When I saw the thick noodles and floating mochi balls in a bowl of Korean soup featured on the blog Midtown Lunch a few months ago, I had to investigate. The blogger’s choice of a seafood-seaweed broth didn’t interest me, but the suggestion that you could have a perilla seed broth, did. What was such a broth? My trip down a rabbit hole involved texting my Korean-American friend on the other side of the country to learn all about the noodle soup kalguksu and the uniqueness of using the seed deulkkae, which is often compared to sesame. I have tried and enjoy eating the fresh leaf of perilla (which I know as shiso in Japanese cuisine), but had no idea about the seeds. Stories of her mom’s cooking and love of the ingredient confirmed that I would eventually make my way up to the third floor of a Koreatown food court and chew my way through the glorious dough on offer at Dadam.
Scalding hot in its metal vessel, the soup with its vegetable-dyed noodles and mochi balls only signified as food to me through its placement next to some complementary kim chi and the inclusion of cutlery. Otherwise, I felt a bit like an excited child getting to eat Play-doh or some craft-time creation.
The intense heat gave off an earthy, vegetal aroma. Fingering the noodles with my chopsticks revealed a very thick soup base. The first few spoonfuls, while burning my mouth, were also surprisingly and disappointingly underseasoned. I felt guilty going back up to the register to ask for something to doctor it up, but then felt relief when I saw that they had all manner of seasonings packed up, including some nice sea salt. If salting was a faux pas, I clearly wasn’t the only one making it. A healthy dose transformed the dish for me. The bland earthiness of the soup/sauce became almost Alfredo-like, yet with no heaviness from cream or butter. The noodles were as chewy as I’d hoped for, long and thick and always well-coated when I tucked in. The mochi balls were expectedly low on flavor, but their characteristic gumminess was all I really wanted. Like when I had mochi in soup at Tori Shin, I now appreciate this texture in a savory setting. The complimentary kim chi was awesome and integral to the experience. The cool temperature of both provided a break from the soup’s warmth. And the spicy heat from the cabbage and the crunch from the daikon provided texture and flavour breaks.
The turn to warm weather means I won’t be back for this soup soon. But I’m reminded that we’re approaching cold noodle season and should be returning to another Asian food court gem.