Korea’s Favorite Cold Noodles
For many of my foreign guests naengmyeon is just an enigma. They just can’t seem to fathom the idea that cold noodles in a chilled radish broth could be a food and they are further confused when told that adding vinegar and mustard will freshen the flavor. Oh, and before eating it, my guests are told they should use scissors to cut the noodles or they will be too chewy to eat. For many non-Koreans the idea of this particular dish is contradictory to everything they have learned about food. In their minds noodle soups are supposed to be hot and soothing―not cold and refreshing. In many cultures, only ice cream, popsicles, sodas, and desserts are supposed to be cold and refreshing. Naengmyeon is one of those dishes on our food tour that is as shocking to many as fermented skate or raw octopus.
So how do I get them to try it and, possibly, get them to like it?
Well, I get them to try it in conjunction with other foods and tell the very interesting stories surrounding it.
According to the historical document Gyegokjip, dated 1643, naengmyeon is originally from North Korea where buckwheat grew abundantly in the short growing season. North Korea’s climate is too cold to grow wheat, so the farmers had to grow other staple crops. Buckwheat, contradictory to its name, is not actually a wheat or grass grain at all. It is a seed that is ground up and has a starchy composition that can be used to make a flour, which in turn can be used to make noodles and other foods.
The grain is ground up, usually mixed with some potato starch and water, and pressed directly into boiling hot water for about 60 seconds. Then the noodles are then taken out and shocked in cold water. Different regions have different compositions. If it is mainly all buckwheat flour, the noodles are softer in texture which is Pyeongyang Naengmyeon style. Others like chewier noodles that have more potato starch. This is Hamheung Naengmyeon.
The broth for this naengmyeon is dongchimi which is a chilled radish water broth that is made from fermented radish and cabbage. This clean, crisp broth adds zing to the noodles while also keeping them from getting soft. The best noodles are known for their silky feel and chewy texture.
This dish of chilled buckwheat noodles in a light radish kimchi broth was originally a wintertime dish. It was common to eat this in winter while sitting on the hot, floor-heated rooms.
Now, according to the writer of Dongguksesigi, the most famous area for naengmyeon came from Pyeongyang city and most noodles are from Okryugwan restaurant. In the past, all the important dignitaries and, sometimes, lucky South Korean guests would visit this famous restaurant. It is said that, Kim Il-Sung, the former leader of North Korea before Kim Jung-il and Kim Jung-eun, ordered the flavor of Okryugwan noodles to be preserved forever.
Here is a restaurant list of must try naengmyeon
Many say that the closest to Okryugan in Seoul is at Pyeongyang Myeonok, which is in the Jangchundong area. This fabled shop brings in guests from all over South Korea and they even have a huge car elevator parking garage for their guests. Here the noodles are made in house and have an earthy buckwheat flavor and ethereal zip. The noodles are topped with pressed beef, pork, half an egg, slivers of pear, and delightfully crunchy cucumber pickles. The broth here is very refreshing and many say that it tastes like mountain spring water. Their other dishes, like their boiled beef and pork are quite good as well. Plus their massive dumplings filled with pork, vegetables, and tofu are sublime in flavor and are supposed to taste like they would in North Korea.
Add: #26-14, Jangchung-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Ojangdong Heungnam Jip
For those that like chewier naengmyeon noodles, the place to go is the Ojangdong district, which is famous for the chewier brand of noodles that is topped with fermented fish and a spicy chili paste. This dish is called hoe-naengmyeon. The noodles from this area get their chewiness by adding potato starch and were started by families from the northern city of Sokcho. The two famous places are Ojangdong Heungnam Jip and Ojangjangdong Hamheung Naengmyeon. The differences are very subtle, the Heungnam Jip was one of the first in the area and opened 1953. Hamheung Jip opened the following year in 1954. The famous dish at both restaurants is the hoe- naengmyeon. The very chewy, dark silver colored noodles are topped with marinated raw fish and vegetables. The vegetables and fish are chewy and soft creating a distinct cacophony of textures and flavors.
Add: #101-7, Ojang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Woo Lae Oak
Another famous restaurant that specializes in Pyeongyang style naengmyeon is at Woo Lae Oak. This restaurant has a long history, has been in business since 1946, and was started by the Jang family after escaping from North Korea. This fabled restaurant is well known for their bulgogi (beef in soysauce) and their beefy naengmyeon broth and fine noodles. Their original location by Eujiro has been a destination restaurant for generations of Koreans to celebrate special occasions.
Add: #118-1, Jugyo-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
Samdae Bulgogi and Naengmyeon
The ideal way to eat mul naengmyeon is to enjoy it after a delicious barbecue dinner. The chilled broth and noodles offer a refreshing counterpoint to the savory meat. This sumptuous meal was out of reach for many people, so there have been a rise in restaurants offering both of these at a low price. Two popular franchises for these are Samdae Bulgogi and Naengmyeon and Yooksam Naengmyeon. For about 6,000 won you can get a bowl of noodles and a side plate of marinated, barbecued beef. You can usually find these restaurants in busy pedestrian areas.
Add: #146, Nakwon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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