The food alchemists in Korea have many years and lots of resources to tweak products towards a kind of perfection that the Korean market demands with the byproduct that Asia as a whole likes South Korea as much as it dislikes Japan and distrusts China and especially its food. It creates a perfect storm for instant foods that recreate the sensation and feeling of the real thing. In this case, Gomtang, is a dish that takes days to make, involving the boiling of oxtail and bones for days resulting in a rich and hearty stock that is seasoned only with a dash of salt and chopped green onions. The boiling over days leaves your house smelling like a glue factory and it’s largely outsourced to restaurants that specialize in gomtang or sulungtang (alt word, basically same thing) like Gam Mi Ok in midtown Manhattan, where the soup is kept going round the clock for decades in giant cauldrons, served with simple flour noodles of vermicelli gauge. The Gomtang package noodle pictured above claims to give you the same taste. And it does. I made a batch for lunch for my family using these packs, and I did add sliced round cuts that I dipped in the soup to brown and quickly put aside for adding to the final dish. The soup, which is a bit salty like every package ramen dish, looks and tastes just like a decent gomtang. The beef that I added gives it a few added globules of beef fat which only adds to the authenticity. Add chopped green onions and for a moment, you are sitting on 32nd Street in Manhattan on a cold day savoring your gomtang.
I do have to add that while it tastes good up front, there are missing flavor notes that give it away as not completely authentic. There is a flavor and soup texture added by the solubilized connective tissues of oxtail that leaves a sticky residue on your palate and makes the beef flavor linger -this is missing. Also, I would avoid drinking up the soup as it is a lot of unnecessary sodium to add to your diet. As a carrier and sauce for the noodles and added beef, it is perfect on a cold fall day, and I recommend it in moderation.
I bought a box of these Doog Ji Naengmyun on a whim because of the moonshot represented by attempting a Naengmyun in a box. I remember my mother spending whole days rendering the beef broth that forms the backbone of this dish served cold and while it was delicious, it was never as good as the Naengmyun you would get at the restaurants in Seoul that featured the original stuff made by people who fled south during the war. There is a mouth feel to the vermicelli gauge noodles made from sweet potatoes that is somewhere between al dente and rubber band like that is delightful in that hearty stock that is served chilled and vinegared.
About two decade or so ago, the frozen refrigerated section of the Korean grocers got the the first of many serial attempts at recreating this, and while they were close enough, they failed in the broth and the noodles were too time sensitive because they were partially hydrated and refrigerated, making it imperative you kept them in boiling water for anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. Any longer and you lose that rubbery, al dente feeling.
Enter Doong Ji which I tried for breakfast (the boiled egg). The reconstituted cold broth was initially very salty, dense and had too many competing back flavors that I was dubious. The noodles cooked in their own time, but because they were completely dry to start, they were more reliably done in the recommended 3 minutes if slow boil. I always sample starting from about a minute.
When rinsed and in the bowl with the broth reconstitute, the water in the noodles further dilutes the broth and by some strange alchemy, a 95% perfect Naengmyun comes through. The chewiness is perfect. The beef background is there with perfect amount of vinegar. There are some off notes. The dry flakes can be dispensed with. They are freeze dried radish and onions which do nothing for the dish. You are better off chopping green onions.
The broth by itself is still un drinkable unlike the best Naengmyun houses in Korea where you would get a mug of the warm broth as a beverage but slurped in with those noodles the flavors are almost there. It is better than a lot of smaller places where it’s a secondary menu offering. It is basically about there with the refrigerated stuff which is saying a lot.
It is a solid B when you ignore the broth. Don’t drink the broth.