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"Siwonhada" : Intensely Refreshing Korean Foods

In the summer, the word that you need to know in Korea is “siwonhada”; but you can’t just say the word, you have to precede it by saying, “Ahhhhh…” Say it with me, “Ahhhh…Siwonhada.” The word means “cool” and it is often said after experiencing a great shift in temperature such as a cool breeze after a run or having an ice-cold soup for dinner after working hard all day. “Siwonhada” can also be said when you have just had a shot of soju after a stressful day or are enjoying the first sip of a bubbling hot soup that awakens your senses. It is a word that expresses an emotional sense of refreshment. Korea has many dishes that convey this idea, and here is my list of top seven chilled dishes. (Note: I am leaving naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles) off this list since I and others have written about it so often. This is a list of more unique and unusual cold Korean dishes.)

Oi Naengchae (Cucumber Chilled Soup)

This is a soup that I dream of when it gets hot. It is a perfect balance of land and the sea. The vinegar adds the right amount of brightness to balance the spiciness of the chili, and the seaweed and cucumbers add freshness. When I was a child, my mother often made this dish for me, and she still prepares it when I visit her at her home. The simple recipe—soaking seaweed and slicing the cucumbers—truly takes a mother’s touch when you add the seasoning. If you go too heavy on the soy sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, or chili, it will taste off. The soup goes perfectly with a bowl of rice or as a side for dakgalbi (spicy chicken).

Mul-hoe (Raw Fish in Chili Soup)

The first time I had mul-hwae was when I traveled to the seafood town of Yeongdeok on the east coast. It was a hot day and I wanted a dish that had seafood since the city is famous for it. Mul-hwae is similar to ceviche in that the acid from the vinegar and chilies technically cook the raw fish. For the seafood element of this dish you can have raw flounder, oysters, or abalone; other ingredients include sprouts, cucumber, seaweed, and shredded sesame leaves. The vinegared red chili paste, cho-gochujang, pairs well with the sesame leaf, and the vegetables add a nice crunch to this chilled soup. The dish usually comes with a few side dishes and noodles or rice. It tastes best when the broth is ice cold.

Kongguksu (Chilled Soybean Milk Noodles)

This dish is an anomaly and many of the foreign tourists I guide think is a fictional Korean dish designed for vegans. The secret is the broth made of very fresh ground soy beans which are then mixed with different nut and bean powders. When the broth is made correctly, it is thick like eggnog and tastes like cream with a hint of pecan. The noodles are just a carrier for the soybean milk. At a famous place for this dish around city hall, you’ll see lines around the block and almost every customer will finish every drop of the soy milk. Some will even buy an extra bottle of the broth to drink later.

Hamheung Bibim-hoe-naengmyeon (Spicy Seafood Mixed Noodles)

Hamheung buckwheat noodles have a chew and elasticity that might be difficult for non-Koreans, but that is what makes them a delicacy here. The noodles are mixed with potato starch to give them extra chewiness and add smoothness. When they are doused in a fiery sauce and topped with some fermented seafood such as skate, it becomes a delightful meal in the summer. The famous area to have the dish is Ojang-dong in Seoul, but if you are looking for the original, you should head over to Seokcho on the east coast. For those that prefer noodles that are closer to soba, I would recommend makguksu from Chuncheon.

Golbaengi-muchim (Spicy Sea Snail and Noodle Salad)

Korean sea snails are quite large and are considered whelks. When they are steamed, sliced, mixed with cucumbers, onions, and other vegetables, tossed with a chili sauce, and served with light wheat noodles, the result is a chilled noodle-salad dish that pairs well with soju, beer, and fried chicken. The crunchy vegetables in this dish make it a light side to have while drinking on a summer night.

Misugaru (Chilled Grain Drink)

In the summer, my wife often makes a mixed grain drink that has 10 different grains in it: roasted barley, soybeans, peanuts, sesame, beans, corn, millet, etc. She takes two scoops of the powder and puts it in a bowl and then adds water or milk. She then uses her spoon to mix it all up and adds ice cubes. The drink is very refreshing and tastes like a peanut butter milkshake. The powder has also been a very popular topping on shaved ice.

Muk-muchim (Acorn Jelly Salad)

The brown jiggly gelatin is another surprising dish for many foreign tourists. Acorn jelly has a slightly astringent flavor but the texture of jelly. I always say that it is like a chubby baby’s thigh to which they laugh. The jelly tastes especially good when tossed with a chili cucumber salad. The only problem is that it is quite difficult to pick up with chopsticks.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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