I turned 30 yesterday. In testament to the fact that I am now (allegedly) a thoughtful and rational adult, I celebrated my third decade on this earth by running away to New York, pumping loads of money into a jukebox in the East Village and dancing badly to ‘Abracadabra’ by the Steve Miller Band. And then, because no birthday would be complete without me eating my own body weight in at least one meat product which will inevitably cause me to have a massive coronary before the age of 65, I went to Momofuku noodle bar to stuff my face with pork belly and noodles. LOTS of pork belly and noodles.
I’ve longed to go to Momofuku ever since I first read about David Chang and his legendary pork buns on Serious Eats. I’ve recreated some Momofuku and Momofuku Milk Bar recipes at home with varying degrees of success, but knew that I wouldn’t be entirely satisfied until I’d tried the real thing for myself. A quick Internet search revealed that I wouldn’t be able to go to Momofuku Ko unless I had booked six days in advance, and didn’t mind spending a ridiculous amount of money on my tea. However, the noodle bar looked like just the thing to slake my thirst for an authentic bowl of ramen.
Mr. McMc and I rocked up fully anticipating to wait for an hour or more before we could get a table, but as it was we were seated within five minutes of arrival (they must have guessed it was my birthday). We also managed to drink what might possibly be the world’s biggest can of Asahi (one can = two pints. Not too shabby considering the tiny glasses we were given to drink it from).
We started with the legendary pork buns (pictured above). Comprising of a giant slab of pork belly wrapped in a squidgy white bun and garnished with pickled cucumber, these were consumed with almost indecent haste. Porky fat, soft melting meat and the wonderful hit of pickles to cut through the richness – these were heavenly, and I only wish that I’d ordered more of them. (They were so good in fact that Mr. McMc scoffed half of one while I was in the bathroom before I could take a picture of it).
Smoked chicken wings weren’t as smoky as I maybe would have liked, but were still absolutely delicious. Punchy with soy, pickled chillies and garlic, the meat practically disintegrated off the bone at the first bite. These were a perfect example of bar food done well, and were just the thing to soak up a pint or two.
I was slightly unsure of what to expect from the Roasted Rice Cakes I ordered. Being a carb fiend, I just knew that I really wanted to try this typically Korean dish that I’d heard so much about. I need not have worried. A firm crunch of toasted rice gave way to deliciously firm, chewy insides. Smothered in a fiery red sweet-yet-spicy sauce, punchy with ssamjang (a fermented bean and chilli paste) they were like nothing I’d ever eaten before. Indeed, I’m already thinking of where I could visit in Manchester to try them again.
The highlight of the meal was undoubtedly the ramen bowls. I ordered the Momofuku Ramen and Mr McMc ordered the Spicy Miso Ramen. Both were absolutely stunning – my bowl was full of pillow-soft pulled pork, chewy toothsome noodles which were firm and springy to the bite and topped with a perfectly poached egg. I also found the thick, fat slab of pork belly to be a nice touch. I could have drunk the broth like a cup of coffee. It tasted like the absolute essence of pork, rich, fatty and slightly salty. It was a bowl of perfection – the ramen which all other ramen I eat from now on will be judged against. Mr McMc’s ramen was equally good. It tasted of spicy, smoky chicken, as though the world’s best portion of KFC had been liquidised and served up to us.
By this point, we were feeling pretty drunk on good food (as well as that gigantic can of Asahi) but I felt that the whole experience wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t try at least one of their signature desserts. A soft serve scoop of peanut butter and ritz cracker soft serve seemed to be almost too salty at first bite. Then, the pow of salt gave way to a slow, creeping sweetness, helped by the twist of grape jelly (jam) the ice cream had been layered over. It reminded me of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of my childhood, served up to me in ice cream form.
The total bill for four courses of belly-bursting-goodness came to 90 dollars (roughly 60 pounds in UK money), an absolute bargain considering how much food we ate. While I’m in New York for another four days, I have a feeling that eating at Momofuku Noodle Bar will be one of the highlights of my trip, and something I’ll look back on fondly for years to come. It’s certainly set one hell of a precedent for the rest of my 30s.