Singer Park Yong-in’s ramen joint, Dal Arae, Myeon hits all the right notes
Calling Park Yong-in an overachiever would be an understatement. Already a popular singer and founder of the R&B group Urban Zakapa, whose song “I Don’t Love You” managed to hit #1 on multiple charts last year, Park could easily sit back and concentrate on just his music. However, the young hitmaker has another passion that runs just as deep – for good food. “I’m the kind of person who thinks the things I want to do are just as important or even more important than the things I have to do,” the soft-spoken Park explained as he relaxed at his newest food venture, ramen restaurant Dal Arae, Myeon. As his music career took off, he used cooking as a way to relax. “I like both food and singing, but there’s no special connection between the two for me. Singing is hard, and cooking relieves that stress.” Eating may have helped him chill out between tours, recording and promotion work, but it led to a new ambition to open a restaurant. Park mused, “It’s my personality – once I have an idea, I really have to follow through with it.”
The ramen restaurant in Seongsu-dong is his newest venture into the restaurant scene, following an early attempt at an Italian restaurant and his more established branch of Dal Arae in Cheongdam-dong. The Cheongdam Dal Arae is a buzzing Japanese-style izakaya, with everything from traditional Japanese pub food to fusion dishes. For his new venture, Park narrowed his focus to just Japanese-influenced noodle dishes, with three ramen varieties and one buckwheat noodle dish. All of them have been tinkered with so that they meet Park’s high expectations. “I’m busy,” said Park, “but I can just come around here and work on the menu between my other work.”
“I really like Italian and French food, but more than fine dining, I wanted something people could enjoy easily. I’ve been to Japan many times, especially Osaka and Kyoto. I worked with Japanese-trained chefs, but I wanted something Korean people would enjoy, so we’ve adapted everything to suit our own tastes,” said Park, explaining how he settled on the menu and created the noodle shop. “I’m looking to match my taste, rather than the crowd. There’s some tradition, but some of it is just my preferences.”
As a result, the noodles at Dal Arae, Myeon don’t hew senselessly to tradition. There are some unusual variations like wrapping soba noodles in laver and then slicing it up like gimbap before plating them in the traditional cold broth, giving an extra boost of umami and sense of fun. A mixed noodle dish plays on both traditional Japanese noodles and Korean bibimbap, with spicy pork and sharp green onion mellowed by creamy egg yolk and chewy noodles. The dandan noodles are a particular standout, with a rich, spicy broth that manages to be bracing and luxurious at the same time. Whatever the dish, Park has worked hard to maintain quality, explaining “We don’t use any inferior ingredients. I just want to make good-natured food.”
It’s not just the food that’s good-natured. Park’s easy-going personality is visible everywhere, from the menu to the low-key decor. Together, the elements make Dal Arae, Myeon a relaxing place where everyone can swing by for a simple but filling bowl of noodles. Or a lot of bowls – a mere month after opening, they were already serving up to 1,500 bowls of noodle a day.
“We didn’t want it to be too fancy or overdone, just a place where people could come for some food. We took out the original big windows to make it feel like a little bit of a secret place,” Park said. Another secret he planned out was the pricing, laughing that “All the ramen is 8,000 won, and you can get a beer for 2,000, so a mere ten thousand won buys almost complete happiness.” Between the cheap beer, comforting noodles and casual atmosphere, it’s a supper worth singing for.
Dal Arae, Myeon 달아래, 면
56, Yeonmujang-gil, Seongdong-gu | 02-464-9485
Written by Jennifer Flinn
Photographed by Romain John