Is it just me, or is it too hot to cook? (It’s too hot to cook.) It’s definitely time for some cold noodles. “Oh, naengmyeon”, you might say, “I’ve already had that before.” Of course, naengmyeon is delicious and all, but naengmyeon is not the only cold noodle dish Korea has to offer. Korea has many hot noodle dishes so it’s only logical that there are as many cold noodle dishes as well. Here’s an introduction to several delicious dishes to forget the scorching heat.
Of course, I have to mention the obvious first:
Naengmyeon, “cold noodles”, comes in two varieties: mul naengmyeon (물 냉면) and bibim naengmyeon (비빔 냉면). Mul naengmyeon has a soup base. The bibim is served with a spicy sauce and meant to be eaten all mixed together, like bibimbap (비빔밥), only with noodles.
The noodles of mul naengmyeon, which originates from Pyongyang, is usually made from buckwheat. Besides the garnishes of pickled Korean radish mu (무), boiled slices of beef and/or pork, julienned Korean pear (배) and cucumbers, and a boiled egg; vinegar and mustard oil can be added according to your taste. The noodles are relatively thick and bite off easily. The ice cold broth was originally made from pheasant, but nowadays is made from other meats and bones.
Some people like the mul, others the bibim. Bibim naengmyeon is like mul naengmyeon without the broth and with a spicy gochujang (고추장, red pepper paste) sauce for additional zing. The most famous bibim naengmyeon is from Hamhung, where marinated raw skate (홍어) is added and thusly called hweh naengmyeon (회 냉면). Unlike the noodles used in Pyongyang’s mul naengmyeon, the noodles are made from potato or sweet potato starch so the texture is very chewy and rubbery. These noodles require several snips from kitchen scissors before eating.
Although the equation of mul naengmyeon = Pyongyang style and bibim naengmyeon = Hamhung style, you’ll find both styles in every naengmyeon restaurant so you can enjoy either one. The main differentation would be the texture of the noodles. Some people like the chewiness of the Hamhung style so would eat mul naengmyeon with those noodles and vice versa for the Pyongyang style.
Naengmyeon is always available at Korean barbeque restaurants as it is considered as a palate cleanser and a proper “meal” (식사) after the preliminary meat-fest.
Mak(막) means “roughly” or “harshly” and guksu (국수) means “noodles”. This dish got its name because the noodles are made from roughly culled buckwheat and are roughly mixed together with the sauce and other ingredients, with the noodles roughly breaking off during consumption.
The noodles used to be made from 100% buckwheat which made them brittle but nowadays are made from a mixture of buckwheat and wheat, making them less prone to breaking. Recipes vary, but the traditional method requires different styles of sliced kimchi, julienned cucumber, and sliced Korean pear. The dish is notable for its simplicity, i.e. “roughness”. Like bibim naengmyeon, the dish has no broth.
The city of Chuncheon (춘천) is most famous for its makguksu and holds a makguksu festival every year. This year’s festival takes place August 30th, 2011 ~ September 4th, 2011.
Here, it’s not the noodles which make the name of the dish, but rather the broth. Made from ground soy beans and seasoned with a light touch of salt; this may be the most healthy noodle broth there is, and also a great vegetarian dish. Sometimes ground sesame seeds are added to the milky broth to add depth and flavor.
The dish is usually garnished with julienned cucumber and accompanied with yeolmu kimchi (열무김치, young radish). Ice is sometimes added. Some people (even Koreans) find it bland, but it is very refreshing and light on the hottest days. The noodles used vary, but are mostly thin noodles made from wheat.
In Korea, the noodles come either in a soup or a bibim style. Most noodles in the bibim style are eaten with a gochujang based sauce and mixed with sliced vegetables.
Jjolmyeon is the bibim style noodle dish that you’d find in any casual eatery that sells gimbap (김밥) and ramyeon (라면). The dish got its name because of the extremely chewy elastic texture of the noodles – you definitely need the kitchen scissors with this dish. The sauce is relatively sweet compared to other bibim noodle sauces. Some restaurants’ sauces may be extra spicy as well, so ask before ordering. Most places will give you the sauce separately upon asking.
Milmyeon, “wheat noodles”, originates from the city of Busan. The noodles come in two styles like naengmyeon. The story goes that the noodles were created during the Korean War when most of the nation fled to the southmost city and due to the lack of buckwheat; wheat noodles were made from the war relief supplies instead.
Milmyeon’s noodles are made from a mixture of wheat, sweet potato starch and potato starch, which give them a unique texture, somewhat between “regular” noodles and the chewy jjolmyeon. People who don’t like the texture of naengmyeon noodles find this a good alternative, although restaurants are not that common outside of Busan.
“Rolled kimchi noodles”. Kimchimari is a traditional dish from the northern provinces of Hwanghaedo and Pyongando. It consisted of putting cold cooked rice into a bowl of sliced kimchi with water or water radish kimchi dongchimi (동치미), or cold broth. A touch of sesame oil and sesame seeds were also added.
Kimchimari-guksu is the noodle variation of this original dish. The rice is replaced with thin wheat noodles. Because kimchi was traditionally stored in earthen jars buried deep in the winter ground, the kimchi’s soupy juice would be in an icy slush. This appearance is maintained not only in the modern renditions of this dish, but also in other cold noodle dishes as well. Like naengmyeon, kimchimari-guksu is popular as a palate cleanser after eating a meat-heavy, barbeque meal.
Among all the cold noodle dishes, this dish has the thickest noodles. Kalguksu, “knife noodles”, are usually served hot. They get their name because the noodles are handcut by a cooking knife.
Kalguksu is traditionally made with a chicken based broth. The noodles are made from wheat flour and eggs with soy bean powder sometimes added to add flavor and “springiness”. Korean squash (애호박) is the usual vegetable that is cooked together with the broth.
Since squash doesn’t hold up quite well in a cold broth, naengkalguksu is almost like a mashup of kimchimari-guksu and kalguksu. Kimchi, pickled Korean radish mu, julienned cucumbers and gim (김) are added. Another variation of this dish is the mandu naengkalguksu (만두 냉칼국수), which has Korean dumplings mandu in it.
A noodle variation of the traditional chogyetang (초계탕), a cold chicken soup dish. Chogyetang is a clear broth dish made from chicken with the fat removed and seasoned with vinegar and Korean mustard. The lean chicken meat is shredded into thin strips and added to the broth.
Chogyeguksu is a modern invention, with the noodles either being made from buckwheat, or more commonly, wheat. The soup maintains the characteristics of the traditional chogyetang, being clear and light. The noodles are usually served with chicken strips, white kimchi (백김치), pickled Korean radish mu, and pickled cucumbers. Sesame seeds are added for flavor and crunch. Unlike chogyetang, the broth is most likely a complex mixture of chicken, beef, pork, fish, and medicinal herbs, taking away the need for additional condiments.
This dish isn’t technically noodles, but since it’s habitually called ‘guksu’ (noodles), I can’t pass this up. Muk is jelly either made from the starch of buckwheat, mung beans or acorns, but in the case of this dish, it is almost always acorn jelly that is used. Acorn muk is usually eaten in squares mixed with sliced vegetables and topped with an accompanying soy based sauce.
In the noodle dish, the muk is sliced in long rectangles and put in an ice cold beef-based broth. Vegetables are added, along with gim as garnish. Sometimes a dollop of gochujang sauce can be added for those who like it hot and spicy. Muk-based noodles have also been developed for a more noodle-like appearance.
Instant cold noodles! The alternative choice to ramyeon in the hot summer months, Bibimmyeon has been around since 1984. It is a simplified form of a bibim noodle dish.
The noodles are made from wheat flour and potato starch and retains its springiness quite well if you don’t overcook the noodles. I usually keep the noodles under wrap in the fridge after cooking and rinsing in cold water to keep the noodles extra cold.
Besides the Korean cold noodle dishes, there are a lot of international cold noodle dishes you can enjoy in Korea as well. However, if naengmyeon is the only dish you have tried, give the others a try. You and your appetite might find exactly what you were looking for. Oh, and some people may find it annoying, but a little slurping isn’t necessarily rude in Korea.