If ramen continues the massive run it’s been on for the last few years, resulting in scores of top shops such as Ivan Ramen, Ramen Lab, Mu Ramen and more (heck, you’ll even find Parmesan Dashi Ramen on the menu at the Venetian eatery, All’Onda), you might just have to add Japanese soup noodles to New York’s list of beloved local foods, alongside pizza, hot dogs, cheesecake and bagels. Although lately, Korean cuisine seems poised and ready to jockey ramen for culinary supremacy, with newer spots like Hanjan, Piora, and Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, exposing diners to creative, beyond K-Town fare, and globally-minded chefs eagerly stocking their pantries with gochujang and kimchi.
And at Chelsea Market’s Mokbar, chef-owner Esther Choi has managed to brilliantly straddle both trends —using springy Sun Noodles as a canvas to showcase otherwise traditional Korean flavors and dishes. Choi’s clever fusion starts with her “Mother Broth;” a cross between Japanese tonkatsu (made with pork and chicken bones) and Korean stock (dried anchovies, kelp and shitakes), which forms the base for over seven different specialty ramen bowls. The “Classic” is inspired by the traditional rice dish, Bibimbap, paved with braised pork and seasonal vegetables, meant for mixing into the heady, chili pepper-spiked broth, while the “Vegan Miso” takes its cue from the classic Korean stew, Doenjang Jjigae, made with soybean paste, tofu, and crispy strings of potato.
Topping out at only $14, you’ll still have plenty of money left for beer or soju if you splurge on the “Bulgogi” ramen, layered with marinated, thinly sliced and grilled ribeye, cuddled up against three different seasonal kimchi’s and a wobbly poached egg. And about that kimchi — since it’s essentially the heart and soul of Korean cuisine, Choi takes hers especially seriously (jars of house-fermented cucumber, daikon, brussels sprouts, napa cabbage and more decorate Mokbar’s small space, and can all be purchased to go). So you’d be loathe not to order the fire engine red, Kimchi Bacon-broth based ramen, made by stewing the funky, spicy veggies with hunks of smoky pork.
So there’s really no need to choose between Japanese noodle soups and fiery Korean stews to get you through the remainder of winter. Because thanks to the comforting, cross-cultural bowls at Mokbar, you can totally have your ramen… and eat your kimchi, too.