into giant slush bowls, those noodles also come as bibim naengmyeon (that’s with extra chili paste and cold, but not frozen broth on the side), and hwai naengmyeon (that’s noodles, cold broth and slices of marinated raw skate).

For what it’s worth, there are plenty of other dishes, also. Cho Sun Ok’s oil-blistered house dumplings are fantastic, the sweet, L.A. galbi beef is excellent (but, at $29 an order, expensive), and the soondae here (pork blood and glass noodle sausage; you can order it straight-up, in a stew, or with “various pig organs”) is one of the best blood sausages I’ve had.

But this time of year, that mul naengmyeon is the best reason to visit. The last time I had it I picked up my bowl and slurped to its bottom like a regular, and then shivered contentedly for the next two hours.

Cho Sun Ok

critic’s pick

7353 Yonge Street, Thornhill, 905-707-8426, chosunok.ca

Cuisine: Korean

Atmosphere: A plain, and at peak times, extremely busy dining room, divided into private table-cubicles.

Sound: Reasonable.

Prices: Large appetizers, $12 to $26; cold noodles and soups, $13 to $18; large plates and hot pots for two: $13 to $41.

Drinks: The usual juices and sodas, plus soju, makgeolli (that’s Korean rice brew), and both Korean and domestic lagers

What to eatChapsal soondae (sliced blood and glass noodle sausage), goon mandu dumplings, noodles and soup.

Chris Nuttall-Smith is The Taster’s editor-in-chief and founder. He’s worked as food editor, chief critic and dining columnist at Toronto Life, restaurant critic for enRoute (he wrote the magazine’s celebrated Canada’s Best New Restaurant list in 2009), and more recently, national food reporter and Toronto restaurants columnist for The Globe and Mail. Nuttall-Smith’s writing on food, drink and other subjects has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, New York magazine, Toro and Lucky Peach. He’s also a resident judge on Top Chef Canada.