a Wonderful Summer Dish with a Chilled Broth and Spicy Sauce
Koreans’ favorite summer dish is undoubtedly naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles). Mul-naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles in chilled broth), needless to say, is the signature summer dish that cools down the scorching summer heat while bibim-naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles mixed with red pepper sauce) is a seasonal delicacy that can stimulate the appetite the hot weather takes away. The popularity can be seen in the long waiting lines in front of some famous naengmyeon restaurants.
But, surprisingly enough, naengmyeon is originally a winter dish enjoyed during the cold season when ice was generated. From olden times, Koreans have been making kimchi at the beginning of winter in order to have their favorite food throughout the season. Along with cabbage kimchi and kkakdugi (diced radish kimchi), two common types, they also made dongchimi. The latter is cold and watery white radish kimchi made by soaking a whole radish in brine, fermenting it, dicing the radish, and putting it into a bowl with the kimchi water.
In the process of fermentation, carbonic acid gas is generated and therefore the kimchi water becomes a bit pungent, which is a distinguishing characteristic of dongchimi. Koreans of old times buried dongchimi jars in the ground and scooped the kimchi from the jars into a bowl by breaking the thin ice on top of the jars. When it was freezing cold, they ate the kimchi with noodles around the hearth in an ondolbang (traditional Korean room heated by stone floor).
Light Broth and Spicy Sauce
Mul-naengmyeon is not only the best summer food but also a great diet food as its broth is not greasy at all. Buckwheat noodles are also very low in calories. Thus, the food is all the more welcome in the summertime when more revealing clothes are rampant. For nutritional balance, the cold food is garnished with two or three slices of boiled meat. Chopped cucumbers and pears make the food even more refreshing. The dish culminates with a few drops of vinegar and some mustard to create a taste that is simultaneously sour and spicy. A flash of wit is hidden in the dish: a half boiled egg is always put on top of the food as a way to prevent stomachaches.
Some explain that eating the egg first, before the chilled food, will strengthen the stomach walls and prevent stomach troubles that scarfing down cold food can cause.
On the other hand, when having bibim-naengmyeon, eaters first mix buckwheat noodles with a sauce made of gochujang (red pepper paste) or red pepper powder, drops of vinegar, and some mustard.
Plain Pyeongyang-Style Naengmyeon and Hot Hamheung-Style Naengmyeon
Pyeongyang in the northwest and Hamheung in the northeast of the Korean Penisula are renowned regions for naengmyeon. Pyeong-yang locals enjoy mul-naeng-myeon with plain and light broth, whereas Hamheung people usually have bibim-naengmyeon with slices of raw fish seasoned with spicy sauce. Pyeongyang-style mul-naengmyeon is made of noodles with a high buckwheat content that makes the noodles softer and removes the need to cut the noodles before eating. On the contrary, Hamheung-style bibim-naengmyeon uses noodles made of sweet potato starch that are so tough they can choke eaters unless the noodles are cut before eating.
Still, true fans of Hamheung naengmyeon slurp down the noodles without cutting. An important difference between the two kinds of naengmyeon is the noodle water (water left after boiling noodles) and broth. Some restaurants that stick to a traditional way of making Pyeongyang naengmyeon serve the noodles with a tea cup of noodle water. The noodle water emits a refreshing scent of buckwheat and some supporters of Pyeongyang naengmyeon frequent such restaurants because of the unforgettable fragrance. Hamheung naengmyeon restaurants serve hot broth with the main dish. The logic is that the taste of the spicy food can be properly appreciated by sipping the hot broth to soothe the spiciness of the food.
Park Sung Eun email@example.com
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