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Naengmyeon – Cold Noodles

July 24, 2011


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It’s really hot in Korea. We’re talking dry desert hot one day, and sticky rainforest humid the next. We’re so exhausted from the heat we rarely want to leave the house, but rather than hiding in our house and starving to death, it’s time for us to adventure to the closest cold noodle house and have some “Naengmyeon” (냉면). Woot woot!

Now to be totally honest, the first time we ate Naengmeyon, we totally hated it. Naengmyeon basically means “cold noodles,” but it’s the preparation of those cold noodles that’s totally awesome. The concept of cold noodles was completely baffling to us as Canadians, since we don’t really have an equivalent to it that we’re aware of. Add that to the fact that Mul Naengmyeon is also vinegary and tart and you have a dish that we really weren’t into when we first tried it out.

However, we never try a new food just once, and so we gave it a few more shots, and we discovered that some places just really suck at making it. You’ll get bland broth, or overly vinegary broth, or a sticky overcooked hunk of noodles, or lukewarm broth with no ice, etc, and these were the things that turned us off Naengmyeon at first, but after finding some great places, we 100% fell in love.

Anyhow, Naengmeyon is made from buckwheat or sweet potatoes, so the noodles are often brown. Also, they’re quite chewy so before you start eating them you should pre-cut them with the giant shears the restaurant will give you, or else you’ll have noodles dangling from your mouth for most of the meal, and that’s just unappealing!

Mul Naengmyeon

Mul Naengmyeon: Cold Noodles in Ice Broth

There are two main types of naengmyeon: mul naengmyeon (물냉면) and bibim naengmyeon (비빔냉면) and they are both equally refreshing. Mul naengmyeon is served in an icy broth which is usually made out of chicken or beef, and sometimes dongchimi (which is a type of vinegar pickled white kimchi, and not nearly as flavorful compared to the beef and chicken). We’re not fond of the dongchimi mul naengmyeon. Some people love it and find it more refreshing, but once you have a meaty broth you kinda never want to go back. Also, on the side, you’ll get two containers of vinegar and wasabi-like mustard. Mix those in according to personal taste. Don’t overdo the mustard, though, because it’s got a lingering kick to it.

Bibim Naengmyeon

Bibim Naengmyeon: Cold Noodles mixed with Gochujang

Bibim naengmyeon is made up of the exact same noodles but it’s served without broth, or the broth is served on the side. Instead, it has a huge dollop of gochujang (hot pepper paste) which is mixed with sesame oil and sometimes a bit of ginger and garlic. You don’t usually mix in the mustard and vinegar either. Just mix up the noodles until they’re coated with the sauce and dig in.

The most basic naengmyeon should come with a hard boiled egg, slices of pickled daikon radish, and julienned cucumbers. Some fancy-pants places also serve it with a few thin slices of delicious beef and some slices of Korean pear. Some even serve it with pieces of watermelon in it. Yes, watermelon. It doesn’t sound right, having pear and watermelon in your soup, but damn it’s delicious!

Altogether, we can’t really give a full account of all naengmyeons, because there are so many of them out there. We did want to give an intro to them, though, and to encourage more people to try it out, because it’s awesome and we love it, and we have a lot of friends here who have been in Korea for a while and have never tried it. So give naengmyeon a shot. It rocks!

P.S. We weren’t joking about that bit at the beginning of the video when it comes to supposedly eating hot food in the summer to cool you down. We heard it from a Korean friend before, but we just thought he was confused (because he’s not really THAT in touch with his Korean roots). But then the other day on the radio we heard someone say the same thing. Really? Hot foods to cool you down? Just so you can sweat? That seems like such a convoluted way of getting to the same goal. Sweat will cool you down, or cold food will cool you down: so why go through the pain of eating hot food in the summer to get cool? Cut out the middle man! Just eat cold foods! Supposedly also you’re supposed to eat cold food in the winter to warm you up? Is that right? It’s totally confusing to us.



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